Sunday, 17 March 2013

I'm a scientist...

After a week of struggling to answer mind-bending questions and not pass out in manic live chats, I've come to the conclusion that 13 year-olds are actually a fairly intelligent and extremely inquisitive bunch.

Like X factor for scientists

I'm a scientistI was picked to be part of the national on-line event "I'm a scientist, get me out of here"! It's an excellent initiative run 3 times a year, where school kids can literally ask a scientist anything they want.

The event has been running for a few years and this March they have 11 zones each with 25 school classes, which means a lot of kids to contend with. The places for scientists were 6 times oversubscribed and this time they have added more zones in an attempt to accommodate more schools. It's popular, but why?

I've been involved in outreach programs before. I've helped out at Uni open days and demonstrated experiments for school kids coming in. A year ago I took part in (the now defunct) Researchers in Residence, where I went into a year 11 class for a number of weeks. During this time I talked to them about my work, arranged for a trip for them into university and naturally tried to encourage them all to become scientists. These schemes were great at showing children a human side to science and allowing them to see what a university and an actual "scientist" are really like. This is where I'm a scientist excels.

The kids get to post questions on the website and then bombard us with yet more in the live chats. Most so far are real science queries with most of them based on drugs (me being in the Drug Development zone). The real novelty of this project however, is that in the following week I may be kicked out. Every day the children will vote for their favourite scientist out of our group of 5; who answered their questions best, who sounded most intelligent or simply who told the best joke. At the end of each day one will leave and by Friday only one will remain victorious held aloft by their teenybopper fans.

Hello why do you like science

So the kids can connect with scientists and ask all the questions they never get to in their normal science lessons. But as I said, not all of the questions are sciencey. The others include gems such as, "waffles or pancakes?" and "how tall are you?". But these questions are equally important as they allow the scientists to become real, human people. We are not a bunch of deranged lab rats nor are we an elitist, higher intelligence (even if I'd like to think so sometimes). Connecting with the school children through these silly questions lets them see us for what we really are; just like them. With this in mind, hopefully they will realise that science is for them and in a few years they'll be the ones changing the world and inspiring the next generation.

As for me, I'm thoroughly enjoying the experience. I've answered all the questions I could and even answered some that I had no idea about before. My enthusiasm for science and engagement has rocketed and my lab work has suffered immensely. But with my supervisor away this next week I may get a little obsessed answering questions and reading ones from the different zones, that is unless I get evicted...

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