I'm a Scientist and I'm an Engineer are online events that allow post graduates and academics to answer questions from school students all over the country without leaving the office or lab. You also get the the chance to win £500 to fund more outreach or engagement activity. Those people who haven't done much public engagement before particularly enjoy taking part and get motivated to do more as this is an easy starter activity.
In June 2017 Liz Buckingham-Jeffrey, a PHD student in the maths department took part in an Epidemic themed zone of I'm a Scientist. We're very pleased to say she won the £500 prize and will be using it to do even more public engagemen activity in the future. This is her story of taking part and what was invovled:
Earlier this year I took part in I’m A Scientist. This is an online outreach event for school students who get the opportunity to ask questions to a group of scientists. The event runs three times each year and is split into zones. I was in the epidemics zone talking about my research using maths to model norovirus. The event is open to all scientists from all levels of academia. In my zone there were both PhD students and professors taking part.
I’m A Scientist runs for two weeks. In total, I spent around 1 hour to 1.5 hours working on I’m A Scientist each day. However, it was very flexible and I could have spent less time if I had other commitments. As the event is online, all of this was without even leaving my desk!
Some of the questions from the students were very insightful. For example, one year 8 student (13 year old) asked me if I compare my results with the results of other scientists. I was really impressed with this and it shows an appreciation of how research works and the uncertainty in results.
Of course, there were also fun questions such as asking about my favourite TV shows, if I have any hidden talents, and who is the most famous person I’ve met. You may think these students are being silly and wasting time by not asking a scientist about science. However, one of the aims of I’m A Scientist is for students to realise that scientists are real people too and to bring us out of the ‘ivory tower’.
I signed up for I’m A Scientist nearly 2 years before I took part in it! It took a while for a zone my specialism to occur. It was easy to initially sign up. I just had to write, in one sentence suitable for a 13 year old, what my work involves. I was then contacted when the opportunity to take part in the epidemics zone arose.
I really enjoyed taking part in I’m A Scientist (and the £500 prize for being voted the best scientist in my zone also helped!). I hope I managed to convey my enthusiasm for science and how maths can be used to save lives. It was fascinating for me to see what topics really engaged the students.
If you're interested to find out more you can find a short report from I'm a Scientist about the zone Liz took part in, including the types of questions that came in and where popular, as well as the amount of engagement from schools here. You can sign up to take part at any time by visiting the I'm a Scientist/ I'm an Engineer websites.