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Behind the scenes with Peter Morrison

Hear from colleagues who volunteered to contribute to the International Biology Olympiad (IBO), find out about their role and what they enjoyed about it. It's a chance to see some of the activity that went on behind the scenes to help make the IBO a success.

Behind the scenes with...
Peter Morrison
PhD Candidate (Synthetic Biology CDT)
School of Life Sciences

Role for the International Biology Olympiad: Senior Media Volunteer

My usual job involves…
doing science! I work with plants, studying how their roots react to a new kind of carbon nanoparticle. We want to try and use them to find out about how plants communicate with microbes in the soil.

In advance of the International Biology Olympiad…
I helped prepare some of the resources for part of the practical exam: when you’ve got almost three hundred students to support, preparing the materials is a serious undertaking! My labmate and I sowed about 7,000 seeds in total, laid out individually over about 45 litres of agar. These grew into plants for the students to use in the exam; it’s nice to think that you’ve contributed in some tangible way to the process.

During the International Biology Olympiad…
my main job was to keep the social media channels active and up-to-date: regular posts to Twitter, Facebook and so on were my responsibility, and I had to make sure that the content that we got from our professional photographers got out to as wide an audience as possible. I tried to stay close to the action all the time, reporting on things as they happened, so I was most often with the teams as they experienced the week. Like all the volunteers, I got called in for the occasional odd job as required: distributing lab coats, and so on. I also wrote the IBO Daily articles for the RSB blog: they were always good fun! It was a great chance to test out my journalistic skills - that’s not something you get to do very often as a scientist!

I really enjoyed being involved with… 
the teamwork - it’s great to see the progression from the start of the week to the end. IBO is an individual competition played in teams, and to see students supporting so well their teammates (some of whom will have barely met before IBO) is really inspiring stuff.

The International Biology Olympiad is unique because…
it’s a science competition, which is also a case study in international relations. Each and every competitor is giving it absolute maximum effort - and yet there’s no hint of negativity in the competitive atmosphere. For everyone involved (students and organisers) a tremendous amount of effort has led up to the week, and truly the atmosphere was tense, stress levels were running high, people were pretty wound up. But the overwhelming sensation was of wanting everyone to do well, to have a good week, to enjoy the whole thing. It was a tremendously supportive environment, and for an international event, I think that’s something that reflects well on all involved.

If I could change one thing about the International Biology Olympiad it would be… 
to have some sort of special visa permissions - a few teams had troubles with visa delays at the Home Office, and while it’s not something that the UK organisers could influence, we all wish we could have.

Not everyone knows that…
the exam invigilators included research and teaching fellows from the University’s Life Sciences department: throughout their exams, students were being observed by tertiary-level educators and tenured biology academics!

Hear from other colleagues behind the scenes


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Flickr (via RSB)