3 words to describe a scientist

Survey results from a Year 6 student - Swanmead Community School

Survey results from a Year 6 student – Swanmead Community School

In March 2014 we started running zones for primary students only, increasing the number of primary school students who take part in I’m a Scientist. And we wanted to know more about how the event affects them.

This time, we drifted away from our usual online environment and sent printed surveys to teachers taking part in the Colour Zone and the Thulium Zone, the two primary only zones we ran in June 2015.

We also wanted to check if the response rate to printed surveys was higher than the response rate to digital ones, and it is. We got pre and post event results from roughly 40% of the students who took part in the two primary zones. Usually around 10% of students who take part in the events fill in both the pre and post event digital surveys. Analysis and interpretation of online surveys is quicker and more efficient that printed ones, but getting teachers involved in the evaluation process definitely made a difference.

We asked students which 3 words they would use to describe a scientist, before and after taking part. We got responses from over 300 students from 9 different schools.

  • The students used more that 230 different words to describe scientists. They used 188 different words before taking part and 127 after, maybe indicating that they are clearer about what a scientist is after taking part. Awesome, cooperative, inquisitive, life-saving… are just some examples of the words they used.
  • ‘Intelligent’, ‘clever’ and ‘smart’ were the most popular describers, although students used them less often after taking part – 46% of students used at least one of these words pre-event compared with 40% post-event.
  • Students described scientists as ‘awesome’, ‘epic’, and ‘cool’ twice as many times after taking part in I’m a Scientist– 9.7% of students used these words post-event compared with 4.4% pre-event.

We grouped words in synonym clusters, and we represented the relative pre to post-event difference on word use by gender:

new graphOnly words that were used at least 10 times are represented.

From the graph you can see that girls and boys equally use less negative stereotype words like ‘crazy’ after taking part.  Emotional descriptors – like ‘fun’ or ‘exciting’ – are mentioned more frequently after the event. You can also see that boys are more likely to use the word ‘fun’ after the event than girls. However, girls were more likely to use the word ‘awesome’ after taking part.

What do you think? Is there anything that particularly calls your attention? We asked a primary schools teacher and she told us:

I’m not surprised by the ‘awesome’ leap – I don’t think children really understand what is involved in the daily work of scientists until they interact on I’m a Scientist. My own students have been blown away by talk of live sheep spines, looking at volcanoes in space, etc.” – Tracy Tyrrell

If you are a primary school teacher and you want to evaluate your students’ attitudes to science before and after doing I’m a Scientist, you can download PDF version of them here:

If you are an academic (or, really anyone!) and you are keen to see and analyse the raw data of these printed surveys, please let us know in the comments and we’ll share them with you.

Please leave a comment, let’s continue the dialogue.

Special thanks to Dr Jessica Hamer, for her advice on the the printed surveys design.

Posted on November 2, 2015 modangela in Evaluation | Leave a comment

Which browsers and devices are schools using?

Every year (see 2014) we take all our data, and look at how schools use the site; looking at how visitors access the site and how much that has changed in the past couple of years.

We’ve made a lot of changes in recent events, especially when it comes to registering accounts and using the site on mobile devices. We now pre-register all teachers and students, giving them usernames and passwords, so they can start asking questions immediately.

We can assume that the student visitors give a fair reflection of the general school IT facilities and system capabilities.

The graphs show the student data represented by dashed lines.


We saw last year, that visits from mobile and tablet devices were increasing. and no surprise they continue to grow, while desktop usage drops slightly. For student tablet users there is little difference in content visited when compared to student desktop users.

We’re currently right in the middle of an overhaul to make the site more responsive and mobile friendly- which should make the user experience a lot smoother for all users. Allowing students who use tablets and mobiles the same experience as desktop users.


If desktop usage is going down somewhat, it’s unsurprising that Internet Explorer is also sinking,  with Chrome taking a the lead and Safari jumping up (a lot of tablets and mobile devices being Apple products, where the default browser is Safari). The rise in other browsers will be down to mobile and tablet browsers using Android, Blackberry and Opera.

IE versions

And finally the bane of web designers and developers lives.. The old versions of Internet Explorer. A collective sigh of relief, IE6 has finally drifted out of favour (available since 2003!!!!), IE7 is on the out, IE8 is dropping, as is IE9, even IE10 is dropping.. But IE11 has taken a big leap. Understandably when a new version is released, it will lead to older versions not being used, but the jump in the graph is still quite dramatic, compared to last years.

Posted on October 30, 2015 modemily in Evaluation, School | Leave a comment

¡Allá vamos! I’m a Scientist goes to Spain

We always like to spread the I’m a Scientist love. The event currently runs in Ireland, Kenya, Malaysia, the United States, and of course here in the UK.

This school year we are adding another country (and language!) to the I’m a Scientist map: Somos Científicos (We Are Scientists) in Spain!

This picture makes perfect sense in the Spanish version of this blog post, honest. Click to test your GCSE Spanish! | Image by Wikimedia

The first “Somos Científicos” event will run 11th – 22th April 2016, involving Spanish schools and scientists. The project site is already live, so head to somoscientificos.es for more information or if you just want to test out your ‘conversational’ (according to your CV) level of Spanish.

Now any fledgling project needs both schools and scientists to be a success. We know we have Spanish friends who have taken part in I’m a Scientist UK in the past, and we have a small favour to ask of you: Please spread the word about Somos Cientificos to your colleagues, friends, family and even strangers if they are scientists or teachers!

If you’re a scientist who would like to be part of this new event, find out more and apply at: somoscientificos.es/cientificos

If you’re a teacher and want to get your students talking to real scientists in their own language, find out more and register to take part at: somoscientificos.es/profesores

You can also follow @S_Cientificos  on Twitter for updates about the project and what Angela assures us are Spanish science puns.

Yes, April may seem a long way off at the moment, but as some people say, “¡La paciencia es la madre de la ciencia!”

Posted on October 13, 2015 Moderator - Josh in News | Leave a comment

Moderator Vacancies: November 2015

Hello! It’s us! We’re looking for moderators for our November 2015 events! I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer are award-winning online events allowing students (from 9 – 18) to interact with real live scientists and engineers. We’re looking for 2 moderators to work on the next event which will run from the 9th to the 20th November 2015. We will also be running I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer in Ireland.

Your key responsibilities will be:

  • checking and approving questions
  • adding appropriate keywords and tags
  • logging and keeping track of questions, comments and dialogue
  • checking the site for errors and inappropriate content and usernames
  • moderating live chats
  • helping to run the site

It’s actually a lot of fun as the students (and scientists) are quick and funny and full of energy. And hey, promoting science engagement is a good thing, am I right?!

What we’d like from you..

  • You should be bright, thoughtful, pick stuff up easily, ideally with an interest in science engagement.
  • You’ll have great attention to detail (THIS IS IMPORTANT)
  • You enjoy being online, perhaps have experience in an online community.
  • The site is all built on WordPress, so if you’ve used that the techy stuff will be pretty familiar.
  • You’d be working from home, so you must also have broadband which doesn’t die every 10 minutes.

Extra bonus things we’d like, but aren’t hugely important..

  • A sense of humor
  • The ability to multitask
  • Interested in discussing your lunch

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by Monday 26th October 2015), to Emily at emily@gallomanor.com, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 9th – 20th November (Monday – Friday)
  • Hours: 37.5/week, 08.30-16.00 GMT
  • Pay: £8/hr

You can (and should) find out more about the events at: I’m a Scientist UK and Ireland and I’m an Engineer UK and Ireland.

You don’t need to..
Phone us because that’s what your careers officer said you should do.
Send a CV comprising more than 2 pages, with font smaller than 10pt or 2mm margins.

Posted on October 7, 2015 modemily in Event News, News, Science Engagement | Comments Off on Moderator Vacancies: November 2015

Too many teachers

Hands up those who want to take part in I'm a Scientist.

Hands up those who want to take part in I’m a Scientist.

Being popular is a nice problem to have.

We’re running a total of 10 zones in November in the UK. It’s the most we’ve done at this time of year. But it is not enough.

As the new school year started we asked our list of over 2,000 teachers how many classes they would like for our November events. 202 teachers requested a total of 537 classes. The problem is we only have space for 250 classes. Up to 8,500 students will be missing out on science engagement this November.

We spent an uncomfortable afternoon last week working out how to allocate the spaces we had. Should we prioritise teachers who been regular supporters and taken part in lean times? Or new schools so that more teachers get a chance to experience our little bundle of joy? Or rural schools? Or schools in deprived areas?

In the end we capped the number of classes at 2 per school. Despite loving the energy that comes from entire year groups participating it would mean excluding too many schools if we didn’t. We also left off schools that previously had spaces but failed to take them. We did prioritise rural schools and schools from deprived areas. And sadly restricted and left off those schools where through location and parental connections they have more opportunities to connect with scientists and engineers. That meant many fee-paying schools who’ve previously taken part have been left without places this November.

It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not nice. We are in the envious position of being relatively well-funded, and very over-subscribed with schools and scientists wanting to take part. I do want to avoid the situation in March. We’ll be reaching out to potential funders to fund more zones: companies, research councils, universities.

Apologies to those students and schools who’ve missed out this time. With a bit of good fortune we’ll have more space in March.

Posted on October 2, 2015 ModShane in News | Leave a comment

Research vs Evaluation

Science Learning+ is a significant funding scheme provided jointly between the Wellcome Trust and the National Science Foundation.

Learning can happen anywhere and at any time. Science Learning+ is an international initiative that aims to understand the power of informal learning experiences inside and outside of school.

The second aim of the scheme is to

“bridge the practice and research gap”

At a seminar in July aimed at providing an update on the Phase I project an interesting conversation developed about that gap between Science Communication practitioners and researchers.

I heard one speaker talk about practitioners wanting to know if a hypothetical red headline would give a 3% uplift in visitors. I responded on twitter:

Not all practioners agreed with me. Some felt each project would be unique enough to warrent a rewriting of expectations

Others simply disagreed and place efficacy as something for researchers:

In the end 140 characters felt underpowered.

For me research and evaluation are different, but very related.

I expect research to tell me if an approach to science communication works and how it works. I expect evaluation to tell me how well a project is working and how it can be improved. I would like evaluation to draw upon the research to extrapolate that particular  activities will lead to particular outcomes.

For example using I’m a Scientist:

The feedback we get from our participants is that connecting online with scientists improves their attitude to science, and to jobs in science. We seem to find the changes in attitude among girls is greater than it is for boys.

I want some research to tell me why those conversations are improving attitudes and if those changes are persistent. I want the research to be telling me how online activity compares to offline activity and why.

I want research to tell me what characteristics of engagement deliver the best and most persistent improvements in attitude and achievement.

Then I want my evaluation to examine our work against those characteristics and to suggest ways to improve them.

Research  = why something works

Evaluation = how well something works

What do you think?

Posted on August 27, 2015 ModShane in Evaluation, Science Engagement | 1 Comment

Harwell Open Day Zone Report

HRWL LEGO PosterOn Saturday July 11th the Harwell Research Campus opened its doors to the public. 10,000 people were expected to come and see some of the most complicated and cutting edge science equipment in the world. Hundreds of volunteers working with that equipment were on hand to speak with the public and show them what happens.

We created a Harwell Zone to allow visitors to text in questions. It was promoted using posters as above.

The logic was that with 10,000 visitors some would not get to ask their questions, or may think of it later, or possibly be too shy to ask in person. It was a family day.

Working with the over-worked (understatement klaxon just sounded) outreach team at Diamond and Harwell we set the zone up and promoted it to exhibitors.

It wasn’t a great success. A mere 14 questions were sent.

However in the interest of continual improvement let’s look at what worked, what didn’t and most importantly what would be do differently if given the chance.

What worked?

The technology did. Visitors were able to text a question, get a response to manage their expectations and a notification when someone answered the question. We also had an enthusiastic response from exhibitors who signed up. However the enthusiasm was far far greater amongst I’m a Scientist alumni. It seems that we didn’t really reach many new scientists. It was in the main scientists we already knew who happened to be already exhibiting.

What didn’t work?

We didn’t reach new scientists. The vast majority of scientists there were not aware that they could have taken part. This meant that the online offering was very patchy. As you wandered around the trained eye (mine) occasionally picked out a poster. The only exception was the RAL Cyrogenics Lab where Vicky Bayliss had printed out extra posters and placed them all around the lab.

We didn’t reach the public. There simply was not enough publicity.

What would we do next time?

  • An online Q&A offering needs to be an integral and supplementary part of the open day. Exhibitors should be opting out not in. Taking some questions online should be seen as part of the overall experience. We need to brief potential participants better.
  • The online experience needs to match the offline experience. At Harwell some participants were running a desk, others signed up the entire lab. It was disjointed. It would work at the lab level better.
  • We should pay more attention to the offline visitor flow. At Harwell many labs had a distinct flow from start to finish. We should have been making sure as people left they not only handed back their lanyards but took away a leaflet offering the chance to ask follow-up questions.
  • Use the online zone to supplement the offline experience. At Harwell visitors were invited to view the Diamond Light Synchotron but there were explainers in there. It was a prime spot to publicise the zone.
  • Programme notes. People tend to keep the programme notes with them throughout the day and on the way home. That’s the time to mop up any unanswered questions.
  • Make more of the online zone. We could take feedback, promote new open days, communicate campaigns, point to more resources. The point is that if someone asks a question online they are in effect asking to engage in conversation. Same as offline. The difference being that online you have the ability to invite the visitor to restart that conversation at any time in the future.


Posted on August 24, 2015 ModShane in Evaluation, News | Leave a comment

“I’m a Scientist is definitely the most fun I’ve had in my lab coat”

After every event we ask the zone winners to write a short blog post to be sent to all the students in who took part in the zone. It’s a great way for the scientists to reflect on the previous two weeks and thank all the students for voting for them.

Let’s take a look at what they had to say…

Jess, Colour Zone

I’m a Scientist is definitely the most fun I’ve had in my lab coat.

The questions were incredible, totally unpredictable and the scope was well beyond that going on academic circles; by the final I’d tried to prepare a few ‘go-to’ answers, “What is colour?”, “What happened during the big bang?”, “Will we ever cure cancer?..but I couldn’t predict a single one! After the 30 minute live chats my fingers were tingling so much I had to delay measuring polymers in the clean room.

I cannot express in words how much I’d recommend this to any PhD student, science technician or any academic with time on their hands.

It’s made me question every part of my research, assess how realistic I am and be more creative in my experimental design. It’s made me so proud to be a physicist, work at Imperial College and be able to help these curious kids.

James, Electromagnetic Zone

Things got serious, silly, deep, dark, hilarious, and on occasions weird; all in a 30 minute burst of direct exchange between today’s researchers and tomorrow’s minds.

It was *energising* – I loved it. And I learned a tonne of stuff myself.

Sarah, Extreme Force Zone

I really hope (and believe) more of you became enthused by science by the event, and can maybe envisage yourselves on the other side of the chat telling students in the future all about the great work you do.

Andy, Health Zone

It was exciting, loads of fun, I learnt loads of stuff I never expected to and it completely took over my whole life for two weeks! At midnight on the Saturday half way through the competition I was discussing “what is time?” with some friends at a wedding. It really made me think about things that I’d not considered before.

Laura, Hormones Zone

An event like this is a fantastic way of giving school pupils an idea of how many areas in science there are and to let them see that scientists really are quite normal people (mostly).

It was a manic two weeks but it was so much fun and VERY addictive! The Live Chats were crazy at times but always great fun and certainly kept me on my toes. Any chance I got, I was answering the question on ASK (all 214 of them!) – on my journey to work, breaks, lunch, journey home, on the way to meet friends – any chance I got!

Richard, Pharmacology Zone

Wow! What an amazing two weeks. Without a doubt, I’m A Scientist, Get me out of here has been one of the most enjoyable but exhausting experiences of my career.

The live chat sessions are insane!  Questions ranged from everyday trivia like “Batman or Superman?” through philosophy and ethics “should doctors be allowed to assist in suicides” to hard-core pharmacology “how are drugs developed?” Now…. imagine trying to handle all three of those questions simultaneously, and fast enough so that your competitors don’t get in there first with a killer answer, and you’ll have some idea what it was like and why it was such fun.

Thomas, Polymers Zone

[The students’ questions] got me thinking on all fronts – from how to describe my research, and why I actually carry it out, to appreciating why the sea is blue and coming up with a “hand-shaking and waving” analogy for pi and sigma bonding during a quiet evening – definitely a blast all in all.

Hayley, Ytterbium Zone

I was continually impressed with the questions posed by the students in both the live chats and also via ASK. My very first question to answer was about black holes (a topic waaaay out of my comfort zone!), so I’ve been learning myself from day one!

… I have learnt so many diverse facts from this event, including how chameleons are able to change colour and learning that plants may, in fact, have feelings!

Ryan, Thulium Zone

The two weeks of answering questions from you all was crazy. I’ve never gone out of my way so much to be on time for everything. I had alarms set so I could attend chats, I spent my evenings answering all the ASK questions which were left for me and others.

I had questions ranging from “how many stars exist” to “why do I do science” each question was fantastic and there were so many I actually had to stop, think about and wonder how it actually worked.

Normally I’m one quick fire answers back but there were so many questions where I had to stop and think to even form an idea of an answer.

The whole event was an experience and I recommend it to anyone to try it, you’ll learn so much not only about your own area of expertise but also about others.

Jonny, Lutetium Zone

Initially I didn’t know whether I should enter I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here. I’ve not really done much written science communication before and I didn’t know how I would come across without actually being present.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the breadth of the questions all of us scientists were asked. It made me realise how much I didn’t know.

Chris, Hafnium Zone

The last two weeks have been an absolute blast. The range of questions you get on the board is insane! You guys ask better/harder/faster/stronger questions  that I ever imagined coming into the contest.

If you think you can take the better/harder/faster/stronger questions… Want to discover new ways to communicate your work… Or want to learn new facts about chameleons…

Apply now to take part in the next event

Click to apply for I'm a Scientist

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. For more information on the zones running in November 2015, take a look at this post.

Posted on July 27, 2015 Moderator - Josh in Event News, IAS Event, News | Leave a comment

Launching questions into the Thermosphere

From the effects of solar radiation on people living on the International Space Station, to opinions on space travel; there are few topics which inspire quite so many questions as Space.

Another question, asked probably in every live chat in every Space Zone we’ve run: “Have you ever been to space?” The answer has always been “no”… Until now.

This year, Tim Peake will become the first British ESA astronaut to live and work on the International Space Station (ISS) and thanks to funding from the UK Space Agency and the support of the European Space Agency, our latest project will bring the buzz and excitement of Tim’s mission into classrooms all over the UK.

Our latest project gives students the opportunity to put their questions to the people behind Tim’s mission — members of mission control, researchers with experiments running on the ISS, trainers, and scientists and engineers involved in the design of the ISS and its equipment — before four winning schools get the chance to take part in a live chat with Tim Peake himself.

Teachers, register now to take part in the first round of I’m an Astronaut, Get me out of here this October!

Click to Register

The registration deadline for Round 1 is 12PM on Monday 20th July 2015.

How does it work

There will be four rounds of the competition, each running for two weeks over the course of the Principia Mission; the first round will be 5th–16th October 2015.

In each round students will log in to the site over the course of two weeks to talk and interact with members of the Astro Support Team. Students will be able to ASK questions, take part in live CHATs, and VOTE for their favourite Astro Support Team members.

Tim Peake during training at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the United States. |  Image: NASA/Bill Stafford

Tim Peake during training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, the United States. |
Image: NASA/Bill Stafford

Live Chat with Tim Peake

In each of the four rounds, the Astro Support Team will nominate one winning school to take part in the final live chat with Tim Peake.

The winning schools will each nominate four student ambassadors to take part in the final live chat with Tim Peake when he returns from the ISS.

How do I sign up?

Teachers and Schools

Teachers can register at imanastronaut.uk/teachers the deadline to sign up for the first round is 12PM on Monday, 20th July.

Join the Astro Support Team

If you’d like to help out email Angela at angela@gallomanor.com, with where you work,  and a couple of sentences summarising your work and how it relates to Tim’s mission — when you describe your work, try to use language which a 13 year old would understand.

For more information, see imanastronaut.uk/astro-support-team.

Posted on July 15, 2015 Moderator - Josh in News | Leave a comment

Chemistry outreach secure for 3 years

I’m a Scientist is about showing the diversity of science to students and whilst we’ve always been strong with biologists and physicists until 2015 we were a little light on chemists.

RSC_LOGO_SUPPORTED_WEBSo we are especially delighted that the Royal Society of Chemistry have decided to support our project over 3 years through to the end of 2017. We will be running 9 zones across the UK and Ireland using this funding. Part of the arrangement is that we’ll be including RSC members in five of our General Zones to show school students the full breadth of science.

Rio Hutchings, from the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Outreach team, says:

We’re really proud to be involved in inspiring scientific discovery in a whole range of ways and I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here is an excellent example. It’s great for both students and for putting science communicators through their paces, so we’re very pleased to be funding events for the next three years.

The next RSC funded zone will be in November 2015; the Spectroscopy Zone. Chemists can sign up at imascientist.org.uk/scientists — Apply now, before all the places argon… Sorry.

click to apply

Posted on July 13, 2015 Moderator - Josh in News, Project News | Leave a comment