I had the chance to ask real scientist about questions I was interested in and I got really interesting answers. I had the chance to learn something from the experience of these scientists instead of learning from books.

Student, March 2017

This has been a great opportunity for me to take a step back and approach my work with a new perspective and I’m heading back to the lab with a renewed enthusiasm.

Craig O’Hare, Scientist, March 2017

The students were thrilled they were talking to real life engineers and they were responding to them individually. The excitement when their question was answered was fantastic! This sort of opportunity doesn’t arrive easily.

Teacher, March 2017

March 2017 Winner Blogs

After every event we ask the winning scientists to write a short blog to be sent to all the students who took part in the zone. It’s the perfect way for the scientists to reflect on the previous two weeks, thank all the students for voting for them, and talk about how they plan to use their £500 prize money.

If you’re a scientist keen to experience the ‘best crash course in scicomm’, apply now for the next event at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply

Let’s take a look at what the March Winners had to say…

Carrie Ijichi, Animal Behaviour Zone

The students have blown my mind with their open, creative inquiries about animal behaviour and how much they care about the subject. To be voted the winner at the end of all that fun was such a surprise and made me feel really special. I want to thank all the students who asked questions and voted for the scientists, the great team at IAS who put it all together and the rest of my panel for all the fun I’ve had. I’m genuinely going to miss all the buzz and questions now.

Read more

James, Decision Zone

Through your questions, you gave us a glimpse of how your minds are working: what’s happening in your science lessons at the moment, what’s truly important to you, and also how you’re all using science or a scientific approach to explore and investigate our world. You also gave us all the opportunity to look at questions related to our own fields from new perspectives, or tied together two different perspectives that we might not have previously considered. This is exactly how science gets better!

Read more

Sallie, Enquiry Zone

My favourite part was the live chats with the pupils from the schools. I was so impressed by their questions. I could really tell that some of them had thought very hard about the projects that all of the scientists were proposing and they were genuinely interested in the work we do everyday. It was great to see our subjects through their eyes.

Read more

Dan, Medical Physics Zone

Just when I thought I knew what to expect, I would get yet another really clever question. I found myself checking the website at all hours of the day, just to see if there was a new interesting question to think about! I really enjoyed explaining my work to a new audience and also hearing what the students thought in the live chats.

Read more

Craig, Organs Zone

It was so much fun to listen to all our questions. I was super impressed by the diversity and depth of all of them as well; you really put me to work! This has also been a great opportunity for me to take a step back and approach my work with a new perspective and I’m heading back to the lab with a renewed enthusiasm.

Read more

Hannah, Space Exploration Zone

What a great experience this has been! The I’m a Scientist competition is great fun and definitely a challenge I’d recommend to my colleagues. I really want to thank everyone who voted for me and for all the great questions you all asked. It wasn’t easy trying to answer all the questions but I hope everyone managed to get something from the online chats. It means a lot to me to have won this because outreach and working with young people is something I really enjoying doing.

Read more

Lewis, Francium Zone

Whilst I’m happy to have won, I’m sad that it is over – at the start it felt strange being taken out of my comfort zone, but by the end I was looking forward to it! The chance to think about familiar things in a completely new perspective, as well as things that had simply never occurred to me has been invaluable. I’ve learnt a lot, and I hope you all have too!

Read more

Alex, Radium Zone

As a scientist, it was a rewarding experience to talk with you all about my research and other scientific interests, but it was also a pleasure to talk about other aspects of my life and show that we’re all just regular humans as well as scientists! I was just as happy to answer questions about my favourite animals and video games as I was about volcanoes and black holes, so I hope you all enjoyed learning a little about the life of a scientist, as well as the topic of science itself.

Read more

Are you up for the challenge? Want to show that anyone can be a scientist? Or just want to chat about video games…

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

Travel Time

Map of UK schools more than 25 miles from a university.

Map of UK schools more than 25 miles from a university, showing primary schools (yellow), secondary schools (green), mixed/other schools (blue), and schools where teachers have registered interest in the I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer projects (red). [Click image for full size]

Last summer we wrote a post about using distance as a measure for identifying widening participation schools.

Since then, we have completed our map (pictured) of schools in the UK which lie farther than 25 miles from a major research institution.

In July we mentioned that travel time, in place of as-the-crow-flies distance may be a better measure of accessibility.

We want to look at schools far from HEIs as these schools are more difficult for scientists and researchers to reach; a PhD student is much more likely to travel 20 minutes to a school to give a workshop, than take out an entire day to visit a school an hour away.

While distance does provide a reasonable measure for accessibility, it does miss out some of the nuance in more rural or coastal areas.

Our measure could be improved.

We got in touch with iGeolise, who specialise in travel time data, and kindly offered to take a look at our school and HEI data.

Using their data, we have created the map below.

England, Wales and Scotland schools more than 45 minutes from a major research HEI

England, Wales and Scotland schools more than 45 minutes from a major research HEI [Click map for full size image]

While there is a lot of overlap between schools on both maps, it is clear that travel time is a more realistic indicator than distance in rural and coastal areas.

We will continue to look at both measures when assessing applications from schools, and looking at the schools where we believe I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer can be most valuable.

You can see a full list of the criteria we use to identify widening participation, and under-served schools here. If there are any other criteria you think we should look at, or if you want to discuss data, the maps, the projects… Please do get in touch. Leave a comment below, or drop us an email: naomi@mangorol.la.

Some notes on the data:

  • We are missing data for two HEIs in Northern Ireland, and a small number of     schools. These haven’t been mapped.
  • School information changes regularly. We have used the best information we have available, but we know there are some anomalies.
  • We were missing travel time data for the University of Cambridge; we have approximated times using averages of known data to account for a small amount of un-mapped data.

This event has been a real opportunity for me, and I have learnt so much about communicating science to students embarking on their journey of scientific learning.

Lauren Burt, Scientist, November 2016

The children here refused to leave until the result was announced!! And what a commotion when the winner’s name came up – worse than X Factor….Great to see children so excited about Science.

Teacher, November 2016

Moderator Vacancy March 2017

We’re looking for a moderator to work with us on our March 2017 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. The events will run from the 6th to the 17th March 2017; I’m a Scientist UK and I’m an Engineer UK and Ireland.

First rule of moderator club… This is a paid, 10 day job.
If you aren’t free from 8:30 – 4:30pm on all 10 days, please don’t apply.

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
  • Openness in discussing your lunch

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by midday Friday 24th February 2017), to Michaela at michaela@gallomanor.com, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 6th – 17th March (Monday – Friday)
  • Hours: 37.5/week, 08.30-16.30 GMT 
  • Pay: £8/hr

We will be running moderator training over Skype, on Thursday 2nd March from 11-12am.

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

Demand vs. Capacity: March 2017

This afternoon we apologised to 47 schools, telling teachers that we have not been able to offer their students a place in I’m a Scientist this March.

Graph showing funded places (colour fill) vs. places requested (outline) for I’m a Scientist

The graph shows the number of class places requested by teachers (box outline), against the funded places we were able to run (colour-fill) for each event. Demand has consistently exceeded places available for the past 8 events; indeed for the past 5 events, we could have run double the number of zones we did. Double the number of young people becoming more enthused about science. Double the number of scientists taking part in “the best crash course in science communication”.

Our limiting factor is funding. We need more funding to run more zones and increase the capacity of the events.

Unfortunately the Royal Society of Chemistry has withdrawn their funding planned for this year and the STFC funding we had has not been renewed, meaning spaces for chemistry and physics classes are especially limited.

If there are any funders with leftover budget, who might want to give students the opportunity to put their questions to scientists, engineers, and researchers, please do get in touch: shane@gallomanor.com

Update: 27th April 2017
Updated graph to make clearer funding levels vs. demand for places.

Enquiry Zone: What’s it all about? – For Scientists

This March’s Enquiry Zone is something new for I’m a Scientist. This time, it’s all about you helping school students design and carry out their own research. By talking with students in live chats and answering their questions in ASK, together you’ll come up with a potential citizen science project related to your research that can be done in a school environment.

Helps students carry out a citizen science project in their schools in the Enquiry Zone

Helps students carry out a citizen science project in their schools in the Enquiry Zone

After two weeks of online discussion, the students will vote for one project to receive £500 in funding. You will then help the schools carry out the research in June 2017, recording and sharing your results using the nQuire-it online platform developed by the Open University (www.nquire-it.org).

You don’t need to have a research question decided now: Your aim during the course of the zone is to help the students come up with and refine a research question and the appropriate methods. This process is called ‘co-creation’ and it is a central part of engaging citizen science.

Interested? Apply!

The Enquiry Zone is open to all scientists from any field, including those who’ve taken part in I’m a Scientist previously. To apply, read the FAQ below and then follow the appropriate link here:

I haven’t applied for I’m a Scientist previously:  Apply now at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply and choose ‘Enquiry Zone’ on the following form that you are emailed.

I’ve applied before or ‘I’ve taken part in IAS previouslyGo straight to this form and select Enquiry Zone when asked.

Could you seeing what birds like which food?

Enquiry Zone FAQ

What sort of projects work well in citizen science?

Exactly what you investigate and the sort of data you collect is up to you and the students to work out together. As a general rule, citizen science projects work well when the research question is relevant to the ‘citizens’ and the data is easy to collect.

Imagining what you can actually do in a school could be tough for you as a scientist. Handily, you’ll be able to consult the experts: Ask the students what they think works in a school environment.

What is the schedule?

  • 30th January: Deadline to apply for the zone, include the general area of research you want to investigate.
  • 5th Feb: Scientists and schools selected for Enquiry Zone
  • 6th-17th March: IAS event and winning project voted for.
  • April: Final plan for research project.
  • June: Carry out research with schools.

What do I need to submit to apply for the zone?

Apply through the normal scientist application form. You’ll then receive an email asking you to choose a zone. On that form select ‘Enquiry Zone’ and then leave a short, accessible description of the research area you’re interested in, i.e. I want to investigate athletic performance of school children.

If you’ve already applied for IAS, or taken part previously, go straight to the form here: Choose Zones Form.

What happens if I win the Zone?

You receive £500 to help set up the research project, and we’ll put you in direct contact with teachers at the schools from the zone. You’ll then be committed to working with the schools from March up to June and the end of the project.

What can I do with the £500?

You can use the £500 to support your work on the project in any way, for example covering travel and time expenses or buying software for analysis.

Could you measure noise levels? | Image: nQuire-it

How can we use the nQuire-it online platform?

nQuire-it is an open platform where you can easily create and manage projects (called Missions). There are three types of mission that the platform supports:

  • Spot-it missions let people upload, share and comment on images, for example to identify cloud formations, or spot winter wildlife.
  • Sense-it missions work with the Sense-it Android app to access a range of sensors on Android phones. Examples include creating a noise map of a local area, or finding the relationship between air pressure and rainfall. (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.greengin.sciencetoolkit&hl=en_GB)
  • Win-it missions set challenges with prizes for winners, for example to find creative ways to attract bumblebees to a garden.

You may decide to combine more than one nQuire-it mission in your project.

Will I have support when doing the research project?

Yes, the Open University nQuire-it team (nQuire-it@open.ac.uk) can provide technical assistance and advice on using the platform and you can get in touch with us to talk about progress at any time.

Your role will be that of principal investigator. The schools may also want to be involved as much as possible in all aspects of the research from data collection through to analysis and writing up.

Could you spot snowflake shapes (maybe not in June)? | Image: nQuire-it

How good is the data collected?

  • The quality of data will depend on what you choose to measure and how easy it is to get right.
  • There is the potential for hundreds of school children to contribute data.
  • Even poor data is an opportunity for the schools to think about what makes good data and how they could improve.

Could our results be published?

It’s important to remember that the main aim of the zone is for students to get experience of carrying out their own research. However, if the data collected is of good enough quality, why not publish?

What happens if I don’t win the Zone?

If you’re still keen to run the research project you’ve devised with students over the course of the zone we will happily put you in contact with interested schools so you can explore ways of making it happen.

More questions? Get in touch with antony@gallomanor.com or call 01225 326 892

‘Ask your dog’: Application advice from the pros

Applying for I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer involves a particular challenge: Describe your work in one sentence, in a way that appeals to the average 13 year old.

once sentence to describe science and engineering research

One line to school them all.

Simple on the surface, yet potentially problematic. Over the years we’ve seen equal measures of elegant one liners and paragraphs of technical nonsense; and there’s no magic formula for getting it spot on.

And it matters. We ask school students who have taken part to help rate the one-sentence summaries, and we use these rating to help guide who gets places in the event.

But worry not. Our own advice can be found here. (TL;DR: Use precise, interesting language — but NOT jargon — that demonstrates the wider relevance of your work to society.)

And who better to provide more help than those whose sentences won them a place in the event? Here’s what scientist and engineer alumni had to say when we asked: What advice would you give someone writing the one sentence description of their work (ideally in one sentence!)?

Keep things compact

It has to be short, snappy and interesting enough to get the attention of morning London commuters rushing past you. – Natalie Garret

Don’t get bogged down in the details! Imagine you’re trying to get someone to invest in your research, what message would you want to sell to them ie. why are you doing what you’re doing? – Stuart Archer

Keep it clear, concise & interesting, with enough info to make the reader curious to learn more – Katie Mahon

Choose words wisely

What is going to get children to engage: the fact I measure cortical changes in neuronal potential or ‘I measure your brain whilst you’re sleeping?’ – Hayley Moulding

Still to this day when I have a question like this I imagine I am, yet again, explaining to my mum and sister (adult non-scientists) what I do. Kids appreciate when you speak to them like a ‘grown-up’ and so targeting my response to adult non-scientists seems to answer this question better rather than speaking down to kidsMartin Ward

Use only the most used ten-hundred words in this tongue. Easier said than done, but try:  – Roberto Trotta

Testing, testing, one two, one two

Send what you’d say to a younger friend/family member – if they can understand it the teenagers you’ll be talking to will too – Rehemat Bhatia

Have other people read it out loud…your granny, your toddler, your neighbour’s dog. Should be easy and interesting! – Hannah Grist

Make yourself matter

Show your enthusiasm for what you do and put your work into a bigger context, i.e. “I will solve the [blank] problem”. – Nikolai Adamski

And when all else fails…

In the words of one of my former supervisors: Make it sexy!Anita Thomas

Resist temptation to tell them to google it themselvesMichael Graham

Done all that and got a knockout sentence? Great, use it on the application forms at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply and imanengineer.org.uk/engineer-apply

Good luck (not that you need it now)!

Thanks to all our event alumni for their advice on Twitter and the Alumni Group.

Super Mod: Job opportunity

Title: Super Mod
Location: Our office in Bath
Dates: 7 weeks from 13th February – 31st March (Monday – Friday)
Hours: 37.5/week, 9:30 – 17:30
Pay: £10/hr

We’re looking for someone to help us run our I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer events this March, on a temporary basis from our office in central Bath. We need general support across all parts of the event, including administration, moderation and evaluation. You’ll be doing lots of different things, including:

  • Blog posts and tweets
  • Keeping track of live chat bookings
  • Assistance with evaluation after the event
  • Compiling addresses and printing letters and certificates
  • Helping to run the site, making sure everything is running smoothly

Between 6th – 17th March you’ll also be moderating, which is a lot of fun, as the students (and scientists) are quick, funny and full of energy. Key responsibilities include:

  • 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

What we’d like from you:

  • You should be bright, thoughtful and pick stuff up easily
  • You have great attention to detail (this is important!)
  • You are practical, with the ability to multitask
  • You enjoy being online, perhaps with experience in an online community
  • You know how to use Word and Excel

Extra bonus things which would be good:

  • An interest in STEM engagement
  • Experience using WordPress (this is what our site is built on)
  • Openness in discussing your lunch

You can find out more about our events at: imascientist.org.uk and imanengineer.org.uk.
To apply, please send a cover letter and short CV to michaela@gallomanor.com by Monday 30th January

November 2016 Winner Blogs

After every event we ask the winning scientists to write a short blog to be sent to all the students in who took part in the zone. It’s the perfect way for the scientists to reflect on the previous two weeks, thank all the students for voting for them, and talk about how they plan to use their £500 prize money.

If you’re a scientist keen to experience the ‘best crash course in scicomm’, apply now for the next event at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply

Let’s take a look at what the November Winners had to say…

Joe, Brain Zone

A big thank you to all of the students with their exuberant enthusiasm, never-ending curiosity, and fantastic sense of humour. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you and discussing your questions. I was really impressed how some of you put the finger right onto the big questions that have kept scientists and philosophers busy for centuries. Other questions also made me stop and think so that I could see my own field with fresh eyes. Thank you for being brilliant!

Read more

Steve, Drug Discovery Zone

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the students who took part. You are what made this competition what it is, and you managed to ask us such a diverse range of questions! We had everything from drug discovery and cancer to politics, philosophy and religion. Hopefully you’ve all learned something new, and now have an idea of what it’s like to be a scientist! Your curiosity is inspiring, so continue to ask questions and challenge everything you’re told.

Read more

Megan, Energy Zone

As I’m sure I told hundreds of you over the last two weeks, I really do love my job. Being a scientist is all of the amazing things you imagine- and more. Every single day is surprising and unpredictable, I am constantly learning from the incredible people around me and I feel like I’ve got a real chance to make a difference in the world. I hope that Mzamo, Ola, Olivia, Weiyi and I have helped to remind some of you that beyond the facts that we all learn at school, there is a whole world of science out there and it’s getting bigger and bigger.

Read more

Lauren, Investigation Zone

This event has been a real opportunity for me, and I have learnt so much about communicating science to students embarking on their journey of scientific learning. I really hope that I have inspired a few budding scientists of the future! There were some fantastic questions, and I was constantly challenged!

To those scientists thinking of taking part: It is a must! But beware – it is so addictive!

Read more

Zarah, Plants Zone

My main aim for entering the competition was to show students that being a scientist is an achievable goal. I myself did not flourish in science during my school years and left school early to work in the cosmetics industry. I only found my passion for science in my 20s and pushed myself to go to university. This enabled me to try different areas of science and find the subject, plant ecology, I now work in. ANYONE can be a scientist! You have to try different things, find out which bit you love and go for it!

Read more

Laura-Anne, Sports Science Zone

It’s been a fantastic experience, one I’ve loved being part of. It was very strange coming into work on Monday morning and not having any chats or questions to answer, I wonder would the organising team and your teachers let us do it all over again?

I really wanted to take part in IASUK to show you science isn’t all about being indoors in a lab coat all day – labs can be anywhere. Scientists can help solve all sorts of different challenges, from helping someone to walk again to training an athlete to win an Olympic gold. I’m looking forward to getting started on organising the videos and visits to show you all this and more.

Read more

Darren, Astatine Zone

I was so impressed that so many young scientists were asking questions from consciousness and AI… to robotics, the universe and beyond! I had to really dig deep to answer some of them, and I wish I had the opportunity to be involved with a platform like this when I was younger!

Read more

Miranda, Polonium Zone

This whole experience has been incredible. When I first entered I didn’t know what to expect and was quite nervous about answering all of your questions. After the first few live chats I was completely hooked! You asked such interesting and thoughtful questions. The mad buzz of the chat room was so exciting and after each one I felt like I had run a marathon with you!  It’s been fantastic. I have enjoyed every minute and have learned so much.

Read more

Reka, Radon Zone

First off I’d like to say thank you for taking part and being so enthusiastic, asking about our science and about us, I’ve really enjoyed talking to all of you. Being part of I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here! has further reinforced my love for talking about science to audiences that come in all shapes and sizes, and winning it is proof that I must be doing something right!

Read more

Are you up for the challenge? Want to show that anyone can be a scientist? Or just want to chat about the science behind Death Stars…

 

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

Gender differences in online engagement

“I thought scientists just looked like they do in the film Flubber and experimented on aliens or weird stuff but when I found out you liked Taylor Swift I realised you are more down to earth and not like mad scientist :)” – Student, November 2015

I’m a Scientist is about connecting pupils with real scientists. Something we want to find out is what effect this interaction has on different groups of students. Recent research by the Institute of Physics has done just that.

The IOP has carried out an independent research project to gain an insight into the behaviour and attitudes of boys and girls who do I’m a Scientist. As part of their Improving Gender Balance project, the IOP funded two zones: Terbium Zone and Osmium Zone.

The researchers anonymously surveyed the students’ attitudes to science and scientists before and after the event. We also provided them with all the student’s interaction data from the sites. Every line of live chat, every question in ASK. Specifically the researchers wanted to look for gender differences in two areas:

  1. How taking part in the event changed students’ attitudes to science and scientists, and
  2. The types of questions that students asked the scientists.

The first results from analysis of this treasure trove are now online at the IOP blog.

IOP gender difference Q1

Physicist, know thyself: After the event, girls in particular reduce the negative words they use to describe you.

Check out the post for their findings on the effects of taking part in I’m a Scientist, including:

  • positive changes in word choice to describe scientists
  • an increase in girls’ awareness of careers where Physics A-Level is useful
  • girls’ improved confidence in talking to physicists

Girls want to see the scientists as real people

The report also dissects what girls and boys want to know from the scientists. Interestingly, as well as asking more questions overall, girls seem to ask many more personal questions, asking more than boys about job satisfaction, the career goals and achievements of the scientists, and their motivation to work in science.

For us, the identified trends make sense. For example, a boisterous classroom culture can be a barrier for quieter children to engage with visitors. As Natasha at the IOP notes, ‘the online, anonymous nature of the live chats gives students more freedom to ask questions than a traditional careers talk or even a speed-networking-style careers event.’ Girls, as a group, seem to relish this freedom.

And we believe that for science to be appealing there’s no need to glam it up with explosions and ‘wonder’. The more students hear about the reality of science from people like them, the more positive they feel about it. This research backs up that view.

Research with us

If girls are a group that benefits from this increased exposure to scientists as real people, it’s likely other underrepresented groups do too.

I’m a Scientist provides a unique way to study the ways children interact with scientists. We’d love to see more research being done using our data. If you think you, or someone you know, might be interested in analysing what hundreds of children want to know about science, just drop me a line at antony@gallomanor.com.

Read more on the findings in the full blog from the IOP: Online event gives insight into gender imbalances

And find out more about how Osmium Zone was set up: I’m a Scientist, not just for scientists

Moderator Vacancies November 2016

Hello! We’re looking for some moderators for our November 2016 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 4 moderators to work on the next event which will run from the 7th to the 18th November 2016. We will also be running I’m a Scientist Ireland.

First rule of moderator club… This is a paid, 10 day job.
If you aren’t free from 8:30 – 4pm on all 10 days, please don’t apply.

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
  • Openness in discussing your lunch

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by Monday 24th October 2016), to Michaela at michaela@gallomanor.com, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 7th – 18th 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.

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.

Careers Zone

Report Cover

Careers Zone report, click to download

The Careers Zone is a new zone where students attending a careers fair at their school can talk online with a range of scientists and engineers, based all over the UK.

A lot of the time, school careers fairs are only able to accommodate businesses and organisations in the local area. We want to give students an opportunity to ask their questions to experts working in a multitude of areas, letting them see how diverse STEM careers can be. In turn, STEM professionals can pass on honest advice and information, showing students what it’s like to be a real engineer or scientist.

We selected a range of experts to take part, including a deep-sea researcher, a scientist for the NHS and a Jaguar Land Rover engineer. There were also engineers who had gotten into their professions through an apprenticeship. It was important for us to let students see the different options they have as they make decisions about their future careers. Experts could log in to the site from wherever they were for their scheduled Live Chat sessions, and then answer questions sent to them as they had time throughout the day (we even had an engineer take part in a chat from Mexico).

We set up on a long table with iPads and laptops for students to sit down at and use. We had two banners which showed some example questions, but often students came with a specific area of interest and asked us who the best expert was for them to talk with.

After two pilots, we’ve learnt it’s important for us to be on the same level as all the other stands at the fair, making approachable for students to ask who we are, and whether they can join in. We were also told that there was an announcement in the school newsletter about us being at the fair, and students had been preparing questions during tutorial times. This meant they came to the stand interested and prepared, making the chats lively and focussed. We’ve left the zone open so students can continue to log in, ask questions and leave comments.

Careers ZoneThe project clearly works at some level, but we are keen to pilot it in different schools. There are things we’ll have to change for next time, such as shortening the log in process, which can take valuable time away from students who only have 30 minutes or less at the fair. We’d also like to try a new way of showing students how to use the site. We’ve written up a report about our second pilot, including some examples of conversations that happened in the chat and ideas for next time, which you can read here.

Osmium Zone – I’m a Scientist, not just for scientists?

UPDATE: Read about the Institute of Physics’ research into gender differences in online engagement here.

In all the zones we run, we aim to include a group of scientists that show how diverse STEM careers can be. At the start of the last school year our long-time collaborators, the Institute of Physics, asked us to take this idea a step further in the November 2015 Osmium Zone.

A zone usually comprises five people working at the cutting edge of scientific research. This time the IOP wanted to fund a zone with four people who had studied Physics at A-level or higher, and now worked outside of academia and research, plus one physics researcher. The kicker? Ideally, those four people would also be in jobs that made use of their Physics education.

Why? Studies show that children are not aware that studying science gives you transferable skills valuable in fields outside of traditional research. Making children more aware of this fact is a key recent recommendation from the ASPIRES project into children’s aspirations.

...And reply they did!

…And reply they did!

The first unknown: Would people outside the usual research audience be interested? Answer? Yes. A call went out on twitter, and very quickly we had a range of people interested in the zone. The final selection of the Osmium Zone consisted of a communications officer for the Royal Academy of Engineering with an undergraduate degree in physics, a diplomat at the British Embassy in Tokyo working in nuclear disposal,  a biomedical engineer, and a data analyst for a solar company. The ‘token scientist’ was a  postdoctoral researcher studying lasers.

So what happened? We were confident that both competitors and children would still find the event as engaging as ever, away from the usual science focus. This is illustrated every year in the sister I’m an Engineer project that covers the diverse world of engineering. The metrics for activity in the zone point to to this holding true, showing busy live chats and especially high numbers of page views for the final two contestants, Aaron and Natalie.

As usual, the students were keen to understand the choices and motivations of the different experts, asking questions like “Why did you choose this job?”. This allowed the group to talk about how studying science had led them to where they were, and how that knowledge was valuable to them now.

By letting the children discover for themselves the specific details of each person’s job, questions about these careers naturally followed:  Do you enjoy helping and working with Japanese companies and cities?What did you take (subjects wise) to be workin with solar power?.

Furthermore, students who completed a survey before and after the event indicated a slight increase in wanting a job that uses science skills and knowledge, although the sample size is too small to draw conclusions. We will complete a proper analysis on this, and other Science Capital related outcomes, after analysing data from multiple zones and events.

Safe to say, the zone saw heated competition.

So a zone including non-scientists works. The strength of the I’m a… format is that it harnesses the power of connecting students with real people, regardless of background. What’s next? We’d like to run more zones in the future that demonstrate the diversity of science-related careers to school students, and maybe even zones completely unrelated to science. Why not I’m a Poet, Get me out of here?

For now we’re trialing a Careers Zone with alumni from past events and it’s already been fascinating seeing some of the places former researchers now work. Since November, even the token scientist in Osmium Zone has moved to a non-academic role. Natalie now works for the Met Office, coordinating efforts to maximise the impact of research into climate change, and proving further that studying science can take you to interesting places. 


Read the Osmium Zone Report for more information about the zone

Read an interview with Keith Franklin about his experience as part of the zone

An update on widening participation

In September last year we wrote about Widening Participation. We’ve refined our criteria a little since then; below is our definition of a widening participation school.

We’ve decided on these criteria because they match, in broad terms, the kinds of criteria universities use to identify widening participation students.

A widening participation school is…

In England and Wales

  • A school in an area where POLAR3 is in the first quintile, or…
  • A school where the % of students eligible for free school meals is higher than 41%, or…
  • A school where the % of students achieving 5 grades A*–C at KS4 is below 45%, or…
  • A school where the % of students level 4 in reading, writing, and maths at KS2 is below 45%, or…
  • A school more than 25 miles from their nearest HEI.

In Scotland

  • A school in a remote rural area, or a remote small town

Where an independent school matches the criteria it will not be counted as a widening participation school.

Distance as measure

The Aspires project, from King’s College London found that science capital is a key factor in terms of students aspiring to a science-related career. Science capital refers to knowledge about science and how it works, interest, understanding, and contacts (knowing somebody who works in science).

We think that one of the most substantial factors limiting students’ science capital is the ability for those students to have contact with STEM professionals; to meet scientists who they can relate to. This is where an online activity, like I’m a Scientist, has a great advantage. There is no distance barrier, no travel time. A scientist in central Manchester can have a live chat with a school in Cornwall followed immediately with a school in the Highlands.

To this end, we’ve added to our criteria: A school will count as distant if it is more than 25 miles from a major research higher education institute (HEI).

Starting with England and Wales, we took all of the schools, mapped the distance to the top 70 institutions by research output, and worked out the shortest distance between a school and a university. The map shows the schools which are more than 25 miles from one of these institutions.

We did not include smaller institutions, or those with more focused research areas as contact with scientists working in a wide variety of subjects and fields is important.

Map of schools in England and Wales more than 25 miles from their nearest HEI

Map of schools in England and Wales more than 25 miles from their nearest HEI

In Scotland the Department for Education lists schools with an urban/rural classification. Largely this covers what we are looking to achieve with the distance analysis in England and Wales (though we do plan to add HEI distance data for Scotland and Northern Ireland).

In Scotland, a school in a remote rural area, or remote small town will count as widening participation.

Schools in remote small towns and remote rural areas in Scotland

Schools in remote small towns and remote rural areas in Scotland

This measure excludes schools in accessible and urban areas; in effect the schools accessible from universities.

What about the most recent event?

In June 2016, by prioritising places for widening participation schools (meaning teachers at those schools are more likely to be given additional classes), 27% of the students taking part in I’m a Scientist came from widening participation schools.

21% of the schools taking part in June 2016 were widening participation schools.

Last year, in June 2015 we reported that 16% of the classes taking part were from schools meeting our criteria.

What’s next?

  1. Targets — By 2020, our aim is that 30% of the schools taking part meet the widening participation criteria.
  2. More data — We’re missing criteria for schools in Northern Ireland, and we’re missing attainment data for schools in Scotland. We need to add this.
  3. Improving the definition of schools in relation to their nearest HEI — Do we need to look at creating a more nuanced definition of distant schools in England and Wales? The current definition looks at distance rather than travel time. Travel time is likely a better measure but more difficult to assess. We would also like to look in more detail at the level of outreach different schools are receiving.
  4. A new database — We’re in the process of building a database of all UK schools which will be integrated into the teacher application process. This will allow us to more easily identify and allocate places to priority schools. It will also open new reporting features to teachers, giving schools more data on how their students are using the projects.

June 2016 Winner Blogs

After every event we ask the winning scientists to write a short blog 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 the June Winners had to say…


Jonny, Antibiotics Zone

I was super nervous in the run up to the the result because I really didn’t think I would win! Originally, I thought it was going to be difficult to juggle my time in the lab and devoting time to answering questions and participating in live chats. With some careful organisation things worked out really well and as soon as the questions started pouring in, I became addicted! I hope you all learned as much as I did!

Read more

Laura, Catalysis Zone

The questions all the schools asked were incredible! There were so many that I was taken aback by as they were all so fantastic, everything from catalysis, chemistry, biology, physics and my views on various political and topical issues were asked; I think you all should be very proud.

The whole event was a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone.

Read more

Matt, Cells Zone

The past two weeks have been a great experience for me, and one I’ll remember for a long time!

Being able to explain your work to students of all ages is a very valuable skill and one that I am always glad for an opportunity to practise with, so I found myself booking into every live chat I could and eagerly sitting at my laptop while waiting for the questions to come. I didn’t know what to expect for my first live chat, but when the questions started coming thick and fast I knew I was in for a challenge! The questions were smart and varied and I greatly enjoyed answering them, half an hour flew by so quickly that I couldn’t wait for the next chat, and I looked forward to the rest of them over the event.

Read more

Joanna, Ecosystems Zone

I would like to thank you for your excellent questions. Some made me rack my brains, some forced me to ask my colleagues about their thoughts, a few made me laugh – and then think quite hard. Some I still have no idea how to respond to… Which is exactly what makes them great questions, because research is all about asking, and trying to learn more about the unknown. Therefore well done everyone for having amazing and inspiring scientific mindsets!

Read more

Koi, Parasites Zone

It would be hard to pick a favourite question but one of my favourite moments was when I was asked about the most disgusting parasite, I said what I think can be “visually” disgusting and there was a mixture of “Ewwww” and “Wowww” in the chat. Thanks moderators for not kicking me out of the chat for doing that :).

I’m humbled to have played a little part in showing how science and scientists can be like and I hope this has inspired people to find out more about science and keep asking questions!

Read more

Angus, Mercury Zone

I’ve really enjoyed answering the questions you guys have had about science, but also about ourselves, our jobs, what we did at school, stuff like that. It’s been really fascinating to find out what YOU guys want to find out (even if we did never manage to answer where astronaut poo goes…)

Read more

Dawn, Thallium Zone

The live chats were the most fun part of the competition for me, and I tried to sign up to as much of them as possible. I did have to rearrange some labwork to fit in the live chats, but that’s part of the beauty of being a scientist – I can be flexible with my time. And I’m so glad that I did! The live chats were hectic and chaotic and I applaud the mods for keeping everything running smoothly. The breadth of questions from the students was amazing. I forget how many burning questions kids can come up with and it reminds me to keep the same spark of curiosity alive during my career!

Read more

Euan, Lead Zone

I was amazed by the variety of questions that the students asked during the event, and in particular with how insightful they were. I did not expect there to be any questions relating to my research that I hadn’t been asked before, but in fact there were many. It’s really changed my perspective on some aspects of my research area, and I have really learnt a lot from the questions.

Read more

Elliot, Bismuth Zone

To the students, the passion you’ve shown and the energy with which you asked your questions was really incredible to behold. The diversity (and sometimes, just plain oddness) of your questions had me racking my brains and scratching my head. I have really enjoyed the chance to talk about what it is I do and speculate a lot on topics from the possibility of X-men powers and zombie apocalypses to the adorableness of red pandas.

Read more


Are you up for the challenge? Want new inspiration for your research… Or just want to chat about the science behind Death Stars…

APPLY NOW TO TAKE PART

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

Demand vs. Capacity — An update for June 2016

Any avid readers of our project blog — there must be at least one of you — will have noticed we’ve written a lot recently about our increasing demand for classes, and our over-subscription rates.

In January, we published some numbers. Since then we have run the March 2016 event, and finalised class places in the June 2016 event. Here are some updated numbers:

Graph of I'm a Scientist UK class requests by event in academic year — March 2013 to June 2016

I’m a Scientist UK class requests by event in academic year — March 2013 to June 2016

In January, we wrote about the decreasing popularity of the June events, with more teachers moving to November and March.

With the spectacular growth in November 2015, we speculated that teachers may be moving from March and June to earlier in the academic year. If that was true, then we would have expected a lower demand in March and June this year.

What we see is a steady increase in demand in the June events. The growth in March 2016 was perhaps less than may have been expected given that of previous years. This could support the idea that teachers are opting to take part in November instead of March. The narrative is not entirely clear though and we need to look into this a little more.

As was true in January, what is clear is the decreasing capacity for classes in all of the events. Though this does though coincide with an increased capacity in our other projects; with the demand for classes increasing we need to increase the capacity. We need more funding.

For the past year or so we have been charging international schools wishing to take part, generating a few hundred pounds. This June we began asking the same charge of independent schools. Overall, the response has been positive — which to be honest has been a pleasant surprise. There’s a separate post to come on that, but the fact that teachers are willing to pay shows they value the activity, and that this could be a valuable funding stream in the future.