Perspectives on Partnership

What is better than the Platinum Package?

“The Gold Standard”; “Diamond Option”; “Go Platinum!”

There is a continual pressure to strive for the biggest, best, most committed options in life. Sometimes, however, we should recognise that our organisations and partners might not want, or be ready for, the “Ultimate Mega-Package.”

In the Public Engagement sector there is a consensus that the best engagement is:

  • two-way
  • upstream
  • involving researchers and interested public
  • in-depth
  • considered
  • includes knowledge transfer
  • novel and innovative*
NCCPE “Perspectives on Partnership” Tool

The set of cards that makes the POP Tool kit.
It was a real pleasure at last week’s NCCPE organised SUPI review seminar to witness Sophie Duncan and Paul Manners reveal their Perspectives on Partnership (POP) Tool to help universities and schools assess what type of partnership they have and desire.

The tool recognises four types of partnership:

  • Spontaneous
  • Inspired
  • Thoughtful
  • Strategic

The participants are then asked to consider a partnership from each of four participants perspectives:

  • Researchers
  • Teachers
  • Students
  • Partnership brokers

I “played the game” as a student and there was a tendency to think that the purple Strategic partnership is what we should be asking for. That type of relationship would be very fulfilling, but also very expensive on resources. Consideration of whether all the stakeholders want purple is very necessary.

But the real eye-opener was the realisation that the vast majority of schools don’t even have a Spontaneous partnership with a university and that to jump straight to a Strategic partnership is not realistic.

I’m a Scientist and schools partnerships

The Tool kit is already providing a framework within which to discuss where I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer fit into the programmes that a university might want to support. We share some characteristics with a Spontaneous model: “time poor teachers”, “great opportunities for students to meet a researcher”, “skills development for the researcher”. However it also shares characteristics with the Inspired model: “Purposeful. A programme of activities develops.”; “Researchers develop their skills that lead to more effective activities.”; “Seeks to develop a good offer for the schools that take part, and keen to reach specific schools.”

So thank you Sophie and Paul for developing the tool. I think it will be useful for universities and schools to articulate where they are and want to be in terms of working together. It also gives us a way of explaining how we bridge the gap between Spontaneous and Inspired without the drawbacks of either.

 

*Not really, but some funders seem to value this a little too highly IMHO.

Moderator Vacancy: November 2017

We’re looking for two moderators to work with us on our November 2017 events!

The events will run from the 6th to the 17th November 2017; I’m a Scientist UK and Ireland, I’m an Engineer UK and I’m a Medic.

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
  • 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
  • Are DBS checked on the update system
  • Openness in discussing your lunch

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by 10am Friday 20th October 2017), to Michaela at michaela@mangorol.la, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 6th – 17th November (Monday – Friday) with Skype training on Thursday 2nd November from 11:00-12:00
  • Hours: 37.5/week, 08.30-16.30 GMT
  • Pay: £8/hr

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

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.

Thinking about Science Capital

We’re thinking increasingly about Science Capital and how we apply it to our projects. It is a powerful concept that resonates strongly with what we aim to do and we want to make sure our projects make as much of a positive contribution to young people’s Science Capital as they can. We are looking for ways to evaluate in relation to Science Capital to show whether we are achieving this.

What is Science Capital?

If you’ve read read the 2013 ASPIRES report you’ll be familiar with this striking graph showing that although nearly 80% of UK students value science, less than 20% aspire to be scientists. Why is this?

Graph courtesy of ASPIRES/ASPIRES2: ucl.ac.uk/ioe/departments-centres/departments/education-practice-and-society/aspires

Based on their research, the ASPIRES team have developed the concept of Science Capital; the combination of experiences, personal connections, knowledge and attitudes that contribute to how much a young person identifies as a “science person”. The researchers found that young people with high Science Capital are more likely to have science-related career aspirations than those with lower Science Capital.

Dimensions of Science Capital

The ASPIRES researchers identified eight dimensions of Science Capital. We’ve summarised them below. For more detail follow the link to the Enterprising Science site.

  1. Scientific Literacy
    A young person’s knowledge and understanding about science and how science works. This also includes their confidence in feeling they know about science.
  1. Science-related attitudes, values and dispositions
    The extent to which a young person sees science as relevant to everyday life.
  1. Knowledge about the transferability of science
    Understanding that science qualifications, knowledge and skills have broad applications and are useful for a wide range of jobs beyond and not just in science.
  1. Science media consumption
    Engaging with science content in the media (books, television, or on the internet).
  1. Participation in out-of-school science learning contexts
    Participation in, e.g. science museums, science clubs, fairs, etc.
  1. Family science skills, knowledge and qualifications
    Having family members with science qualifications, skills, and interests.
  1. Knowing people in science-related roles
    Knowing people in their community who work in science-related roles.
  1. Talking about science in everyday life
    How often a young person talks about science out of school and the extent to which they are encouraged to continue with science.

Science Capital and I’m a Scientist

Our data and experience suggest that taking part in our I’m a … events has a measurable impact on students’ attitudes towards science and make a positive contribution to young people’s Science Capital.

We’ve looked at the 12 dimensions of Science Capital listed above and thought about whether and how I’m a Scientist contributes to each. There are three dimensions where we think our contribution is – or should be – most significant: knowing people in science-related jobs, scientific literacy, and knowledge about the transferability of science.

Knowing people in science-related jobs

Description: The people a young person knows (in a meaningful way) in their family, friends, peers and community circles who work in science-related roles.

We had a lot of discussion about whether the interactions between young people and scientists during I’m a Scientist, qualify as knowing someone “in a meaningful way”. Ultimately, we felt that while our events don’t fully fit the description, they fit the spirit, and – we think – make a small, though convincing contribution.

In fact, this is the area where we think our projects are most distinctive among STEM interventions. Young people who take part, engage in sustained and enthusiastic interactions with a group of real STEM professionals. Some students even form opposing teams to support their favourite scientist!

How we contribute:

  • Through voting, young people…
    • Take time to consider what is important in making a good scientist
    • Learn about scientists by reading their profiles and deciding who to vote for
    • Make personal judgements based on their direct interactions with the scientists and choose favourites
  • Through ASK and CHAT, young people…
    • Hear about scientists’ motivations and achievements
    • Learn about scientists’ interests, likes and dislikes, and find areas in common
    • Hear about life as a scientist from scientists’ points of view
  • Through the whole process, young people learn that many different types of people become scientists

Scientific literacy

Description: A young person’s knowledge and understanding about science and how science works. This also includes their confidence in feeling that they know about science.

We see plenty of evidence that suggests we contribute to this. Students ask scientists and engineers a huge variety of questions about science and how science works. In addition, we hope that the student-led approach and the willingness of scientists and engineers to answer pretty much any question gives students more confidence that they know about science.

How we contribute:

  • Scientists answer questions on scientific topics and students learn from their answers
  • Students learn about scientific process, ethics, and science in society
  • Young people develop their confidence in feeling that they know about science as they ask questions

Knowledge about the transferability of science

Description: Understanding the utility and broad application of science qualifications, knowledge and skills used in science (e.g. that these can lead to a wide range of jobs beyond, not just in, science fields).

Knowledge about the transferability of science is a really important dimension, and one where we should be able to make a contribution. At the moment, we are concerned we’re not getting it quite right.

We have run the occasional zone with candidates who have a science background but work in other roles, but in general zones tend to comprise only practicing scientists or engineers. We’re concerned this reinforces the “science = scientist” idea rather than helping students see that science skills are transferrable.

We’re working on evaluating whether our concerns are justified, and how we could adjust the composition of future zones to improve things.

Next steps

We’re just at the start of this process of evaluating projects in relation to Science Capital. As mentioned above, the process has already made us think about how our I’m a… projects contribute to young people’s knowledge about the transferability of science.

We’d really welcome discussion about this to help us develop our thinking so please get in touch and share your thoughts, either in the comments below, or elsewhere.

As a final note, there are also a few Science Capital dimensions where we don’t have much influence, and one – science-related attitudes, values and dispositions – where we think we do contribute, but would find it hard to evidence.

How do students from different schools engage with IAS?

Thousands of school students meet scientists through I’m a Scientist every year, and they ask thousands of questions.

In June 2017, over 3,000 students took part, asking scientists more than 2,500 questions in the ASK section alone. This is also the event that we implemented our question coding system across all the zones to see what students are asking about.

This all got us thinking:

Do students from different types of schools ask more or less of certain question types?

We’ve identified two groups we want to look at:

Under-served: Schools more than 30 minutes travel time from a major research HEI

Widening Participation: Schools with an above average number of students eligible for free school meals

Taking the questions from the I’m a Scientist zones in June 2017 it appears that:

  • Overall, the split of questions is similar across all groups of students
  • Under-served students ask more “science topics” and “personal” questions, getting to know the scientists outside work
  • WP students ask slightly more questions around “careers and education”

 

 

 

 

 

 

For all groups, questions about careers and education are the most common, and questions about the event or completely random and unrelated are the least (phew).

But why the differences?

Are they indicative of how students at different schools view scientists and STEM?

Do under-served students ask slightly more “personal”, and science topic questions to compensate for fewer opportunities to meet scientists in person?

Does the slightly higher percentage of WP students asking about “careers and education” demonstrate their greater interest in understanding future opportunities in STEM?

 

We don’t have the answers, but it’s certainly interesting to us that there are small differences in the types of questions students’ ask.

If you have thoughts on why this might be, we’d love to hear them, or if you want to talk about how you can support more under-served and WP students to have this opportunity get in touch: naomi@mangorol.la 01225 326892

“I’m a Scientist is great, but wouldn’t it be better if students could see and hear the scientists too?”

This is a question we get asked from time to time. Here we explain why we’re confident that text interaction remains the best format for effective online engagement: it makes students and scientists more comfortable, levels the playing field between adults and children, and makes the events accessible to a wider audience.

Students are more familiar with text-based chats.

There is growing evidence¹ that young people communicate most via text and less and less through phone or video and we’re hearing that anecdotally too. Feedback from teachers has pointed out that students are not only more familiar with a text format but also more comfortable with it.


All parties feel more confident about not being visible.

As an ex-teacher myself, the thought of making a class visible online to an unknown person via a webcam makes me uncomfortable. I’d also be concerned about scientists inadvertently displaying confidential or inappropriate material in the background. Text-based chats make it much easier to protect student identity and safeguard young people online.

One teacher told us his students didn’t want to be involved in I’m a Scientist at first because they assumed it would involve webcams and audio. Once he showed the class what the text-based chat looked like, they were much more comfortable and keen to get involved. Consequently these 16 students, who wouldn’t have participated in a video chat, asked 89 questions in their text-based live chat.

Both students and scientists feel less exposed through text-based chats in comparison to audio-visual. For students, this has a huge impact because the fact they are “hidden” gives them the confidence to fully engage with the event and students who are often too shy to speak up in class are able to do so in this environment.



A big part of what we do is break down stereotypes and whilst scientists have a profile picture on the site, the lack of video and sound means students focus less on what the scientists look and sound like and more on what they have to say.

Being text-based also provides an opportunity for scientists to communicate clearly with the students and provide meaningful responses:


Logistically, it’s easier.

A number of scientists have commented on the convenience of text-based chats. With our current model, scientists can take part from their office or usual work environment; having audio-visual chats would make these kind of outreach activities inaccessible to some scientists.



In fact, our current model is so easy to access, scientists have taken part in public places when out of the office, including a motorway service station and Glastonbury festival!



Online outreach activities, both text-based and audio-visual, allow schools to connect with scientists despite being in very different locations; this provides a school with access to hundreds of STEM professionals across a range of roles. Online outreach is especially important for rural schools, but it only works if the schools have the infrastructure to facilitate the projects. A number of our rural schools have previously expressed concerns about bandwidth. Whilst their internet connections are able to cope with text interactions, a video chat would be problematic in these locations.

Our chats are fast-paced but everyone gets their say.

Whilst it is possible to create a video chat with multiple scientists, turn taking would need to take place, losing the fast pace that we currently have in our text-based chats. This means fewer questions answered in the same time frame and less impactful engagement.

A similar challenge occurs when considering how students ask their questions. Undoubtedly the teacher would need to facilitate the session to decide who speaks next and, potentially, which questions should be asked. This intervention would diminish the excitement element of I’m a Scientist. It would also dissolve the direct link between student and scientist in our events, taking the ownership away from students.

Through our text-based chats, we tackle the ‘those who shout loudest get heard’ issue with chat features and moderators creating a situation where all students get attention. The number of replies a student gets is displayed to scientists and moderators who can then focus on students with fewer replies.


Our events are about more than the live chat.

Through our text-based chats and the two week long events, students not only have time to fully engage and ask questions to the scientists, they also have the chance to build a rapport with the scientists and get a true picture of what their lives entail. Students have access to five experts, providing more breadth and an opportunity to interest more students in the class.

The competition element of our events generates excitement as the students are in charge of who wins and the scientists are fighting for student votes. Much of our feedback from teachers explains how this creates longer-term student engagement than a one off chat. Students continue to talk about I’m a Scientist long after the event finishes – an indicator of the popularity and success of our events.

We could go on but the main point is…

To get the most from outreach opportunities and maximise engagement of all parties, it is essential that students and scientists feel equally comfortable and the format is as accessible as possible. We’re confident that our current text-based chat model is the best way to do this.

If you would like to talk more about our reasons, leave a comment or email me at katie@mangorol.la, we’d love to hear what you think.


¹A 2014 Ofcom report found that children aged 12-15 spend over 50% of their communication time on text messages, compared to just 6% on phone calls and video calls combined.

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What do students ASK about?


Our events generate huge amounts of interesting data, which we know contains all sorts of valuable insights. When there’s so much of it, it can take a while to work out how to make best use of it. 
One example of this is thematic analysis of the questions students post in ASK. Over the years of running the event we’ve developed a pretty good sense of the types of things students ask about and will always showcase great examples of questions. Converting that into a systematised, reportable analysis is more difficult, but can be done. So, we have developed a system for coding questions based on a set of themes that students often ask about, and after some trials in March, we’ve applied it to all zones in the June event (read the latest reports here).

At their broadest level, most student questions fall into one of three areas: questions about the science; questions about the scientist; questions about the I’m a… event. But we can look at this in more detail, considering elements of science capital (look out for a separate blog on this coming soon), and “how science works” (although this term has now been re-framed as “working scientifically” in the latest UK curriculum, we think it is still descriptive and useful for us). We’ve identified five top-level themes that we will report on. Each of which has one or more sub-themes which we are using to code the questions.

 

Science topics

covers facts, theories and knowledge about science. These can be related to the scientists work, or more general questions about science topics. Examples include…

When was the first epidemic discovered?

What animal has the worst venom and what does it do?

Can you give a robot human emotions?


How science works

looks at the process, motivations and ethics behind science. This could be finding out more about how decisions are made, why people chose science, or looking at how science fits into wider society. Examples include…

Is your work accurate and can be depended on?

Why do you think that a lot of people believe that psychology isn’t a science?

How did you come up with the idea of making MRI scans faster?


Career and education

includes the experiences of the scientists and aspirations of the students. Questions in this category build a greater understanding of real-life careers and education, including previous experience, current situation and future plans. Examples include…

What criteria did you use to choose your university?

Do you think you’ll ever leave the science job route for something different?

What is a PhD and how do you get one?


Personal

encompasses questions about scientists lives, knowledge and opinions outside of their work. Examples include….

Do you still have a social life?

From studying human relationships have you altered how you interact with people in day to day life?

What’s your opinion on the election?


Event/other

includes questions about the event and prize money, as well as a handful of questions that really don’t fit anywhere else. Examples include…

Do you think you can win I’m a Scientist?


Method

Using moderators and the event team each zone is coded, and then checked, so each set of questions have at least two run throughs. We use a coding guide as reference for consistency, and we are always building on our bank of reference questions for each category.

Students can ask anything they want, so it’s not always a clear-cut decision. Some questions overlap the different categories, but in general fit best within one of the reportable themes. There are some trickier questions that a few people will make a decision on together, and when we see a lot of similar questions we can agree how to code these. Although this won’t eliminate the ambiguity, it will help us to be consistent and transparent in how we code.

 

Results

Here’s how the questions distribute across all I’m a Scientist zones for the June 2017 events.

 

You can see the outcomes for individual zones in the latest I’m a Scientist reports and I’m an Engineer reportsWe’re going to keep refining this coding to make it more consistent and the best reflection of our events it can be.

If you have any comments, thoughts, or would like to know more, please get in touch.

‘My spirit is uplifted’ – June 2017 Winners blog posts

After every event we ask the winning scientists to write a short post 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, taking place 6th–17th November, at imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply

 

Sanjib Bhakta, Birkbeck University of London, Drug Resistance Zone

I never believed live-chat could be so easy and often stress-busting! My special thanks to all the students for engaging constructively and asking brilliant questions all round. I am reassured that all your intensely inquisitive minds, love, passion and extended hands will make global health emergencies like drug resistance appear trivial and under control in the near future.

Again, it was such great fun, honestly. In only two weeks of engagement with you and other scientists in the zone, Avril, Abid, Thom and Donna, my spirit has been uplifted! And chatting with you all, I even got some fresh ideas on how to deal with this emerging world health concern of drug resistance.

 

Liz Buckingham-Jeffery, University of Warwick, Epidemic Zone

I was asked by some students why I’ve taken part in I’m a Scientist. What is in it for me? And the honest truth is, I’ve really enjoyed it. It has made a nice change from my usual work! Some of the questions you asked were things I’ve never thought about before, so that was really interesting. And I learned new things from the other scientists’ answers, especially from Rosie and Christl.

 

Jermaine Ravalier, Bath Spa University, Mental Health Zone

What a great event this has been! The students have asked some great (and, honestly, some weird…) questions. So they’re the first people I’d like to thank – thank you to the students for making this event as great as it has been. It’s been really interesting taking on your questions and also getting to know the other psychologists in the chats.

 

 

https://relationshipsj17.imascientist.org.uk/profile/carrsamSam Carr, University of Bath, Relationships Zone

I believe that “asking questions” is by far the most critical and important part of any science. Your questions have been wonderful – and may you continue to ask interesting, challenging, outlandish, and crazy questions long, long into the future. Science really, really needs that.

 

 

Matt Lee, University of Bristol, Actinium Zone

There were some excellent questions, some downright weird questions, and some questions that made me second guess myself. But every question made me more excited to answer the next, and all the questions have given me a renewed enthusiasm for my work

 

Rosie Cane, University of Edinburgh, Thorium Zone

The competition definitely fell on a very busy couple of weeks; juggling experiments, conferences and festivals, but getting to talk to so many inspiring young people and answering all of your questions was so worth it and I would recommend this competition to anyone that loves science!

 

Dan Smith, Cardiff University, Protactinium Zone

I knew the event was going to be fun but I vastly underestimated how much fun. The questions you asked were both fun and challenging, keeping me on my toes at all times and giving me a fresh perspective and enthusiasm for my own research.

 


If you’re up for the challenge, want to answer some downright weird questions, even learn things from students…..

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!

Partner with I’m a Scientist on Strategic Support to Expedite Embedding Public Engagement with Research

Research Councils UK have announced the Strategic Support to Expedite Embedding Public Engagement with Research (SEE-PER) programme.

The aim is to help HEI’s and Research Institutes embed Public Engagement within their organisations and to address identified challenges stopping it being embedded.

I’m a Scientist is offering to partner with an applicant or multiple applicants for SEE-PER to help address issues of:

  • Supporting Public Engagement in Research
  • Motivations for PER
  • Making PER sustainable

We have a strong track record in public engagement not just with the event itself, but in the follow-on activities carried out by all participants. One clear message that comes from participating scientists is that they want to do more Public Engagement and the evidence is that they do go on to do more engagement.

We would like to work with HEI’s and Research Institutes to investigate why I’m a Scientist acts as a boost to researchers public engagement activities.

This partnership research could involve RCT’s to compare future public engagement activities; qualitative approaches to investigate the comparative differences between online engagement and performance based engagement or a look at the benefits of remote engagement to help researchers connect with communities normally out of reach.

We’d love to have a conversation about how the I’m a Scientist event can work with you on a SEE-PER project. Please give Shane a call on 01225 326892 or email shane@mangorol.la.

Our new theme!

In the last year I’m a Scientist has developed more than at any other time since we launched in 2010. We’ve hired new people, moved offices, moved servers, launched and relaunched multiple international projects (VietnamSpain, and Kenya), started projects like I’m a Medic and I’m a Researcher, developed a new Live Chat system (see Tim Peake using it for the I’m an Astronaut event), we even celebrated our company 15th anniversary… And to meet the needs of all these developments we’ve created a sleek new theme for the site.Tim Peake on I'm an Astronaut

The ‘theme’ is like the skin of the website. It doesn’t really change the functionality, just the style and way it looks. This new theme is a huge improvement over the previous one:

It’s fully mobile responsive – making it more accessible for scientists and students on whichever device they might be using.

It’s flexible and easy to implement – meaning we can roll out events more efficiently and at a lower cost than before (take a look at the I’m a Medic site).

It’s adaptable to other languages and alphabets – so we can keep expanding the event to new countries whilst maintaining identity and voice.

It’s easier to navigate and, we think, much better looking – it also matches the style of the new, astronaut-approved, live chat engine.

The theme has taken an incredible amount of work. The key factors in its design were accessibility, performance efficiency, and using modern systems and methods in creating a user-friendly experience for anyone who visits the site, on any device.

A huge thanks go to our wonderful team of Mike (dev), Lesley (chat dev), Andy (front end dev) and now Luke (front end dev) who have done a spectacular job adapting the functionality to meet more current, accessible standards, and testing everything into oblivion. They’ve succeeded in taking a very old theme and creating a new theme which allows old content to work in its structure, and where new content looks modern and is more accessible.

In the parlance of these times, here is a before (old site) and after (new site) gif:
Old them to new theme

See the new site up and running live on I’m a Scientist.

We’re also always on the look out for bugs, glitches or anything we may have missed during the testing phase, so if you spot anything that doesn’t work or look right, please email meemily@mangorol.la.

What’s next

We’re aiming to roll out the new theme across the rest of the projects over the summer, including I’m an Engineer, I’m a Researcher, and international events (it’s already on Ireland). We’ll also be redesigning specific parts of the site, such as the profiles. Thanks to the new theme, it’s now easier to improve the experience of online engagement in response to feedback. We hope you enjoy it.

Demand vs. Capacity: June 2017

We’ve just let down about 8,000 students. Their teachers, 84 of them, wanted to take part in I’m a Scientist this June and we simply don’t have room for them. We need more funding.

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 9 events; indeed for the past 6 events, we could have run double the number of zones we did.

Double the number of young people seeing that scientists are normal people like themselves.

Double the number of scientists taking part in “the best crash course in science communication”.

The Wellcome Trust and the British Psychological Society are funding zones this June. If you are interested in getting more physicists, chemists, non-biomed scientists involved in outreach, if you think more students should get the opportunity to find out what science and scientists are like then please write to someone with an outreach or widening participation budget and ask them to consider working with us. Get them to have a look at fund.imascientist.org.uk and contact Shane.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

On student activity and simplified registrations

TL;DR: We made the site easier for students to access and the proportion of our audience engaging increased.

Like any company, we have a set of Key Performance Indicators which we use to keep an eye on how well we’re doing. One of those KPIs (professionals use abbreviations) is the percentage of active students during an event, what we will call, %AS.

%AS shows the number of students who log in to the site, and go on to — at the very least — ask a question, write a line of text in a live chat, cast a vote, or leave a comment. Basically, it shows the proportion of our audience who are actively engaging with the activity.

In July 2014 Rosie posted a message on our project management app of choice, pointing out that the %AS for the previous events had been falling to the level it was at during the project pilot.

Graph of percentage of active students per IAS UK event. June 2011 to March 2016

Graph of percentage of active students per IAS UK event. June 2011 to March 2016

So, what did we do about it?

If you looked at the graph, you’ll see that we’ve already given the game away (but this is a one-graph-blog-post, and we’re not about to pad this out with multiple views of the same graph).

We started pre-registering students.

By visiting schools to observe students taking part, we saw that asking students to create their own accounts was taking way too long, was way too complicated, and largely, unnecessary.

We completely stripped down the process students go through to first get access to the site.

Previous and updated student access process

Previous and updated student access process

Previously, students would use an “access code” to get to a registration page, where they create a username and password, give us an email address, answer some other questions including some evaluation questions on their views of STEM. Now, students are given a generic username and password which gives them instant access to the site. From there, they can choose to go in and answer the evaluation questions, create a display name, and fill in their profile. But if they choose, they can get instant access to the live chats, to the question page, to scientists’ profiles.

The moral of the story then… By observing students use the site, we learnt that the registration process was too complicated. Pre-registering accounts for students does add a little more time and admin to the running of the event than not; but effort that pays off by making the site simpler to use and access for the students taking part.

Moderator Vacancies June 2016

Hello! It’s that time again! We’re looking for a couple of moderators for our June 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 2 moderators to work on the next event which will run from the 13th to the 24th June 2016.

First rule of moderator club… This is a paid, 10 day job, if you can’t do the 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 30th May 2016), to Michaela at michaela@gallomanor.com, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 13th – 24th June (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 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.

Increasing demand and charges for independent schools

Demand for our activities has been slowly increasing. We regularly have more classes requested than we are able to accommodate and we have to limit the number of classes we offer teachers. In November 2015, for the first time we had to start turning down teachers, unable to limit classes to a point where every teacher who applied could be given a place.

This increasing demand for classes has lead us to prioritise schools where we believe our activities can add the most value, where online STEM engagement can make the most difference.

Most of our funders are prioritising underserved audiences. For us that means schools that traditionally don’t send many students on to Higher Education or are located disadvantageously for STEM engagement activities. Sadly this means that some schools who have been able to take up places in the past will not be able to take part without additional funding.

Beginning with the June 2016 events, fee paying schools can choose to pay £100, for every class of students, in order to guarantee participation in the event. This money will go towards providing additional zones.

We’re aware that some of the teachers who have participated the most in the past will be affected by this change. We truly hope that you will be able to take part. In order to guarantee your spaces please email michaela@mangorol.la.

 

March 2016 Winners’ Blogs

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 the winners from March’s zones had to say…


Chris, Biochemistry Zone

I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’d leave chats with a big smile from your questions and aching fingers from trying to keep up with them. Your questions made me laugh, groan, and think. I had to research quite a few of them. I’d start every morning going through and answering your questions. There’s going to be a sad hole in my mornings now that we’re done.

Cat, Climate Change Zone

I genuinely couldn’t have imagined how much fun taking part in IAS was going to be – thanks so much for all the brilliant questions you guys sent in. Many of the questions made me think about things that I haven’t thought about for years and reminded me why I became a scientist in the first place 😀

Majid, Fat Zone

I have worked with children before, but never in a sense where I am teaching them about science and my research. So, this was like walking on new ground for me. But I quickly learnt to adapt the language I was using and shaped my approach to make the science easier to digest for the young students. So taking part in this event has helped me to grow as a scientist and it has inspired me to continue working with young children in my role as a doctor and a scientist, and I kind of feel somewhat like a role model now.

Emma, Gravity Zone

The Gravity Zone had some amazing scientists – Alice, Steve, Christian and Bose. It was very interesting to see how each scientist answered the different questions. This really helped me develop my communication skills.

Paul, Medical Physics Zone

I particularly enjoyed all of your sci-fi related questions, talking about time travel, aliens, Death Stars and superpowers is always good fun and I love to look at the science behind it. Questions like that are one of the main reasons I got interested in science, so it’s great to see school kids asking similar kinds of questions I was at that age! I also liked some of the more obscure questions as well, like ‘Why do tapeworms show on 100 year old x-rays but not new ones?’ which had us all baffled until the student unearthed a 100 year old paper on the subject.

Lauren, Toxicology Zone

Although my schedule is now significantly less jam packed without daily classroom chats, I am straight back into the lab and researching hard. I am genuinely looking forward to organising more STEM outreach events using the award, and interacting with yet more enthusiastic young scientists like you. Hopefully, I’ll be able to recreate some of the I’m a Scientist experience for others!

Scott, Iridium Zone

I really enjoyed the entire two weeks and every question really made me think. I’m so impressed by the depth and breadth of all your questions! I got very excited seeing new ones come in and answered them as quickly as I could, but also in a way that would inspire you and make you want to know more. I particularly enjoyed thinking about a ‘neutron star bullet’ and finding out about the most flammable thing in the world!

Lowri, Platinum Zone

I’m so happy that you’ve all taken an interest in science, even for a little while, and seen that not all scientists have crazy white hair and wear lab coats! I’ve had some really interesting (and some really strange!) questions over the last two weeks, from how do certain things affect students behaviour in school, to the surprising “would we all float away if there was no gravity?”

Hayley, Gold Zone

What was mind-blowing was the intelligence and ingenuity of all of the questions. From asking me what brains of autistic children look like, to asking me who my favourite footballer was! There was such diversity and passion behind every question. I have also learnt a tremendous amount! I have learnt so much about space! Some of the questions have truly inspired my research especially ‘do twins sleep the same?’ That was an outstanding question! I now don’t really know what to do everyday. I am going to have to pester my friends and colleagues to ask me questions and just talk at them about science!! I am excited to get on with my research and integrate all these questions. It has been so inspiring and I can now go into other schools and communities and tell them about the amazing people I have interacted with over the past two weeks.

If you think you can handle the challenging questions…Want new inspiration for your research… Or just want to chat about the science behind Death Stars…

Apply now to take part in the next event

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!

My school is absolutely buzzing about ‘I’m a scientist’. Children are spending hours at home looking at questions. They don’t want to go out for lunch, so they can spend time on it!

Teacher, I’m a Scientist, March 2016

I have learnt that scientists aren’t all that different to everyone else and anyone can really become a scientist if they really wanted to.

Student, I’m a Scientist, March 2016

It’s a really fun way to learn about science. You get to chat and learn from real scientists by typing. AMAZING!

Student, I’m a Scientist, March 2016

(I’ve learnt that…) not all science is bad. If I don’t like one part of science, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like all parts of science. And amazing things have come out of it, so you never know what will happen in the future!

Student, I’m a Scientist, March 2016

what havent i learnt? i found out loads of my questions i had wanted to know and it is fun to look at the lives of 5 different scientists. this website has INSPIRED me!!!

Student, I’m a Scientist, March 2016

I have learnt that any dream could be possible, like i wanted to meet a scientist and my dream came true. Eventhough hayley used to sleep in her class she still became a scientist.Only I have one dream and that is to be a doctor.

Student, I’m a Scientist, March 2016

Reaching widening participation schools. Does it work?

Fair access has been at the heart of what we do at I’m a Scientist. One of our long term goals is to increase the number of widening participation schools taking part in our projects. To do this, the first question we asked ourselves was: What is a widening participation school? But now we have yet another question: is it worth it?

Our instinct tell us it is, but is there any evidence that bringing STEM activities to those hard to reach students improves their attitudes to science or the likelihood to enrol in a STEM career?

mente

You can click to download the full report by FECYT.     Only in Spanish.

We’ve looked for this evidence and we’ve found a very nice piece of research carried out by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT, by its Spanish acronym) with the help of 1,565 Y10 and Y11 students from 36 schools in Barcelona and Madrid.

The students came from different socioeconomic sectors: 12% were from a high socio-economic background, 60% from a middle one and 28% were from lower socio-economic background.

Half of the students participated in two science communication activities: a workshop and a talk, and the other half were the control group. The students in the experimental group filled in a questionnaire, then took part in workshop, took a second survey, listened to a science talk, and filled in a third survey at the end. The students in the control group took the same 3 surveys at the same time as the other group, but didn’t take part any of the outreach activities.

Impact of outreach on attitude towards STEM subjects is highest among students from vulnerable backgrounds, and those with lower grades

When they look at the change in the interest on studying STEM, they found out that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds improved their interest by 9.5%, whereas those from high socio-economic backgrounds improved it by 3% only.

socio

Modified from “Mente Científica” report.

Moreover, when they look at the changes in the interest on studying STEM depending on the students’ school performance; they found out that the interest increased the most (almost 13%) in those with the lowest grades. The interest for studying STEM actually decreased for the excellent students achieving high grades at school.

grade

Modified from “Mente Científica” report.

This tells us we are on the right path. We need to make sure we make our events available to everyone, especially those schools with more students from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds and lower grades because it looks like outreach has the greatest effect on them.

Our definition of a widening participation school includes those where over 41% of students are eligible for free school meals (more likely to come from a vulnerable background), as well as schools in which less than 45% of students achieve A*–C grades in 5 of their GCSE exams.

In June 2015, 16% of the classes taking part in I’m a Scientist were from a school meeting the Widening Participation criteria above. In I’m an Engineer, 17% of the classes. In the following events we are going work to reach 30% of classes taking part meeting the WP criteria by the end of 2020. As usual, we’ll keep you updated on this.

Have you observed any of the above? Do you know any other related research? Please share your comments and let us know what you think.

Moderator Vacancies: March 2016

Hi again! It’s us again! It’s that time again! We’re looking for a couple of moderators for our March 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 2 moderators to work on the next event which will run from the 7th to the 18th March 2016. We will also be running I’m an Engineer Ireland and I’m an Astronaut (which is very cool).

First rule of moderator club.. This is a paid, 10 day job, if you can’t do the 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
  • Interested in discussing your lunch

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by Monday 22nd February 2016), to Emily at emily@gallomanor.com, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 7th – 18th March (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.

Demand for classes

Column chart showing demand for classes outstripping supply

When we started I’m a Scientist we used our March events to allow teachers to test the event and for them to come back in June with more classes. That time after school exams when teachers looked for something to inspire kids was the ideal time.

Times have changed since then. March remains popular as teachers look for activities to coincide with British Science Week, but June is no longer the most popular time of year. We think this is due to increasing numbers of schools starting the next year’s timetable and curriculum after exams and that fallow period is no longer fallow.

November is where we saw some spectacular growth in 2015. We’re not sure what has driven this – we’ll investigate and we’ll rebalance when in the year we run zones.

The other clear narrative from this graph is that excluding the lower than expected level of requests in June 2014, demand for I’m a Scientist is increasing and outstripping demand. The past four events have been oversubscribed and March looks like going the same way as November 2015. There are some advantages in terms of zones being busy, but we need a balance.

November 2015 – Bigger than ever

We’ve just published the latest batch of zone reports for the recent November 2015 round of I’m a Scientist. You can find them here, or at the bottom of this post, but before you dive into the pretty pie charts and wicked wordles, we felt it would be useful to provide some context to keep in mind as you read:

We had an inkling that November’s eight zones were going to be big. As we reported beforehand, due to extremely high demand from teachers, it was the first time ever that we had to turn schools away from I’m a Scientist. We also had to limit the number of classes of those taking part to one or two per zone to fit as many schools in as possible. Without doing this we would have had to run double the number of zones to cover the demand.

So, after the hype, exactly how big were the zones in November? Here are some headline figures:

  • 481 students, on average, logged in to each zone. Compare this to the historical average of 353, and a target of at least 300 per zone.
  • Students submitted an average of 956 questions per zone and half of the zones saw well over 1000. The event average is 717 questions.
  • 20 live chats per zone was the average number in November. This is also usually the maximum number we allow.
The averages for the November 2015 event and the averages over three years of I'm a Scientist UK. '% of students active' is percentage of students who logged in and used ASK, CHAT or VOTE. Asterisks denote new record averages for an event.

The averages for the November 2015 event and the averages over three years of I’m a Scientist UK. ‘% of students active’ is percentage of students who logged in and used ASK, CHAT or VOTE. Asterisks denote new record averages for an event.

While the figures above are incredible in terms of numbers of students interacting with the site, high zone numbers aren’t everything. In fact, what’s best for both students and scientists is running smaller zones and more of them.

We still had great feedback from the students, teachers and scientists in November, but the bigger a zone gets, there are potential consequences. Scientists can only do so much in two weeks and with so many live chats happening, we did see slightly less scientists per chat in some zones. There’s also less chance for students to come up with their own ASK questions that haven’t been asked before, and then receive answers made just for them. The lower proportion of approved questions to submitted questions reflects this.

We don’t want these consequences. We want every student to have their own high quality, personalised interaction with a scientist. An increased number of smaller zones would make this easier for everyone.

The situation we’re in also means we have to choose which schools take part, and in an effort to reach those who lack regular STEM engagement, we’ve started prioritising places for Widening Participation and rural schools. Ideally, however, we want all schools who register for an event to get a place in a zone.

Thanks to our current funders, and the sterling efforts of the scientists, November was a success. But if we’re near the limit of zone size now, what’s next? Luckily, the high demand for I’m a Scientist represents a huge opportunity for organisations to reach the public. Being oversubscribed means we can show there are hundreds of schools ready to engage with hundreds of keen scientists. All that’s needed is the funding for the zones to let them get on with it, and we’re going to try our best to make that happen.

November 2015 Reports:

“The whole experience has been incredibly rewarding”

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 the winners from November’s zones had to say…


Sara, Ageing Zone

I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here was a continuous surprise. I was surprised I was selected, I was surprised I wasn’t evicted and I was amazed I won!

I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t think kids will be so interested in my work; I work with animals and I was scared a lot of people would be against it and they would be aggressive about it. But no, I had amazing and clever questions I didn’t even expect.

It’s an experience that everyone should do!

Jack, Extreme Pressure Zone

You all had so many questions; some of them were jokes, some of them were intriguing, most of them were genius and they pretty much all made me smile. I’m so grateful you decided I was worthy of winning this event. *prayer hands emoji* from the bottom of my <3

Cristina, Heart Zone

I found myself chuckling in the office and typing away until my fingers hurt. I ended up looking forward to them a lot, talking to the students in real-time has been so much fun, and has definitely made me want to share science and engage with students in more ways.

Jesus, Spectroscopy Zone

I would recommend the experience to both scientists and students as I think that both can get a lot from it, there is no better way to test how much you know about something than trying to explain it to someone with a more limited background on the topic. Also, I think the students can benefit from talking to scientists and getting to know a bit more about student life from people that have been there not that long ago (Yes, we are still young and have a social life!).

Natalie, Osmium Zone

It gave me the opportunity to reach more schools than the ones I’ve had time to visit in the South West of Great Britain. For instance, without this competition, there’s no way I could have talked about my work with pupils in Scotland… The whole experience has been incredibly rewarding.

Nicholas, Rhenium Zone

I had a brilliant time on I’m a Scientist and really enjoyed the opportunity to try and explain a huge variety of scientific topics to all you guys, from black holes to bacteria… Thank you very much to all the students who took part – the depth and range of your questions was phenomenal, and seeing just how interested and enthusiastic you all are when it comes to science really shows how useful events like this are!

Ashley, Tantalum Zone

I now have some money and more importantly the responsibility to do something cool, fun and engaging to get guys like you more involved in our world. This is a really exciting opportunity that I never expected to have, and I already have a thousand hair brained ideas.

Ross, Tungsten Zone

What was so astounding was the range of questions that were asked of all of us – it is so clear that the students who took part were interested in such broad areas of science and keen to understand what the life of a scientist is like. I hope you all learned as much as I did – I knew very little about space before I’m a Scientist and now I feel like an expert! Also huge thanks to students asking if a balloon can be inflated by a fart – I am now making this a research priority ?

 

If you think you want to discover new ways to communicate your work… Or want the funding for a your own harebrained schemes… Or just want to gain a new fart-based research priority…

Apply now to take part in the next event

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!

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.

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.

Device

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.

Browser

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.

¡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!”

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.

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.