Advice to our scientists

We’ve had a lot of emails asking practical questions about taking part in June, and I think the best thing is to put the answers here for everyone to see. I suspect many of you who haven’t written would still like to know the answers!


There will be 20 zones on June. The last event in March only had 5 zones, so this time is a lot bigger! In each zone there are 5 scientists, competing for a prize of £500. There are 20 classes of students per zone, usually this will mean about 400 students. Only those students can ask questions, have live chats and vote in that zone, although everyone can read the questions and answers and so on.

Themed zones

10 of the zones are themed. The themed zones are:-

Are we too clean?
Cancer research
Sports Science
Drugs Development
Use of chemicals in everyday life

One or two of you worried that you aren’t expert enough in the zone topic. Please bear in mind that the students you will be talking to are mainly 13/14 years old. Of course as academic scientists you have exacting standards of what constitutes expertise in an area, but in terms of the students level of knowledge and what’s in their curriculum you really are an expert!

Also, the zones were suggested by teachers and scientists, and then voted for by the teachers taking part (there’s nothing you can teach us about two-way engagement!). They reflect what teachers want to cover in their classes. It wouldn’t always be possible to provide five scientists whose work epitomised the topic, but we’ve tried to make sure they all overlap with the topic in some way and that each scientist brings a different perspective to the topic.

General zones

The other zones are all general zones – meaning they have a diverse collection of scientists from completely different areas and no overall theme. These zones are named after elements. The general zones are:-


What do we need from you right now?

At the moment, just your postal address (apart from scientists outside the UK – we will send you electronic versions of everything instead). And a photo. You can change the photo later if you decide you don’t like it, but we need something this week in order to create your profile pages.

What is involved in taking part?

Before the event starts you need to put up some information about yourself and answer some profile questions. It’s very helpful if you can do this by 1st June so that teachers can start doing background work with students. You can have a look at the profiles of the scientists from March, to see what the questions are.

During the event scientists usually spend 1-2 hours a day participating, for the ten weekdays that the event is on. This will vary according to how busy your zone is and how much detail you go into with your answers. Don’t worry if work is taking you abroad during the event, you can easily take part from there, as long as you have access to the internet and some free time. In fact several of our scientists are permanently based outside the UK.


About half of this time is spent answering questions submitted on the website – you can do this at whatever time is convenient for you. They will include questions about your work, general science questions, questions about you as a person and about what you plan to do with the prize money.

Some of the general science questions will be about topics well outside your area of expertise (for example rainbows, or chameleons…) but please don’t just ignore them! Many of the students have never had the chance to speak to a real scientist before and it is a big deal to them. If we just ignore their question then it’s not very encouraging for them. If you feel you don’t have the expertise to comment, please answer by saying that, and perhaps suggesting where they might find out, or what area of science it is.

Part of the point of the event is that students come to realise that real scientists are not like in the movies – they don’t know about everything! But also that they have conversations with you and feel they are engaging with real scientists – whatever you have to say in response to their question is a valid way to start that conversation!

Live chats

The other half of the time is spent having live chats with students. Everybody loves this part of the event – scientists, teachers and students all give chats the highest rating in feedback. The chats are text only, a bit like MSN or google chat. You don’t need any special software or anything, just your computer and access to the internet.

Chats are are booked by the teacher, to coincide with their science lesson, so the time is fixed, but we don’t expect all the scientists to make each one as we know you all have other commitments. We do explain this to teachers and students.

As long as a couple of scientists attend each chat the students will get a lot out of it. Although, be warned, students are most likely to vote for scientists they have chatted too! Maybe you think it’s the taking part and not the winning that counts, but you might change your mind when the first eviction is looming:-)

We don’t know when the chats will be yet, but as bookings are made you will be sent an email with the details. There will also be an online calendar you can consult telling you of all the chats in your zone.

I hope this answers all your questions for the moment. Do get back to us if you want to know more. We are here to help! But also feel free to use the comments section below to ask questions or make comments, as many people will have the same questions as you.

Posted on May 17, 2010 by in IAS Event, Scientists. 1 comment

One Response to Advice to our scientists

  1. SophiaC says:

    PS, I know a couple of you have said you aren’t sure if you can take part now as you’ll be out of the country. I’ve kept you on the list for now, for the sake of letting everyone know who’s taking part, but feel free to let us know if you feel you can’t do it. But I hope the above reassures you and you feel you can still take part.

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