“I’m a Scientist was a fantastic experience. The students were engaged and interested in hearing about my research and the wider field I work in. I wanted to make sure other psychologists had the opportunity too!” — Dr Sam Smith, University of Leeds
After psychologist Sam Smith took part in I’m a Scientist, we worked with him to secure funding from the British Psychological Society for 3 more zones. As a result, more than 1,100 students across the UK were able to connect with psychologists in 2017.
Why work together
Sam believes public engagement is essential for a modern researcher. “It’s in my promotion criteria”, he says, “and you have to write about it when applying for research grants”. However, he thought that it was often hard to evidence the full impact of outreach and felt that, despite the popularity of the subject at schools, real psychologists aren’t visible to students. “When I was at school I had to make the effort to find people to email myself!”.
For our part, although we’re keen to have a diverse range of scientists participating in I’m a Scientist, many funding schemes of Learned Societies and professional organisations are open only to members. This is a problem for us.
Helping each other out
When Sam received his zone report, packed with data, charts and examples evidencing his engagement, it sparked the idea: “I thought, here is something that’s tangible”, he says, “A lot of applied psychology is really interesting, this would make it easier for students to find out what it’s really like”.
We collaborated with Sam on an application for the British Psychological Society (BPS)’s public engagement scheme, open only to members like himself. His expertise proved invaluable, for example when deciding the themes for the zones. Sam also enjoyed the process. “It was the easiest grant application process I’ve done,” he says, “and it was interesting to see things from the perspective of professional public engagers”.
Once the funding was in place the collaboration continued. From zone logo design to researching promotion channels for reaching psychologists, Sam’s feedback was valuable at every stage of developing the zones.
The outcomes from the three psychology zones speak for themselves. “The sheer volume of pupils who were interested and engaged demonstrates how useful this can be in reaching a wide range of children and young adults from across the country”, says Sam.
BPS were equally pleased: “The Society sponsored the zones as part of our work bringing evidence-based psychology to a wider public.” says Lisa Morrison-Coulthard, the Society’s lead policy adviser, “We are delighted with the findings of these evaluations.”
From our side, working on an application and the development of zones with a former participant like Sam has helped us to see new aspects of the project and come up with better ways of talking about it.
Doing more in partnership
Thanks to this success, the BPS recently agreed to annual support for psychology zones. We’re continuing to work with Sam to gain backing for regular psychology zones and adding new features. “There’s huge potential in the volume of data generated by the event to be used for research into students perceptions and attitudes”, says Sam. “Incorporating a research element into future plans could help provide even more value to the psychology community”.
Have you been involved with a I’m a Scientist or I’m an Engineer event? Feel inspired by Sam’s story to do the same for your discipline? Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation.
Whether support comes from a learned society or professional organisation of which you are a member, or your institution or employer, we’d love to hear your ideas.