Category Archives: Evaluation

Screenshot of home page of RI Youth Summit

Royal Institution Online Youth Summit – Report


Each year the RI run a youth summit on a subject related to the CHRISTMAS LECTURES. The Summit takes place at the RI and consists of a series of talks, and provocations in the Faraday Theatre interspersed with breakout sessions in various rooms around the building. 

In 2020 it was decided to run the Summit prior to the filming of the lectures so that the views of the delegates could be communicated to the lecturers. However the Covid-19 pandemic intervened and the RI building remained closed to the public.

The decision was taken to bring the summit online and I’m a Scientist was chosen as the platform because of a strong record of safeguarding and working with the RI on the Lectures.

The Summit was scheduled for October 16th 2020.


  • Through deliberation, to provide three messages from young people to the Christmas Lecturers
  • To test new methods of online public dialogue avoiding safeguarding concerns presented by video conferencing
  • To involve up to 150 students in discussions on Sustainability

The Summit

Screenshot of completed home page of RI Youth Summit

Screenshot of completed home page of RI Youth Summit

  • Schools were invited by the RI to sign up on a form at the IAS site.  
  • Teachers were sent log in details and instructions for providing access to students
  • Students were asked to abide by a Code of Conduct for the day
  • The activity on the day was guided from the Zone home page (right – as it appeared at the end of the day).
    • As the day progressed content was added to the top of the page
    • Banners appeared as new content was added
    • Moderators in chat rooms directed delegates to new content
  • Stimulus material was mostly in video form provided by the RI and contributors
  • Throughout most of the day a general chat room, The Coffee Shop, remained open to ask questions and provide a space for delegates to chat outside the specific discussions.
  • The day progressed as follows:
    • Video introduction from Tara Shine – Christmas Lecturer & Lisa Derry – RI Host
    • Delegates self-selected on a matrix about how they were feeling about the future of the planet. Their selection led them to a chat room. This placed delegates with like-minded people to start the day. It gave them a chance to get accustomed to the platform before entering into contentious discussions.
    • An 8 minute film from Dr Dani Rabaiotti introduced some of the subject matter for the day. This was followed by a short chat in their classrooms or in the Coffee Shop.
    • Following a break delegates were invited to view 3 video Postcards from the Future provocations. The videos were presented in random order to each delegate and followed by a chat about each. 
    • Facilitators drew out themes from the chats and a list of ten themes were presented to delegates. They were asked to vote for the themes they would like to discuss in the afternoon session.
    • Chat rooms were created for the five most popular themes and delegates were assigned to one of those rooms based on their voting preferences.
    • After another short break delegates were asked to work together on a message for the Christmas Lecturers and nominate a spokesperson to present their message in the final plenary session.


  • Schools were invited by the RI to sign up for up to 15 places using a form on the I’m a Scientist site.
  • 34 schools applied
  • 220 students signed up and 198 participated from 23 schools 
  • 9,075 lines of chat were posted
Students Allocated Lines Lines per student Avg length of line of chat (chrs)
Coffee Shop 1 189 1526 8 65
Building Site 76 370 5 84
Route Map 20 92 5 64
Into the mist 53 293 6 77
Carried Along 19 102 5 95
Coffee Shop Two 95 590 6 43
Grey Future 65 420 6 81
Shiny Future 79 744 9 73
Green Future 80 687 9 99
Population Control 110 29 1179 11 65
Inequality 91 38 789 9 75
Political Change 55 36 413 8 90
Future Technologies 61 34 691 11 80
Renewable Energy 58 33 413 7 83
Coffee Shop Three 115 766 7 53
 Total across day 198   9075   72


David Owen, from Gurukula Ltd, observed the summit. His observations are published here. [Royal Institution Youth Summit Observation report – PDF]

In  summary he said:

The Youth Summit appeared, based on the interactions and initial feedback to be a rewarding and engaging experience for the young people who took part. The I’m a Scientist team has developed a simple but effective platform which can help facilitate dialogue online. The platform uses the same heavily relied upon communication methods many have come to know through social media platforms, message boards and SMS messaging. It is known that such technologies when effectively moderated can contribute to emotional and social well-being and can provide a safe environment for learning and challenging perspectives.


A feedback form was provided for delegates.

Please enter your opinion on the following statements using the scale below. Blue is Strongly Agree and Orange is Strongly Disagree.

Select quotes in response to being asked what one thing would they remember from the day:

  • Being able to have a range of discussions about our future with the rest of the generation of tomorrow
  • That more people my age share my interest in these topics than I thought, although many don’t get involved in worthwhile discussion.
  • People’s point of view vary significantly 
  • Although the future seems bleak, there are options and are perceptions make all the difference.
  • Able to discuss ideas with others whom I usually might not interact with
  • Hearing other people’s passionate and interesting views on the environment and what we should do in the future and what the future holds for us as a generation.
  • The unique format and virtual experience
  • How people can have views VERY different from mine!
  • The mixture of opinions I encountered when discussing different topics.
  • Being able to appreciate everyones opinion


Posted on October 30, 2020 ModShane in Evaluation, Project News | Comments Off on Royal Institution Online Youth Summit – Report

COVID-19: Students’ questions

With schools across the UK due to close this week, the impact on the daily lives of students and young people of the COVID-19 outbreak is clear. We wanted to do a little analysis to look at what young people are concerned about, what are they asking?

Finding ourselves in the midst of the March I’m a Scientist (IAS) and I’m an Engineer (IAE) events, means that for the past few weeks, young people across the UK and Ireland have had the opportunity to ask any questions they like to groups of scientists and engineers.

We looked at the questions students have posted through ASK, the Q&A part of the sites, across our events this March: IAS and IAE in the UK and Ireland, and in the MRC Medical Research Zone.

Students have asked 5,792 questions. 419 (7%) of those have been related to the COVID-19 outbreak. (That’s looking at questions mentioning “Coronavirus”, “COVID-19”, “virus”, “outbreak”, “pandemic”, etc, and various spellings therein.)

There is variation by zone theme. In IAE, the Health Zone saw the highest proportion of related questions (12%), while in IAS, general (non-themed) zones tended to have higher proportions of related questions than zones linked to a specific theme; 22% in Nihonium, 15% in Copernicium, while themed zones, Energy and Molecule have only 3% each.

With 100 questions, the Medical Research Zone has seen the largest number of questions related to the outbreak (18% of total in the Zone).

The word cloud gives an idea of what young people are asking about:

Word cloud of themes students ASK about COVID-19The size of each word represents its frequency in questions related to COVID-19. Words such as Coronavirus, COVID-19, virus, etc have been excluded. (Colour has no significance.)

Most commonly, students are asking for the scientists’ opinions, and about finding a cure:

What do you think about the Corona virus? — Student, MRC Zone, March 2020

can you find a cure for the corornavirus? — Student, Nihonium Zone, March 2020

when do you think we will find a cure for the coronavirus — Student, MRC Zone, March 2020

Do you think it is ok to harm animals to find a cure for the coronavirus — Student, Flerovium Zone, March 2020

Questions have also looked at where the virus came from, and how it is spreading:

what started the corona virus — Student, MRC Zone, March 2020

Could you catch coronavirus from a dead person? — Student, Nihonium Zone, March 2020

Other students are wondering how serious the outbreak is, and whether the media’s response is accurate, as well as asking the scientists’ opinions on government response:

is the corona virus serious  — Student, Molecule Zone, March 2020

Is coronavirus as bad as the news makes it seem?  — Student, Copernicium Zone, March 2020

Is Covid-19 as bad as it is made out to be by the media?  — Student, Moscovium Zone, March 2020

do you think the government/ borris Johnson should be doing more to reduce/prevent the effects of covid 19 — Student, Livermorium Zone, March 2020

How are they solving the symptons and cures for corona virus and what do you think about Boris’ decision to keep school opened at this current moment in time? — Student, Moscovium Zone, March 2020

Students are concerned about what happens next, and whether — or how much — things will get worse, before they get better:

can the corona virus turn into something worse? — Student, Molecule Zone, March 2020

Do u think the crona virus will get worse or they will find a cure? — Student, Environment Zone, March 2020

do you think coronavirus will wipe out half the worlds population.  — Student, Particles Zone, March 2020

Additionally, students have asked thoughtful questions about how the scientists’ work can be related to the outbreak:

do you think you could support research on the coronavirus — Student, Health Zone, I’m an Engineer Ireland, March 2020

How will Maths help you get answers to solving the Corona virus?  — Student, Nihonium Zone, March 2020

One student in the Space Zone, kept their question on topic:

Would you be able to get the coronavirus in space? — Student, Space Zone, March 2020

Other students have asked about the impacts of the outbreak, and how at-risk people may be:

How do you think that spread of corona virus is affecting mental health of people who do not even have it? — Student, Community Zone, March 2020

Will covid-19 effect people with no health issues? — Student, Nihonium Zone, March 2020

Is covid-19 a threat to people with inhalers? — Student, Nihonium Zone, March 2020

Is it possible to get COVID-19 without any symptoms? — Student, Nihonium Zone, March 2020

This quick analysis offers an idea of the concerns that young people have around the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, more detailed coding of the questions being asked by students would be possible, as well as analysis of questions being asked in live CHATs.

Posted on March 19, 2020 modjosh in Evaluation, News | Comments Off on COVID-19: Students’ questions

Are Single Sex schools more likely to take part in I’m a Scientist?


A recent request for help resulted in a surprisingly large number of girls schools responding. We wondered if participating schools were biased along single sex education lines.

A quick analysis gave us the following percentages of UK schools taking part:

  • 20.4% of secondary schools
  • 19.9% of mixed schools
  • 27.7% of Girls Schools
  • 19.0% of Boys Schools

So we have a slight bias towards girls schools, but as they constitute only 7% of secondary schools, we can live with that bias.

And here’s the Venn diagram that illustrates the figures, and illustrates how dreadful venn diagram generators are.

Posted on January 15, 2020 modemily in Evaluation | Comments Off on Are Single Sex schools more likely to take part in I’m a Scientist?

Reflecting on I’m a Scientist participation: Academy Zone pilot


I found a lot of students were asking questions that weren’t directly related to my work, so initially I kept quiet, but then talking about it with Hannah and the other scientists, and reflecting on the Academy Zone questions made me consider my work in terms of ‘social influence’

Ian, PhD researcher


Formal public engagement (PE) training has been characterised as lacking uptake and mainly aiming ‘to increase participation in public engagement’, rather than improve the quality of engagement activities (State of Play report, 2016). As a researcher, actually improving your public engagement skills mainly happens informally, ‘on the job’, i.e. just before or during a school workshop, or through seeing how other people do it. There is often little time for reflection (ChallengeCPD@Bath report, 2018).

As part of the ChallengeCPD@Bath project, last year we showed that engaging with school students in I’m a Scientist (IAS) functions as effective, accessible, experiential learning, especially for communication skills.

We wanted to further improve IAS as a training opportunity for researchers. The Academy Zone was created to help participating scientists better understand principles of good public engagement through reflecting on their IAS experience while it was happening. The ultimate goal: help build capacity for effective, high quality, public engagement in the research community.

Aims and Objectives of Academy Zone

Academy Zone functioned as an extra zone invited scientists had access to during the June 2019 event. Through the zone we aimed to:

  • give researchers an introduction to good practice in public engagement and key concepts like Science Capital, and challenge their thinking on how PE could be done
  • improve opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and reflection, enriching the benefits of the IAS experience

Our objectives for the pilot were:

  • 3 researchers complete Academy Zone by answering all questions
  • 50% of invited scientists come to chats and/or respond to questions

14 Early Career Researchers (13 PhD researchers, 1 newly appointed lecturer) taking part in the June IAS event were invited to participate. Previous feedback and research shows that ECRs typically see the most benefits to communication skills during IAS.

Zone design

We worked with Dr Helen Featherstone of the University of Bath Public Engagement Unit and Dr Hannah Little of UWE Science Communication Unit to develop the format and content.

Every couple of days, researchers were sent a question to help them reflect on and think critically about public engagement while doing IAS. The questions related to the NCCPE Engage Framework and Science Capital.

  • Q1: Engage Framework Principle 1 – Purpose
  • Q2: Science Capital concept introduction – Is science ‘for me?’
  • Q3: Science Capital Teaching Approach and student-led formats
  • Q4: Engage Framework Principle 2- People Focused
  • Q5: Engage Framework Principle 3 – Mutually Beneficial
  • Q6: Engage Framework Principle 5 – Learning

Links to external resources and further reading related to each question, such as:

CHATs facilitated by Dr Little with the aim of initiating reflection and peer-to-peer learning between ECRs. 8 chats were scheduled on weekdays, initially held 8-9pm from the first Tuesday of the event.

To complete the Zone, and receive a certificate evidencing their CPD, ECRs had to answer all questions. These answers then function as a record of their learning they could access in the future.

What happened

8 of 14 researchers completed the Academy Zone

11 of 14 researchers were active

  • 11 researchers answered at least one question
  • 6 researchers came to at least one chat, 2 came to multiple chats
    • Evening chats were poorly attended (3 researchers over 6 chats) and replaced with day-time chats mid-way through the second week
    • Day-time chats were better attended, with 4 researchers coming to the chat on the second Wednesday and one researcher on the second Thursday.
  • 4 researchers said they read or watched at least one of the external resources

After the IAS event we asked researchers what they had found beneficial about doing Academy Zone alongside engaging with students. We also looked at their answers for evidence of learning and reflection.

Researchers valued being given the space to reflect and think critically about different kinds of engagement

“…when you’re in chat sessions with the kids there’s a lot of different questions flying about, some relating to your research, some not, so you don’t really have time to think about your responses. I found a lot were asking questions that weren’t directly related to my work, so initially I kept quiet, but then talking about it with Hannah and the other scientists, and reflecting on the Academy questions made me consider my work in terms of “social influence”, and not just about the theory and topic I’m specifically researching. So I was thinking how I engage with these kids… and I think there’s space in the Academy Zone to do that, to reflect on how you respond to the kids.
– Ian, PhD researcher

“It was a great opportunity to really think about what I was getting from the event and how it differed compared to other outreach I’ve done. I think without Academy Zone I wouldn’t have actually sat down and thought about the various types of outreach and the pros/cons of each!
– IAS event Survey response

Researchers gained knowledge of concepts and best practice that will inform future activities

The Academy Zone gives you a chance to step back and think about why you are taking part in I’m a Scientist and what you aim to get out of it yourself, as well as from other public engagement and outreach events. It gave me more perspective on exactly why I wanted to take part and gave me points to consider when planning future activities.
– Savannah, PhD researcher

Taking part in the Academy Zone has helped me to become more aware of what public engagement and outreach entail. It also got me thinking about how my own research could be the basis for designing and implementing PE/O activities. Since taking part in IAS, I have more seriously considered getting involved in PE/O activities and have looked at potential funding options.
– Bogdana, Lecturer

Researchers learnt from their peers

“It’s an opportunity to learn from other early career scientists about public engagement and science communication”
– Researcher Post IAS event Survey response

Researchers who completed the Zone received a certificate

“I’ll definitely add IAS to my CV – both the event and the Academy Zone… The certificates themselves are going in my office and will be useful if anyone ever asks for evidence of outreach / personal development stuff.”
– PhD Researcher

Examples of answers

The zone facilitator noted that answers from researchers were often detailed and showed critical thinking.

Question: I’m a Scientist uses a mainly text-only online platform. How do you think this part of the design is helpful for students trying to engage with scientists like you and your fellow competitors?

I think there are several advantages to using the text-only online platform in IAS.
(1) flexibility – students can post questions (in ASK) whenever they want. It doesn’t restrict their curiosity to a certain time slot (say a particular class in school)
(2) anonymity – students cannot be identified by name and probably that encourages them to ask questions even though they might worry that these are silly, because these can’t then be associated with them
(3) clarifying ideas – I think that asking questions in writing requires students to clarify their own ideas probably to a larger extent than if they formulated the questions verbally
(4) interactivity – the CHAT sessions enable students to interact live with scientists, to ask questions to which they get personalised answers
(5) low-pressure – I presume face-to-face discussions with scientists would put more pressure on students to ‘do well’ and not embarrass themselves, so the ‘remoteness’ might help in alleviating some of their performance anxiety

Question: Being open to new learning is key to good public engagement practice. What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned, about yourself, how to communicate or about the students themselves?

I would really say it is key to write for your audience and even if you think you have written at a level that is appropriate to them it is good to adapt further. I had quite a few students who missed the idea that I study bees because I had the word raspberry in my title, further review of my title is therefore needed to be unambiguous to all viewpoints.
The text chat and getting 20 questions about raspberries has really shown this and when I adapted my title the number of students asking about raspberries dropped to about 1/2 per session… As a result of I.A.S if i do anymore engagement I will most certainly devote more time to making sure that whatever i am presenting is unambiguous to all parties and tailored to the exact message I want to communicate


Learning for next time

Academy Zone will be available for researchers taking part in the next IAS event in November 2019. We plan to:

  • give access to Academy Zone early. At least a week before the school zones start to give researchers time to delve into resources and answer a couple of questions. Once the competition begins it is harder to get started with something else as attention is understandably focused on interacting with students as much as possible.
  • make Live CHATs more accessible. We will run chats during the day. ECRs told us they kept evenings for leisure or catching up on work.
  • better communicate the purpose and benefits of taking part in the Zone to researchers upfront. Our evaluation and feedback from researchers in the pilot will help us do this.

Posted on July 25, 2019 modemily in Evaluation, News, Scientist Benefits | Comments Off on Reflecting on I’m a Scientist participation: Academy Zone pilot

I’m a Scientist – Live! at the Ridgeway School for STFC Bringing Science to Swindon programme

On Tuesday 19th March two shows of I’m a Scientist – Live! came to the stage of the Ridgeway School as part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Bringing Science to Swindon programme. The event helped STFC reach a new audience and engaged school students with the people behind the science funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) councils, all based in their hometown.

In total, 200+ secondary school students from 5 different Swindon schools (Ridgeway, Kingsdown, Abbey Park, Commonweal, and Warneford) attended the shows.

They put their questions to 12 members of the UKRI community, between them representing STFC, EPSRC, BBSRC, NERC and MRC: scientists, engineers and staff from the research council head offices at Polaris House.

“Which one of you is the smartest?”

Marshalled by the MC Helen Arney, these brave competitors were faced with questions from the students such as:

  • Is water wet?
  • Will we be able to live on Mars in the future?
  • Is the Earth flat?
  • How old is the Universe in comparison to the Earth?
  • How do you detect neutrinos?
  • If the sky is blue because of the reflection of the sea, why isn’t it other colours because of reflections of the land?
  • Which one of you is the smartest?
  • What was your favourite subject as a kid?
  • What different properties do the tau, muon and electron neutrons have?
  • When is Boaty Mc-Boatface going to be in action?

Each strived to impress the audience with their answers, often debating or disagreeing with responses from their fellow competitors.

At the end of each show the students voted for the person who had most impressed them and deserved the prize of a £100 donation to a charity of their choice.

The winners were:

Show 1: Dr Phil Wiseman, supernova postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southampton – Prize donated to the MS Society

Show 2: Mousam Rai, PhD student researching neutrinos at the University of Warwick – Prize donated to NSPCC

In total, there was time for 11 student questions to be answered. After each show, many students took the opportunity to speak to the scientists one on one.

What the students thought

Students were asked for their views on the show they watched:

  • The shows reached a new audience for the STFC – Only 12 (6%) said they had previously been to an STFC event.
  • The majority of the students enjoyed the show – 60% rated it ‘Great’, 9% thought it was ‘Rubbish’, and the rest (31%) thought it was neither good nor bad.
  • The competitors were good at engaging their audience – 75% of students felt the show was aimed at the right level for them.
  • The format was welcoming for students – 72% agreed that they felt able to join and ask questions, if they wanted to.
  • A majority of the students (53%) felt inspired by the show in some way

Teachers at Ridgeway School said: “(The students) had great fun attending I’m a Scientist: Live while also improving their scientific knowledge and gaining an invaluable insight into the life of a modern-day scientist.”

Reflecting on how it went

IAS Live works best for the brave students

The Live! format is clearly an entertaining show that gives an insight into real scientific research and the people making it happen. However the format only allows for a small percentage of the audience to have their questions answered. It also takes bravery to stick your hand up and ask your question in a crowd of 100 peers (even for adults) and occasionally it was a struggle to get a question from students.

But students do have lots of questions, as shown by the numbers lining up to talk one on one with competitors after the shows. Competitors who had also done the online version of IAS commented on how students felt more comfortable volunteering questions in that format. In future we could open an online zone to accompany the event where students can get answers to the questions they weren’t able to ask during the show.

It’s valuable to include staff from Polaris House in non-research roles and those with connections to Swindon

Effort was made to recruit competitors who worked for research council head offices at Polaris House and priority was given to researchers with connections to the local area. This seems to have paid off as Mousam Rai, who grew up in Swindon, was voted the winner of his show.

Chris Carlton, Projects Peer Review Panel Secretary for STFC works at Polaris House and had even gone to the Ridgeway School as a student. This was his first engagement activity for school students, and beforehand was slightly unsure whether he would fit the event format given his non-research role.

Afterwards Chris said “I thought the event was great fun and really connected with the important part of what we do at UKRI which can sometimes be forgotten. I was also pleased at the amount I was able to contribute as there were lots of general questions…. I was very pleased by the friendly and collaborative vibe which was generated which certainly helped in settling my nerves.”

Focus on the questions

The format includes an introduction and ‘science fact or fiction’ introduction segment for each competitor. In this case, with 6 competitors each time and only an hour for the show, this meant there was less time for audience questions and discussion than we would have liked.

In future, with this number of competitors and a similar time frame, we would shorten the intros and get to the question section faster.

Thank you!

We’d like to give a huge thanks to all the competitors for giving their time to take part, and our fantastic MC Helen Arney. Thanks also to the staff at the Ridgeway School and Di Bulley at Swindon Borough Council who organised the venue and schools impeccably. Finally, thanks to our partners at the STFC for supporting the event as part the Bringing Science To Swindon programme.

Read the news post from the Ridgeway School about I’m a Scientist -Live!

Posted on March 28, 2019 in Evaluation, I'm a Scientist - Live | Comments Off on I’m a Scientist – Live! at the Ridgeway School for STFC Bringing Science to Swindon programme

Who do school students want to see on the new £50 Note?

£50 Note Zone LogoAccording to the I’m a Scientist poll in the £50 Note Zone, the scientist who should appear on the new £50 Note is:

Stephen Hawking

Championed by Lydia James and Ryan Cutter, Stephen Hawking won the most votes in our poll; students and members of the public believe he should be the scientist featured on the new £50 Note.



The £50 Note Zone was set up following the announcement from the Bank of England that the new £50 note will feature a prominent (deceased) British scientist, and that they would open a public consultation to help decide which scientist to feature.

In the £50 Note Zone, young people and members of the public across the UK were given a place to discover people from STEM history. They spent time reading profiles, asked questions, joined in discussions, and ultimately, made their decision on who they think deserves to appear on the new £50 note.

We invited past participants of I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer to nominate and champion their science heroes, answering questions about their nominees, and taking part in weekly live chats. 19 faces from British STEM history were nominated, and participants created profile pages for their nominees.


Who took part?

28 scientists and engineers who had previously taken part in the I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer UK events nominated their own heroes from STEM history, and were invited to take part. Champions who nominated the same person were invited to take part in small teams; sharing questions and live chats between them.

Between 1 November and 31 December 2018, the £50 Note Zone received over 11,000 page views from 1,335 users (89% of whom from the UK). Visitors to the Zone came from across the UK.

Web analytics data: (1 November – 31 December 2018)   User registrations:
Page views 11,317   Users who created an account in the Zone 560
Total users 1,335   Student users 546
Users from the UK 1,189   Students who came from the main November 2018 I’m a Scientist event 471
England 995   Students from new registrations (teachers signed up specifically to take part in the £50 Note Zone) 75
Scotland 144   Public users from social media registration 14
Northern Ireland 40   % of users who actively engaged (through asking a question, taking part in a live chat, posting a comment, or casting a vote) 42%
Wales 17


Map of UK schools which took part in the £50 Note Zone. (Blue markers show schools where students actively engaged through asking a question, taking part in a live chat, posting a comment, or casting a vote.) [Image: Google]

Map of UK schools which took part in the £50 Note Zone. (Blue markers show schools where students actively engaged through asking a question, taking part in a live chat, posting a comment, or casting a vote.) [Image: Google]

560 school students and members of the public created accounts in the £50 Note Zone, of which, 234 (42%) actively engaged through voting, asking a question, taking part in a live chat, or posting a comment.

Students from 71 schools across the UK registered accounts in the Zone where they were able to read profiles, and existing answers on the site. Students from 42 of these schools actively engaged with the Zone.

Additionally, students from 3 international schools took part and engaged with the Zone, giving school students in Peru, Spain, and the USA the opportunity to learn about British scientists from history.


What happened?

35 questions were posted in ASK, receiving 137 answers from the scientist and engineer champions.

4 live chats took place, each on a Wednesday evening, chats were promoted to teachers taking part in the standard I’m a Scientist event, people who had registered in the Zone, as well as through our Twitter channels. There were 1,277 lines of live chat.

Students and members of the public taking part in the Zone were invited to vote for the scientist they thought should appear on the new £50 note. Users were also encouraged to fill in the Bank of England’s official nomination form.


Who should be on the new £50 Note?

Stephen Hawking (Courtesy NASA StarChild) Image: Wikimedia

Stephen Hawking (Courtesy NASA StarChild) [Image: Wikimedia]

231 votes were cast from school students and members of the public, with an significant majority cast for one scientist: Stephen Hawking, who received 60% of the votes.

The two runners up in our poll were Alan Turing, and Rosalind Franklin.

When asked why Hawking should be on the £50 note, the team discussed the reach of Hawking’s work, as well as his lasting impacts on science, and the scientific community:

My work is far reaching, both literally and metaphorically!

I started my work on the theory of black holes in the universe. This work wasn’t only pioneering, it told us that if General Relativity is true, the universe has a beginning and an ending! …

My book, A Brief History of Time … has sold over 10 million copies and has been translated to over 35 languages. I have helped people around the world learn about science and many of them have been inspired to become scientists themselves!

With my impact to science still resonating in the ears of young scientists around the world, my contribution to science is ongoing.

Visitors to the £50 Note Zone were interested to know about the impacts Hawking and his work has had on people’s lives; importantly, the team highlighted Hawking’s work on communicating science, and inspiring young people into STEM:

So many people know about black holes, space time, and care about physics because of his books. A whole generation of scientists were created because of him. What’s more, Stephen is one of the few candidates who was alive to see the impact he had on the world!

Read more about what was said about Stephen Hawking and why he should appear on the new £50 note here; as well as what was said about the two runners up in our poll: Alan Turing, and Rosalind Franklin.

Posted on February 7, 2019 modjosh in Evaluation | 2 Comments

Experiential public engagement training through I’m a Scientist

We often hear directly from scientists about the positive impacts they get from engaging with our enthusiastic and diverse audience of school students. We’ve been able to research these impacts in more depths as part of the ChallengeCPD@Bath project run by the University of Bath. This in turn is part of the Strategic Support to Expedite Embedding Public Engagement with Research (SEE-PER) project funded by UK Research and Innovation.

We looked at whether taking part helped scientists from the March 2018 event improve their communication skills and if so, explore why IAS worked as experiential training. The results showed scientists became more confident communicating with public audiences and helped them develop effective ways of talking about their work. The opportunity for frequent practise, honest student feedback, and the text based nature of interaction were among the elements highlighted by scientists as particularly helpful.

Using these results we can demonstrate I’m a Scientist is effective experiential training in public engagement, especially for scientists with less experience or lower confidence. We’ve already incorporated some of the evidence into new materials explaining the value in taking part. The strongest evidence currently comes from the qualitative research and we can look at ways of more effectively assessing the positive impacts through quantitative data.

Read more about the results and methods for the elements of the research:

  1. Scoring confidence in communicating
  2. Rating scientists’ sentences
  3. Follow-up interviews
  4. Methods

We’d like to thank Dr Helen Featherstone and the team at University of Bath Public Engagement Unit for the opportunity to be part of the ChallengeCPD@Bath project. Find more information on the other outcomes of the project at the Public Engagement Unit blog.

Taking part improves the confidence of scientists communicating their work to public audiences

Anecdotally, we often hear that taking part gives scientists a lot of confidence when talking about their work. We decided to 1.Ask scientists about their confidence before and after the event, and 2. See if tracking how they felt each day might reveal more evidence of experiential learning.

We asked scientists to score their confidence communicating with the public each day of the event. We hypothesised that once scientists started the event and had a go at actually talking to the students their confidence would dip, before increasing again as they became better at handling fast paced live chats and imaginative ASK questions.

Out of a possible 517 scores, the scientists submitted 414, with scores from 37 scientists submitted each day on average.

The distribution of final scores submitted by scientists compared to their earliest score, either from before, or in the first week of, the event.

Overall, there was a clear improvement in the scores submitted after the event. For example, 91% of scientists scored themselves at 4 or higher post-event and, in particular, 44% scored themselves at 5 (very confident) post-event, compared to just 13% beforehand.

Day to day, there wasn’t a dramatic dip then increase. However when split into two different segments, a clearer pattern could be discerned:

  1. Those less confident (3 or less) at the start grew the most as the event went on.
  2. Those more confident (4 or more) at the start became less so once the event started, before becoming more confident again in the following days.

Judging by the comments submitted with scores, it could be that Group 1 contained people who had done little public engagement beforehand, whereas Group 2 could include those who were more experienced.

Both groups finished with almost exactly the same score, suggesting the experience was beneficial no matter where you started. A couple of scientists also noted that being evicted had decreased their confidence slightly.

The scores also suggest women gain confidence at a faster rate than men. The confidence of female scientists increased on average by 27% during the event (3.52→4.45), compared to an increase of 10% for male scientists (3.76→4.13).


2. Quantifying skills improvement using one sentence descriptions is difficult

Every scientist who applies for IAS must submit a sentence that describes what they do. These are then judged by students and teachers and the average ratings are used to help guide who gets places in each event. We wanted to see if the ratings increased for the sentences written post-event, and if their readability had increased indicating that the scientists were better at communicating what they do. 

35 scientists submitted a post-event sentence to compare with their pre-event sentences.

Student/teacher ratings: The average for post-event sentences was 0.77, compared to a pre-event average of 0.90, representing a decrease in rating of 0.13

Readability: The average grade for post-event sentences was 9.23, compared to a pre-event grade of 10.32, representing an increase in readability of 1.09 grades.

The results do not suggest any clear conclusions. The decrease in student ratings, although indicating that the sentences were likely not as good, is very small. Likewise, the increase in readability is too small to infer impact. Subjectively, there is a sense that less exciting language has been chosen in the post-event sentences in favour of conciseness.

This could indicate either:

  1. Scientists do not become better communicators through the event
    • This is countered by hundreds of scientists reporting increases in their communication skills and continued use of effective phrases developed in the event.
  2. Other factor(s) influenced the test, for example, the motivation to impress the students was missing after the event had taken place.
    • If run again, we could provide a reward for the best rated post-event sentences to match the pre-event motivational condition. However, it may be hard to replicate the incentive provided by the opportunity to take part in IAS.


3. The format enables and encourages scientists to develop their communication skills

Hearing from the scientists interviewed, it was clear that all five believed taking part in I’m a Scientist had improved their skill in communicating with the public. Read the full narrative for each interview. 

In summary, benefits mentioned were:

  • Being able to better adapt their language to their audience (avoid jargon and technical language)
  • Developing succinct phrases and effective analogies to explain concepts that they continue to use
  • Getting better at explaining the wider relevance of their research to get people engaged, even if they had had lots of previous outreach experience.
  • Positive impacts on how they communicated in professional contexts.
  • More confidence when communicating, especially for those with less outreach experience. All had taken part in further outreach activities following the event in March.

The format of I’m a Scientist was particularly helpful for the scientists in the following ways:

  • Frequent practice – Daily chats and ASK questions over two weeks allowed for new ways of explaining to be tested out and phrases to be honed over time
  • ‘Two-way’ – Student feedback in the form of further questions let scientists gauge how well they were communicating
  • Online and text-based –  Students gave more honest responses than some scientists had experienced in person, scientists felt more comfortable answering challenging questions.
  • Shared experience –  Scientists could see and learn from how others in their zone approached answering the students

“…every time I was answering to the kids they would ask more and more and like that would sort of bring, break down the concept into basics and I understood that that is how you can explain your work to a non-specialist audience” Kezia, PhD Student, no previous outreach experience

“Some of the analogies I totally plagiarised from the students! They come up with their own ways of understanding what you do. You’d describe it and they’d say ‘oh, is that a bit like this?’ and you’d say ‘exactly’. And that’s really nice too, when they do the imaginative work of explaining it for you. I really liked that.” Max, PhD Student, some outreach experience.

“I think I’ve learned how to be more ‘less specific’, how to maybe explain more of the sort of bigger picture of where my research could go and then discuss into more details from there depending on if there’s interest. I think that helps people who don’t understand in technical terms more what I’m more what you’re doing if you sort of say well this is the end goal” Neil, Postdoctoral researcher, experienced in outreach

“It put in my mind that I can be asked any question outside my field that I don’t expect… I would do my best to answer those questions. And if I don’t really know something, I wouldn’t be afraid. I would say ‘Ah I’m sorry I don’t really know about this’ And I could say ‘What do you know about this?’” Walaa, PhD student, some outreach experience

“Now I feel I can, you know I’ve got that you’re in the lift and they’re getting out on the second floor speech….Because you’re not in person… there’s not that level of politeness, it’s just ‘I’m not interested anymore, bye, I’m going to speak to someone else’, rather than feeling like they’re stood in front of their teacher, or their mum and dad and feeling like they have to be polite to this person they are talking to…  I kind of think it makes you have to get better.” Aileen, PhD Student, experienced in outreach


4. Methods

Scoring confidence in communicating

A short survey was sent to every scientist on the Friday before the event asking them to score themselves from 1(Not very confident) to 5 (Very confident) in answer to the question ‘How confident are you feeling at this moment about communicating your work to a lay audience?’. There was also an open text field to record their thoughts on how they had arrived at that score.

The scientists then received the same question every weekday at 4pm during the event until the final Friday. This gave us a maximum of 11 responses for each scientist. Reminders were also sent first thing each morning in case they had missed the previous day’s email.

Rating scientists’ sentences

Students are asked ‘Should this person get a place in the next event?’ and then rates each sentence either Definitely not, Maybe not, Probably, Definitely! We then assign these options a rating from -2 to +2 to give an average rating for each sentence.

In March, we asked the participating scientists to write a new sentence describing their work after taking part and compared its average rating to that of the sentence they submitted in their application. Each sentence was rated an average of 18 times. We also processed the sentences individually through an online readability scorer using the Flesch-Kincaid test. In this test, the lower the score, or ‘grade level’ the more readable the text is.


We carried out recorded phone interviews with a targeted sample of five of the scientists. We biased towards PhD students who have more to gain from training, and included people with varying levels of PE experience.

Posted on October 12, 2018 in Evaluation, Scientist Benefits | Comments Off on Experiential public engagement training through I’m a Scientist

Scientist Interview Narratives

Here are narratives for each of the five interviews carried out as part of the I’m a Scientist element of the ChallengeCPD@Bath project, funded by UKRI. These interviews investigated how I’m a Scientist works as experiential training for scientists communicating their research. Read about the full report post on this research

Kezia – 1st year PhD student

I’m a Scientist was Kezia’s first outreach activity and she was certain it helped her become better at communicating her work. She says the experience gave her the confidence to do more communication with public audiences and she has started delivering workshop sessions related to her research for school students. Kezia also noted she has learned to adapt her language when talking to ‘non-specialists’. In particular, she now uses analogies to explain concepts related to her work, and says this approach came from her I’m a Scientist experience.

“It sort of made me realise that yeah, I am confident, yeah, I can do that (outreach activity)… I’ve also signed up for the same sessions to be done next year with the same schools.”

“It improved how to explain my work to the common audience so I’ve been able to talk about my work with even my non-scientist friends… I’ve been able to think of and come up with some sort of analogies when I’m explaining concepts to people, like I’ve never thought of that aspect before I took part in the I’m a Scientist contest”

What was it about IAS?

The iterative nature of I’m a Scientist helped Kezia adapt her language and develop analogies. For example, she says that the multiple follow up questions from students in response to her answers in live chats forced her to find more and more accessible language and new ways of explaining her work.

“...every time I was answering to the kids they would ask more and more and like that would sort of bring, break down the concept into basics and I understood that that is how you can explain your work to a non-specialist audience

Any changes in a work context?

Kezia not only feels she has become a better communicator in a professional context, but the improvement has been noticed by her colleagues.

“ I work in an interdisciplinary project so not everyone understands the technicalities of what I do so yeah it has actually had an impact on the way I communicate overall… I’ve got very good feedback from people unlike before so there has been some sort of influence.”

Anything else that stood out?

Having done no outreach previously, Kezia found the online format appealing as a ‘first step’.

“I’m from India so I hadn’t done any outreach back there so it’s just not the research culture over there, so it was a completely new thing to me so the IAS forum was an online forum where I felt a bit safe and confident”


Aileen – 1st year PhD student

Before I’m a Scientist, Aileen had had regular experience communicating her work to visitors at her research institute and at one off events like Big Bang Fair. She believes taking part helped her develop short ‘quick-fire’ explanations of her research, improved how she adapts explanations for non-scientists of all ages, and improved her ability to deal with unexpected questions

“…you know when somebody wants a ten second answer  of what do you do? Rather than going in to the whole ‘I do this this and this and I’m a PhD student blah blah blah it’s very easy when you do it all day to give them five minutes and not even scratch the surface whereas now i feel i can, you know i’ve got that you’re in the lift and they’re getting out on the second floor speech.”

What was it about IAS?

The need to regularly get across information ‘succinctly’ in live chats particularly helped Aileen develop her short explanations. She felt that because students could easily switch their interest to someone else, without worrying about being polite, she was forced to explain herself as clearly and quickly as possible. Aileen also appreciated the information about the class’s age or level before the chats to help her adjust to what they might know about already. The computer based, text only nature of the activity also meant she was comfortable taking a moment to compose answers to unexpected questions

“…Because you’re not in person… there’s not that level of politeness, it’s just ‘I’m not interested anymore bye, I’m going to speak to someone else’, rather than feeling like they’re stood in front of their teacher, or their mum and dad and feeling like they have to be polite to this person they are talking to…  I kind of think it makes you have to get better.”

“…It’s you know preparing you for the unexpected, it’s quite good and then you’re behind the screen so if you suddenly have 30 seconds when you clam up it’s a lot easier than when you’re standing in front of someone. So it’s quite good to practise it in that format, rather than ‘oh god there’s a major investor stood in front of me and I really need to answer them now.”

Plans for, or effects on, further public engagement

Brilliant Club – Aileen is looking to being more targeted with her outreach as she goes into the second year of her PhD (so an effect not related to her IAS experience) and preferring something where she can build relationships over a longer period of time.

Any changes in a work context?

Aileen believes her elevator pitch has helped her in professional contexts, such as conferences.

“in terms of turning up to conferences and that kind of thing, being able to explain what I do in a very short speech is helpful.”

Anything else that stood out?

Convenience of IAS a big plus for keeping her supervisors happy, perhaps pointing to the perception of outreach as ‘not real science’

“…I can do it over lunch  and I can still do, you know, maybe not the same amount of work that I would do on a normal day but I could still do 80% of the work that I could do normally …. and my supervisors don’t get upset about doing too much time doing outreach and not enough time doing my actual experiments.”


Max – 3rd year PhD student

Max is a 3rd Year PhD student who has previously written blogs and taught science at summer camps and in Oxfordshire. This outreach has not involved much of his own research and “that definitely sets I’m a Scientist aside, where the main focus was me and my work.”

By taking part Max says he has now developed a ‘better arsenal of metaphors and analogies’ for describing what he does, and feels he has a much better understanding of what public audiences find interesting about his work. He also feels more confident in talking about his work since taking part.

“…often you hear scientists being afraid of boring people or not being interesting, so you err on the side of not wanting to talk about your science at all… The experience showed me that actually, in general, people are interested in hearing about what you do, you just need to find the right way to engage their interest. And probably the way that you do that for a 14 year old is not that different to the way you do it for a 40 year old, especially if their knowledge of science is kind of comparable anyway.”

What was it about IAS?

Max thinks that the ‘two-way’ nature of I’m a Scientist was key to the impacts on his communication skills. Responses and feedback  from students directly helped him develop new analogies, and told him when he wasn’t explaining himself well enough.

“Some of the analogies I totally plagiarised from the students! They come up with their own ways of understanding what you do. You’d describe it and they’d say ‘oh, is that a bit like this?’ and you’d say ‘exactly’. And that’s really nice too, when they do the imaginative work of explaining it for you. I really liked that.”

“The whole thing was very two-way — you’re giving answers to the questions people are directly asking you, and then you get their responses as to whether or not they like the answers, both immediately because they’d say ‘that makes sense’ or they’d ask another question, and also long term because of the votes and the competition”

Plans for, or effects on, further public engagement

Max won his zone and plans to use his prize money to develop a podcast about his field. It will feature local school students asking questions about gene editing, and agrees that how I’m a Scientist lets the students lead the discussion while providing stimulus material (profiles etc) has influenced his approach.

“To me, that kind of two-way engagement where you’re actually having a scientific discussion, pitched at the right level, is just so much more productive than Brian Cox asking you to think about the universe or whatever.”

Any changes in a work context?

Max feels that answering the students’ ‘inventive’ questions has led to him talking much more with colleagues in the lab about their work and his own, and in a way that is more meaningful than technical.

“I think the amount that I chatted with my colleagues when I had these crazy inventive questions from students in I’m a Scientist, made me see that if I had that same level of discussion with them about my work — not just ‘how do I attach X to Y in this machine?’ but also ‘what does this actually mean?’ — it could be really productive. I think in general I’ve been talking to my colleagues more and been trying to see the wood for the trees a bit more and actually talk about the concepts, rather than just the nitty gritty, which as technical scientists we always get bogged down in.”

Anything else of note?

Max’s university, and others, approached him to write blogs posts about taking part in IAS.

Neil- Postdoctoral researcher

Neil does regular chemistry outreach as part of a tour of Scottish schools twice year, however it doesn’t involve talking about his own work. He says he saw a big change in how he communicated in both ASK and chat over the course of the event. He thinks taking part has improved his use of appropriate language and has changed how starts conversations with public audiences, now focusing first on the ‘bigger picture’ and the relevance of what he does to other people.

“I thought I was relatively good at communicating, obviously I still think I do, but I think my levels  of technical, what my perceived level of technical detail that people will understand and actual level may be a little bit different.”

“…now I know, I feel I know the level that I should be trying at and the level that you get more response from.”

“I think I’ve learned how to be more, more ‘less specific’, how to maybe explain more of the sort of bigger picture of where my research could go and then discuss into more details from there depending on if there’s interest. I think that helps people who don’t understand in technical terms more what I’m more what you’re doing if you sort of say well this is the end goal, rather than just saying we do this because it’s interesting or we do this because it’s an important piece of fundamental research that will lead on to more things. You sort of need to explain what the other things are and then come back abit to say why what you’;re doing fits into that”

What was it about IAS?

The back and forth conversation with students (or lack of, depending on his answers) helped Neil adjust the language he was using and the way he was explaining things, and the text only format was important for this to happen. He also learnt a lot by seeing how another scientist with lots of outreach experience was approaching their answers during live chats.

“If they’re asking me about my work or what I do day to day, erm, I think when I started answering them I think I was trying I tried to be a bit sort of over technical and not simplify enough and  I could see quite quickly that ‘hmm that’s not quite right so, cos you could see in the chats maybe you didn’t quite get more response’

I definitely learned quite a bit from especially from Lauren Webster, who’s a chemist from Dundee, cos she also does a lot of outreach at the moment. She used simpler language from the start … I found that if I sort of changed how i was answering things, maybe made things a little more vague, but more understandable, the conversations went on for longer”

“…text based, that’s how they’re used to communicating, it’s less formal and if you’re dealing with a number of people I’m guessing it would be quite hard to have a two way video conversation”

Plans for, or effects on, further public engagement

Neil thinks there was far more ‘interactivity’ with students in IAS compared to his schools workshops.

“…as soon as you’ve delivered the activity or the demonstration, you’re tidying up to do the next one and you’re thinking you know ‘right , i’ve got to go to the next place and get sorted again.’ This, there’s a lot more interactivity here and that was good.”

Anything else of note?

Neil enjoyed answering the science questions more than ones about himself outside of his work. He also found the chats with fewer scientists more enjoyable because it focused the conversation.

“…when there was only two or three of us (scientists) it was much easier to have thready conversations where both of us answering to the pupils and building on each others’ answers so I think we got more out of it when it wasn’t quite so chaotic”


Walaa – 1st Year PhD Student

Walaa had done a short talk competition last year and made the regional finals. After taking part in IAS she felt she had increased her confidence when dealing with unexpected questions, and learned how to provide more information for interested people. Walaa also feels she has gained a better understanding of what the public thinks and knows about the area of her research, bees.

It put in my mind that I can be asked any question outside my field that I don’t expect… I would do my best to answer those questions. And I would say, if i don’t really know something I wouldn’t be afraid. I would say ‘Ah I’m sorry I don’t really know about this’ And I could say ‘What do you know about this?’

What was it about IAS?

Walaa found the event was a good opportunity to practise explaining herself without technical language.

“I tried to start from the beginning, with very basic things, easy things. They don’t know any technical language so i tried to avoid using technical language, or if I have to use one then i would explain it, what does it mean , break it down into parts”

Plans for, or effects on, further public engagement

Walaa has since signed up as a STEM ambassador and delivered two workshops about bees

Any changes in a work context?

Doing IAS has been part of a process for Walaa about learning to sell herself

Anything else that stood out?

She feels the having IAS on her CV got her a job translating science writing into Arabic.

Posted on October 11, 2018 in Evaluation, Scientist Benefits | Comments Off on Scientist Interview Narratives

5 reasons I’m a Scientist is worth your lesson time… even for exam classes.

Project Wrangler Katie was a science teacher before joining the I’m a Scientist team, so has first-hand experience of the intense curriculum pressures teachers face. Here she talks us through how I’m a Scientist benefits your students with 5 reasons why it’s worth allocating lesson time to the activity.

  1. Improves students’ motivation to learn

Teachers often tell me they notice greater lesson engagement and improved learning after taking part in I’m a Scientist. This improved class focus can lead to more efficient learning of curriculum content, as students are more interested in science.

Students’ Science Capital is raised and they begin to see science as ‘something for me’.

  1. Provides real-life context for science learnt in the classroom

As a teacher, I found it frustrating to hear students say what they were learning was pointless or that they’d never use it in their future. Whilst lots of scientific concepts are easy to link to a real-life context, some just don’t seem as relevant to a teenage mind: I’m a Scientist helps students see how science is applied day-to-day, connecting the subject to their lives.

  1. Fosters scientific enquiry

Participating in I’m a Scientist will encourage your students to explore topics that really interest them and celebrate their enquiring nature. Mark uses the activity as an opportunity for students to ask questions they don’t ask in normal lessons:

  1. Develops literacy and oracy

I’m a Scientist helps your students develop skills outside their science lessons.

  1. Links directly to curriculum content

I’m a Scientist features themed and general science zones. In both types of zones you’ll find scientists working in areas linked to the science curriculum.

Participating doesn’t necessarily mean losing curriculum time. Combined with the other benefits of I’m a Scientist, the activity brings value to students of all abilities, across Key Stages 2-5.

Take part with your classes

To help your students develop through I’m a Scientist activities, register your interest at or contact for more information.

Already taken part before? We’ll email you to let you know when booking opens for our next activities. Take a look at the Events Calendar to see what’s coming up.


Posted on June 26, 2018 admin in News, Science Capital | Comments Off on 5 reasons I’m a Scientist is worth your lesson time… even for exam classes.

Researcher Development Framework and I’m a Scientist

It’s well established that scientists doing I’m a Scientist gain just as many positive outcomes as the students they talk to. We use the Vitae Researcher Development Framework to talk about the benefits of I’m a Scientist in context.

We surveyed event alumni from centres of doctoral training (CDTs) to quantify the effect of taking part on relevant RDF descriptors.

37 alumni who had taken part in I’m a Scientist or I’m an Engineer at least 3 months prior responded.

There were some fantastic results, with the key results by relevant RDF domain being:

Personal effectiveness


It seems to have been a big positive on my CV, which I have to admit I didn’t expect. I was asked about it specifically both at interview, and later by my line manager during the induction process.”

CDT student

  • 81% of respondents considered taking part as contributing to their Continuing Professional Development (B3 Continuing professional development)
  • 73% say that taking part increased their enthusiasm and passion for their research (B1 Enthusiasm, B1 Self-confidence, B1 Self-reflection)
  • Getting to reflect on their personal motivations and the interest that students showed in their research were the biggest contributing factor to this effect.
  • 68% had seen benefits to either their professional networks, the number of opportunities offered to them, and their profile and reputation as a researcher.(B3 Continuing professional development B3, Responsiveness to opportunities, B3 Networking)

Engagement, influence, and impact


It establishes me as an enthusiastic researcher willing to engage with researchers. If future employers Google me they find something positive straight away.”

CDT student

  • 94% said taking part improved their ability to communicate research with public audiences
  • Being able to ‘adapt language for different ability levels’ was the most improved skill among respondents
  • 92% said they adapted their approach to communicating with students as the event went on
  • 91% continue to use phrases they developed during the event to explain what they do in other contexts (D2 Communication methods, D2 Communication media, D3 Public engagement, also A3 Argument construction)


Writing an answer, it’s much easier to stop using jargon, it was a good lesson in recalibrating yourself… Now when you go to do face to face outreach you feel more equipped.”

CDT student

  • 69% said taking part had improved their understanding of the impact of their research on society in some way (D3 Society and culture, D3 Global citizenship, D3 Public engagement, also C1 Ethics, principles and sustainability)
  • The impact of their research on people’s everyday lives was the area most had improved this understanding. Understanding of ethical issues and the economic value of their research were other improved areas.


“Engineers typically do not have a lot of time to give back to the society in the form of public discussion, but this experience highlighted that it is very important to have those conversations with new generations coming through and as a result I have participated in more public engagement activities than I previously would have”

CDT student

Posted on May 15, 2018 in Evaluation, Scientist Benefits | Comments Off on Researcher Development Framework and I’m a Scientist

Increasing students’ confidence with I’m a Scientist

“Many of our students lack confidence in their academic ability so they were buzzing when they realised they can hold their own in a conversation with intelligent, educated people and this helped them realise they are all scientists too!” – Julia Anderson, FE College Biology Lecturer

This general further education college is split across 3 sites in a large, post-industrial, non-university town. Students at the college took part in the I’m a Scientist Immune System and Genes Zones in March 2018. Julia tells us how meaningful engagement with the scientists increased her students’ confidence.

Why apply for I’m a Scientist?

One of the key things Julia is addressing with her students is their confidence issues: “Our students come to us lacking confidence. They’re doing A Level qualifications, but because they’re at FE college rather than a Sixth Form, they think they’re ‘2nd class’ and they really aren’t. I wanted to show them how worthy they are.”

Julia also wanted to get her students more involved in science so being able to connect them directly with scientists through the activity was another key incentive to apply: “They get unbridled access to scientists they wouldn’t normally get to talk to.”

What did the students do?

Students prepared by logging in to look around site and read scientists’ profiles. “We had a class discussion about how each scientist related to the A Level curriculum and debated the sort of questions students might want to ask ready for their live chat with the scientists.” Having access to the site for the full two weeks was helpful for Julia’s students to prepare and follow up either side of their live chat. “We finished with a de-brief lesson, talking about what was useful, what interested the students and their thoughts about the scientists as people.”

Growing students’ confidence

For Julia, the biggest benefit of the activity was improving her students’ confidence. “It was so good for them to see they can hold their own in a conversation with intelligent and educated people who have studied these topics for 10 years. They were buzzing and so excited to be talking to scientists and not sounding like idiots!” Taking part in I’m a Scientist not only helped Julia’s students gain confidence in their abilities, it helped them “realise they are all scientists too!”

Engaging students in a 2-way conversation

“Students and scientists were on fire, sending questions back and forth throughout the chats.” Julia explains how this 2-way interaction differs from a recent face-to-face where her students wouldn’t speak up; “we went to a university event and I was trying to get students to talk to the scientists and find out more about their work. They were too shy, saying things like ‘what if they don’t want to talk to me?’ There was none of that in the I’m a Scientist live chat. No fear from students that scientists would be too busy to talk to them, they were really comfortable.”

Improving social mobility

One of Julia’s students, from a deprived working class town he wishes to leave, was particularly interested in the background of the scientists; “the first thing he wanted to know was where the scientists went to school, was it state or private?” Participating scientists are selected to ensure a range of backgrounds and routes into science are represented. Julia’s student initially switched off from one scientist who attended private school but soon changed his mind, “when the scientist explained that the majority of students on his undergraduate course were from state schools, my student could relate to this academic route.” Julia managed to talk this student out of leaving college part way through his qualifications “I felt if he did, he would never leave the town he wants to leave. The scientists in this activity had varied backgrounds and he was content with that, it helped him see you can grow up working class, on a low income and get ahead.”

To help your students gain confidence in their abilities through I’m a Scientist activities, register your interest at or contact for more information.

Already registered? Don’t forget to apply for the next event – we email registered teachers when applications open (about 2 months before the event starts).

Posted on May 14, 2018 in Case Study, Evaluation, News, School, Teachers, Widening Participation | Comments Off on Increasing students’ confidence with I’m a Scientist

Using I’m a Scientist to increase participation in higher education

“Traditionally, not many of our students go on to university. I’m a Scientist helps by allowing students to relate to scientists and helping them see the value of studying at a higher level.” – Mark McNally, Science Teacher

A mixed 2-19 academy, where over two thirds of the school population are students from disadvantaged backgrounds, took part in I’m a Scientist in March 2018. Mark tells us how the activity helped interest his students in science careers and consider higher education.

Why apply for I’m a Scientist?

Despite a good attitude to learning among the students, not many go on to higher education; something the school is working to improve. Mark explains how he wanted to challenge his students’ preconceptions of scientists and help them consider studying science at a higher level; “I wanted to show our students science is not just for ‘weird people with crazy hair and lab coats’ and help them find interest in things going on now in science to increase the chance of them pursuing STEM subjects in the future.”

What did the students do?

The activity was covered in three lessons led by the class teacher across a two week period. Students started by considering how to judge the competing scientists, then got to know them using their profiles and asking questions on the site. The final lesson involved an online chat where students typed their questions and responses to scientists in real time before voting for their favourite scientist.

Did it work?

Mark agrees that I’m a Scientist helps raise students’ science capital, increasing the likelihood of them studying STEM subjects or using science in their future professions. “Raising awareness of a variety of careers they can go into and getting them in contact with scientists helps students see it’s something they could do.”

Opening students’ minds to higher education

I’m a Scientist provided an opportunity for Mark’s students to engage with science professionals who have studied at a high level, helping to open students’ minds to options they may not have otherwise considered. “I think one of the main barriers for our students is that not many come from families with an academic background so they don’t often consider academic routes,” explains Mark, “through this activity, my students connected with academic people and found out about things that interest them in terms of a future career, so they are more likely to pursue an academic route.”

”Even if students don’t want a career in STEM, they can now see the value of studying at a higher level and if they do want a career in STEM, this activity helped cement that for them.”

Satisfying quieter students’ curiosity

Mark’s students developed knowledge and understanding on current scientific topics, “I’m a Scientist allowed the students to engage with the kind of science that’s going on right now in the world.” Mark also told us of the importance for his students to be able to ask whatever they liked throughout the activity, “for a lot of students, I’m a Scientist was about satisfying their curiosity. It’s important because they have so many questions and they don’t always ask, especially the quieter students, but using this platform allows them to get their questions addressed.”

To support your students in considering higher education through I’m a Scientist activities, register your interest here: or contact for more information.

Already registered? Don’t forget to apply for the next event – we email registered teachers when applications open (about 2 months before the event starts).

Posted on May 2, 2018 in Case Study, Evaluation, News, Science Capital, Teachers, Widening Participation | Comments Off on Using I’m a Scientist to increase participation in higher education

Providing STEM opportunities for distant schools

“As we are a remote rural community we do not have a huge variety of careers on our doorstep but these events help to bring them closer to pupils. More students should be getting these funded opportunities across the UK.” – Emily Tulloch, Science teacher on the island of Unst. most northerly school in the UK is located in one of our most distant areas in the Shetland Isles. Emily tells us how I’m a Scientist allowed her remote students to explore a range of STEM careers and increased motivation to learn science.

Why apply for I’m a Scientist?

“For me, it’s all about increasing Science Capital.” Emily often tries to provide STEM opportunities in school, particularly to help students broaden their understanding of careers, but it can be a challenge. “The STEM ambassador programme is great and we have a number of ambassadors based in Shetland. However there are significant barriers for them to reach the school – it can take almost a day to visit for a 1 hour talk and of course there’s the cost implication too.”

The school often rely on parents to demonstrate different careers to students “we’re lucky that our community is so supportive and parents working in STEM are very willing to visit the school, although the variety of careers is still limited on our island”. Emily wanted to use I’m a Scientist to increase the range of STEM roles her students find out about.

What did the students do?

The 17 students in S1-3 (Year 7-9) took part in the Molecule Zone this March. They read scientists’ profiles and posted questions to scientists on the site throughout the 2 weeks. Students also took part in a 30 minute live chat session where they typed their questions and responses to scientists online in real time.

Emily used the activity to connect to curriculum areas and the careers work going on in school. “It’s a broad activity so easy to link to something we’re doing or have just covered in class. I also tie I’m a Scientist into My World of Work, which our students access to find out where they could study the course or the career steps required for their preferred role.”

Did it work?

Being online, I’m a Scientist provided a chance for Emily’s students to connect with scientists in a large variety of roles, generating interest in STEM careers without the need to travel. “They see different careers we don’t have in the local area by chatting with scientists all across the globe…There are lots of young people who live in remote areas compared to the rest of UK and they should all get same opportunities; this activity allowed me to provide this at no cost to the school.”

Emily also told us how involvement in the activity has improved science learning in her classes “It’s engaging and stimulating for students to actually speak to live scientists doing real-life science and discuss what they think might happen in the future. When students are engaged and start to see the real life impact of a subject, they’re more enthusiastic about it – I noticed an increased motivation to learn following I’m a Scientist.”

What else did students gain?

Asking questions to the scientists allowed Emily’s students to “develop essential literacy and communication skills, particularly in the live chat where they have to consider how to engage in a group conversation” whilst “researching the scientists helped them learn how to find information online.”

Emily also commented on how the activity is good for students’ health and wellbeing, by using the internet chats as a relevant educational tool “students like communicating in this way online and this activity helps promote positive online communication and staying safe online, rather than fighting against social media and similar technology in school.”

What would you say to a teacher who is hesitant to take part?

“Give it a go – it’s amazing and you don’t realise the full impact before you take part but afterwards, you realise how hugely beneficial it is, especially for students in rural communities. The whole process has knock on effects for your science teaching as students are more engaged. It’s very stimulating for science and every pupil should have access to it.”

Distant (under-served) schools are given priority places in I’m a Scientist. To support your students in exploring a range of STEM careers with I’m a Scientist activities, register your interest here: or contact for more information.

Already registered? Don’t forget to apply for the next event – we email registered teachers when applications open (about 2 months before the event starts).


Posted on April 6, 2018 in Case Study, Evaluation, News, Science Capital, Teachers, Widening Participation | Comments Off on Providing STEM opportunities for distant schools

Broadening horizons for students in a deprived area

“It was a really easy project to engage with for both children and teachers; it only took me about 30 minutes to prepare for all 3 lessons. I was pleasantly surprised with just how excited students were to get responses from serious adults about their work and the adults’ interests.” – Vicky Heslop, Year 6 teacher

A junior school that meets our widening participation criteria took part in the Climate Zone of I’m a Scientist for the first time in March 2018 with their three Year 6 classes. The activity broadened student aspirations, improved enquiry skills and challenged their perceptions of scientists.

Why apply for I’m a Scientist?

The school is in a small town with low levels of aspiration and social mobility where very few young people go on to higher education. 47.5% of students at the school qualify for Pupil Premium funding and the proportion of free school meals eligible students is over twice the national average.

Teachers were finding it difficult to promote working scientifically skills and to support students in developing an enquiring attitude within the curriculum. “We wanted to provide a broader experience of what science is and to increase student aspirations,” says Vicky.

What did students do?

The activity was spread across 3 lessons on different days which Vicky felt was “particularly good for the anxious students in Year 6, allowing them to ‘take a break’ from SATs preparations with something that was still a valuable use of time.” Students started by considering how to judge the scientists, then got to know them using their profiles and asking questions on the site. The final lesson involved an online chat where students typed their questions and responses to scientists online in real time. “Connecting with the scientists online provided an opportunity to have positive social contact with adults in roles they wouldn’t normally have contact with,” observed Vicky.

Did it work?

Vicky told us science has become more relevant and attainable for students and how their aspirations have broadened to include science – “After the live chat, students were telling me how they’d like to become scientists.”

Students’ perceptions of scientists have changed as a result of taking part – “I thought scientists were boring but now I think they’re AWESOME!” – Year 6 student

What else did students gain?

“Students developed oracy skills,” says Vicky “and the ability to ask appropriate questions.” Vicky also explained how the school has had issues with inappropriate use of instant messaging and how I’m a Scientist was “a great way to demonstrate a positive use of this technology,” helping students learn appropriate online etiquette.

When asked if she’ll take part next year, Vicky says “I hope to and I’ll be telling the other teachers about the activity as it’s such a good one for our students.”

If you’d like to broaden your students’ aspirations with I’m a Scientist activities, register your interest here:

Already registered? Don’t forget to apply for the next event – we email registered teachers when applications open (about 2 months before the event starts).


Posted on March 27, 2018 in Case Study, Evaluation, Teachers, Widening Participation | Comments Off on Broadening horizons for students in a deprived area

School engagement in STEM enrichment: Effect of school location

In recent years funders of public engagement and outreach activities have made a priority of reaching underserved audiences.

Wherever we looked we found anecdotal evidence that while, as a sector we were becoming increasingly effective at reaching schools in deprived parts of our metropolitan areas, rural communities continued to miss out.

But anecdotal data only gets you so far. We wanted to find out just how much the more remote schools were missing out. We also wanted to know what constitutes a remote school in this context.

First we looked to see what information already existed. There are some organisations who hold vast quantities of data about scientists and engineers visiting schools. However that data was not easily available for analysis. So we turned to a source we could access. The teachers who have signed up for our projects.

We wanted to find out:

  • Whether some schools access more STEM enrichment activities than others
  • And if so, is the location of the school a limiting factor
  • Whether there’s a difference between visits to the school, and visits from the school


We surveyed teachers who have registered for any of our UK based projects, including I’m a Scientist, I’m an Engineer and Debate Kits. The teachers were predominantly subject teachers. We therefore worked on the assumption that teachers can best talk about the classes they teach, and it would be unreliable for them to make assumptions about the wider school.

Who answered the survey?

Survey respondents: Subject taught (left), type of school taught at (centre), and location of schools (right).

What did we find?

Distance really matters.

Access to STEM engagement is not universal. Schools within 15 minutes drive of a major research HEI are twice as likely to get a visit from a university scientist than those over a 30 minute drive.

Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a difference when arranging to take students off-site for visits, but with teachers citing costs and time restraints as barriers to offering these activities, it’s clear to us that we need to be improving the offer to more distant schools.

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

Many thanks to the iGeolise team for providing the drive time data.

Posted on November 30, 2017 modjosh in Evaluation, News, Widening Participation | Comments Off on School engagement in STEM enrichment: Effect of school location

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 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:

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.

Posted on October 6, 2017 in Evaluation, News, Science Capital | Comments Off on Thinking about Science Capital

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: | 01225 326892

Posted on September 14, 2017 in Evaluation, News, Widening Participation | Comments Off on How do students from different schools engage with IAS?

“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, inclusive, online engagement because

  • it makes students and scientists more comfortable,
  • levels the playing field between adults and children,
  • 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, 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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Posted on August 4, 2017 modemily in Evaluation, IAS Event, News, Science Engagement | Comments Off on “I’m a Scientist is great, but wouldn’t it be better if students could see and hear the scientists too?”

What do students ASK about? [REDIRECT]

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?


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?


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?


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.



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.

Posted on July 17, 2017 in Evaluation, News | 1 Comment

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
  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 full 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

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

Posted on October 21, 2016 in Evaluation, News | Comments Off on Gender differences in online engagement