Category Archives: Science Capital

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...And reply they did!

…And reply they did!

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

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

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

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

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

Safe to say, the zone saw heated competition.

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

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

Read the Osmium Zone Report for more information about the zone

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

Posted on September 1, 2016 in Evaluation, Event News, News, Science Capital | Comments Off on Osmium Zone – I’m a Scientist, not just for scientists?