Category Archives: Scientist Benefits

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

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

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

I’m a Scientist acts as a public engagement booster for scientists

Anecdotally, we’ve heard of how I’m a Scientist can be a good starting point for science communication activities. This was the case of Suzi Gage, Tom Crick or Suze Kundu, who took part in I’m a Scientist in June 2011 and are now putting a great emphasis on the communication side of their scientific careers or even fully devoting to it.

Twitter conversation about the impact of I'm a Scientist on Science Communication careers

Twitter conversation about the impact of I’m a Scientist on Science Communication careers

However, we were still curious to know to what extent we could extrapolate this to the wider community of scientists that have participated in the event during the last years. How could we know if I’m a Scientist had encouraged them to do more science outreach? Well, we decided to ask them.

We sent a survey to all the scientists that had participated in I’m a Scientist until 2012, leaving a gap of at least one year since they took part in the event. Approximately a quarter of the scientist responded to the survey, resulting in a more than decent sample of 113 scientists. The data collected in the survey show that there is a strong indication that I’m a Scientist is a real public engagement (PE) boost for scientists.

Summary of the survey's main findings

Summary of the survey’s main findings

I’m a Scientist is a good way to start doing public engagement in schools

If we look at public engagement at schools, we have recorded a significant increase, especially among those scientists that were particularly new to this form of outreach. Moreover, scientists who had never done school public engagement were encouraged to do more public engagement in general, going from none to an average of over 4 activities per year.  This was supported by some great comments gathered in the survey:

Having never done outreach with schools before, IAS gave me the chance to engage with a different audience than I would typically.” – Scientist

Scientists find the event flexible, open and inclusive

The online nature of the event was praised by different scientists that left comments in the survey:

I really liked how the online format broke down barriers and allowed the students to ask anything they wanted without having to stand up in a crowd.” – Scientist

Having all the activity online also gave me the flexibility to contribute more of my time, ad from a remote setting, compared to face-to-face school visits.” – Scientist

"Sifting the evidence" Suzy Gage blog hosted by The Guardian

“Sifting the evidence” Suzy Gage blog hosted by The Guardian

Some of the scientists had already contributed to the online scientific community with blog posts, podcasts or through social media. However, for a high proportion of them (68 out of the total 113) I’m a Scientist represented their first online public engagement event, which really pushed up their participation in general public engagement. In this case, their collaboration with public engagement activities went from zero to more than 3 general outreach events per year.

It was also interesting to find out that those who had already done lots of public engagement (4-15 activities per year) started doing more specific online outreach after participating in I’m a Scientist, at the expense of other forms of public engagement.

I’m a Scientist reveals itself as a great launchpad for budding science communicators

The majority of the scientists that filled in the survey (86%) had already taken part in some kind of public engagement activity (lectures, science festivals, interviews in traditional media, science policy making, etc.). It was a nice surprise to find out that scientists who had done very little public engagement (1-3 activities per year) increased their activity dramatically, going up to 5-8 outreach activities per year after the event. What is more, the greatest increase in overall public engagement activity (an increase of 130%) corresponded to the scientists who were just doing very little of it before the event.

Looking at the big picture, there is a general trend that I’m a Scientist enhances the participation of scientists in outreach events, except in the case of those who already did loads (more than 30 activities per year), where there is very little room for improvement. All in all, we are happy to confirm that I’m a Scientist represents a great launching platform for public engagement in science.

It remains the best public engagement event in which I have been involved.” – Scientist


Posted on January 8, 2014 modangela in Evaluation, Event News, News, Science Engagement, Scientist Benefits, Scientists | Comments Off on I’m a Scientist acts as a public engagement booster for scientists