Category Archives: IAS Event

“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 online engagement: it makes students and scientists more comfortable, levels the playing field between adults and children, and 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 me at, 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 modkatie in Evaluation, IAS Event, News, Science Engagement | Leave a comment

Demand vs. Capacity — An update for June 2016

Any avid readers of our project blog — there must be at least one of you — will have noticed we’ve written a lot recently about our increasing demand for classes, and our over-subscription rates.

In January, we published some numbers. Since then we have run the March 2016 event, and finalised class places in the June 2016 event. Here are some updated numbers:

Graph of I'm a Scientist UK class requests by event in academic year — March 2013 to June 2016

I’m a Scientist UK class requests by event in academic year — March 2013 to June 2016

In January, we wrote about the decreasing popularity of the June events, with more teachers moving to November and March.

With the spectacular growth in November 2015, we speculated that teachers may be moving from March and June to earlier in the academic year. If that was true, then we would have expected a lower demand in March and June this year.

What we see is a steady increase in demand in the June events. The growth in March 2016 was perhaps less than may have been expected given that of previous years. This could support the idea that teachers are opting to take part in November instead of March. The narrative is not entirely clear though and we need to look into this a little more.

As was true in January, what is clear is the decreasing capacity for classes in all of the events. Though this does though coincide with an increased capacity in our other projects; with the demand for classes increasing we need to increase the capacity. We need more funding.

For the past year or so we have been charging international schools wishing to take part, generating a few hundred pounds. This June we began asking the same charge of independent schools. Overall, the response has been positive — which to be honest has been a pleasant surprise. There’s a separate post to come on that, but the fact that teachers are willing to pay shows they value the activity, and that this could be a valuable funding stream in the future.

Posted on May 23, 2016 Moderator - Josh in Capacity, Evaluation, IAS Event, News, Project News | Leave a comment

On student activity and simplified registrations

TL;DR: We made the site easier for students to access and the proportion of our audience engaging increased.

Like any company, we have a set of Key Performance Indicators which we use to keep an eye on how well we’re doing. One of those KPIs (professionals use abbreviations) is the percentage of active students during an event, what we will call, %AS.

%AS shows the number of students who log in to the site, and go on to — at the very least — ask a question, write a line of text in a live chat, cast a vote, or leave a comment. Basically, it shows the proportion of our audience who are actively engaging with the activity.

In July 2014 Rosie posted a message on our project management app of choice, pointing out that the %AS for the previous events had been falling to the level it was at during the project pilot.

Graph of percentage of active students per IAS UK event. June 2011 to March 2016

Graph of percentage of active students per IAS UK event. June 2011 to March 2016

So, what did we do about it?

If you looked at the graph, you’ll see that we’ve already given the game away (but this is a one-graph-blog-post, and we’re not about to pad this out with multiple views of the same graph).

We started pre-registering students.

By visiting schools to observe students taking part, we saw that asking students to create their own accounts was taking way too long, was way too complicated, and largely, unnecessary.

We completely stripped down the process students go through to first get access to the site.

Previous and updated student access process

Previous and updated student access process

Previously, students would use an “access code” to get to a registration page, where they create a username and password, give us an email address, answer some other questions including some evaluation questions on their views of STEM. Now, students are given a generic username and password which gives them instant access to the site. From there, they can choose to go in and answer the evaluation questions, create a display name, and fill in their profile. But if they choose, they can get instant access to the live chats, to the question page, to scientists’ profiles.

The moral of the story then… By observing students use the site, we learnt that the registration process was too complicated. Pre-registering accounts for students does add a little more time and admin to the running of the event than not; but effort that pays off by making the site simpler to use and access for the students taking part.

Posted on May 23, 2016 Moderator - Josh in Evaluation, Event News, IAS Event, News, Project News | Leave a comment

March 2016 Winners’ Blogs

After every event we ask the zone winners to write a short blog post to be sent to all the students in who took part in the zone. It’s a great way for the scientists to reflect on the previous two weeks and thank all the students for voting for them.

Let’s take a look at what the winners from March’s zones had to say…

Chris, Biochemistry Zone

I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’d leave chats with a big smile from your questions and aching fingers from trying to keep up with them. Your questions made me laugh, groan, and think. I had to research quite a few of them. I’d start every morning going through and answering your questions. There’s going to be a sad hole in my mornings now that we’re done.

Cat, Climate Change Zone

I genuinely couldn’t have imagined how much fun taking part in IAS was going to be – thanks so much for all the brilliant questions you guys sent in. Many of the questions made me think about things that I haven’t thought about for years and reminded me why I became a scientist in the first place 😀

Majid, Fat Zone

I have worked with children before, but never in a sense where I am teaching them about science and my research. So, this was like walking on new ground for me. But I quickly learnt to adapt the language I was using and shaped my approach to make the science easier to digest for the young students. So taking part in this event has helped me to grow as a scientist and it has inspired me to continue working with young children in my role as a doctor and a scientist, and I kind of feel somewhat like a role model now.

Emma, Gravity Zone

The Gravity Zone had some amazing scientists – Alice, Steve, Christian and Bose. It was very interesting to see how each scientist answered the different questions. This really helped me develop my communication skills.

Paul, Medical Physics Zone

I particularly enjoyed all of your sci-fi related questions, talking about time travel, aliens, Death Stars and superpowers is always good fun and I love to look at the science behind it. Questions like that are one of the main reasons I got interested in science, so it’s great to see school kids asking similar kinds of questions I was at that age! I also liked some of the more obscure questions as well, like ‘Why do tapeworms show on 100 year old x-rays but not new ones?’ which had us all baffled until the student unearthed a 100 year old paper on the subject.

Lauren, Toxicology Zone

Although my schedule is now significantly less jam packed without daily classroom chats, I am straight back into the lab and researching hard. I am genuinely looking forward to organising more STEM outreach events using the award, and interacting with yet more enthusiastic young scientists like you. Hopefully, I’ll be able to recreate some of the I’m a Scientist experience for others!

Scott, Iridium Zone

I really enjoyed the entire two weeks and every question really made me think. I’m so impressed by the depth and breadth of all your questions! I got very excited seeing new ones come in and answered them as quickly as I could, but also in a way that would inspire you and make you want to know more. I particularly enjoyed thinking about a ‘neutron star bullet’ and finding out about the most flammable thing in the world!

Lowri, Platinum Zone

I’m so happy that you’ve all taken an interest in science, even for a little while, and seen that not all scientists have crazy white hair and wear lab coats! I’ve had some really interesting (and some really strange!) questions over the last two weeks, from how do certain things affect students behaviour in school, to the surprising “would we all float away if there was no gravity?”

Hayley, Gold Zone

What was mind-blowing was the intelligence and ingenuity of all of the questions. From asking me what brains of autistic children look like, to asking me who my favourite footballer was! There was such diversity and passion behind every question. I have also learnt a tremendous amount! I have learnt so much about space! Some of the questions have truly inspired my research especially ‘do twins sleep the same?’ That was an outstanding question! I now don’t really know what to do everyday. I am going to have to pester my friends and colleagues to ask me questions and just talk at them about science!! I am excited to get on with my research and integrate all these questions. It has been so inspiring and I can now go into other schools and communities and tell them about the amazing people I have interacted with over the past two weeks.

If you think you can handle the challenging questions…Want new inspiration for your research… Or just want to chat about the science behind Death Stars…

Apply now to take part in the next event

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

Posted on April 4, 2016 modmichaela in Event News, IAS Event, News | Leave a comment

“The whole experience has been incredibly rewarding”

After every event we ask the zone winners to write a short blog post to be sent to all the students in who took part in the zone. It’s a great way for the scientists to reflect on the previous two weeks and thank all the students for voting for them.

Let’s take a look at what the winners from November’s zones had to say…

Sara, Ageing Zone

I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here was a continuous surprise. I was surprised I was selected, I was surprised I wasn’t evicted and I was amazed I won!

I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t think kids will be so interested in my work; I work with animals and I was scared a lot of people would be against it and they would be aggressive about it. But no, I had amazing and clever questions I didn’t even expect.

It’s an experience that everyone should do!

Jack, Extreme Pressure Zone

You all had so many questions; some of them were jokes, some of them were intriguing, most of them were genius and they pretty much all made me smile. I’m so grateful you decided I was worthy of winning this event. *prayer hands emoji* from the bottom of my <3

Cristina, Heart Zone

I found myself chuckling in the office and typing away until my fingers hurt. I ended up looking forward to them a lot, talking to the students in real-time has been so much fun, and has definitely made me want to share science and engage with students in more ways.

Jesus, Spectroscopy Zone

I would recommend the experience to both scientists and students as I think that both can get a lot from it, there is no better way to test how much you know about something than trying to explain it to someone with a more limited background on the topic. Also, I think the students can benefit from talking to scientists and getting to know a bit more about student life from people that have been there not that long ago (Yes, we are still young and have a social life!).

Natalie, Osmium Zone

It gave me the opportunity to reach more schools than the ones I’ve had time to visit in the South West of Great Britain. For instance, without this competition, there’s no way I could have talked about my work with pupils in Scotland… The whole experience has been incredibly rewarding.

Nicholas, Rhenium Zone

I had a brilliant time on I’m a Scientist and really enjoyed the opportunity to try and explain a huge variety of scientific topics to all you guys, from black holes to bacteria… Thank you very much to all the students who took part – the depth and range of your questions was phenomenal, and seeing just how interested and enthusiastic you all are when it comes to science really shows how useful events like this are!

Ashley, Tantalum Zone

I now have some money and more importantly the responsibility to do something cool, fun and engaging to get guys like you more involved in our world. This is a really exciting opportunity that I never expected to have, and I already have a thousand hair brained ideas.

Ross, Tungsten Zone

What was so astounding was the range of questions that were asked of all of us – it is so clear that the students who took part were interested in such broad areas of science and keen to understand what the life of a scientist is like. I hope you all learned as much as I did – I knew very little about space before I’m a Scientist and now I feel like an expert! Also huge thanks to students asking if a balloon can be inflated by a fart – I am now making this a research priority ?


If you think you want to discover new ways to communicate your work… Or want the funding for a your own harebrained schemes… Or just want to gain a new fart-based research priority…

Apply now to take part in the next event

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

Posted on December 15, 2015 modantony in Event News, IAS Event, News | Leave a comment

“I’m a Scientist is definitely the most fun I’ve had in my lab coat”

After every event we ask the zone winners to write a short blog post to be sent to all the students in who took part in the zone. It’s a great way for the scientists to reflect on the previous two weeks and thank all the students for voting for them.

Let’s take a look at what they had to say…

Jess, Colour Zone

I’m a Scientist is definitely the most fun I’ve had in my lab coat.

The questions were incredible, totally unpredictable and the scope was well beyond that going on academic circles; by the final I’d tried to prepare a few ‘go-to’ answers, “What is colour?”, “What happened during the big bang?”, “Will we ever cure cancer?..but I couldn’t predict a single one! After the 30 minute live chats my fingers were tingling so much I had to delay measuring polymers in the clean room.

I cannot express in words how much I’d recommend this to any PhD student, science technician or any academic with time on their hands.

It’s made me question every part of my research, assess how realistic I am and be more creative in my experimental design. It’s made me so proud to be a physicist, work at Imperial College and be able to help these curious kids.

James, Electromagnetic Zone

Things got serious, silly, deep, dark, hilarious, and on occasions weird; all in a 30 minute burst of direct exchange between today’s researchers and tomorrow’s minds.

It was *energising* – I loved it. And I learned a tonne of stuff myself.

Sarah, Extreme Force Zone

I really hope (and believe) more of you became enthused by science by the event, and can maybe envisage yourselves on the other side of the chat telling students in the future all about the great work you do.

Andy, Health Zone

It was exciting, loads of fun, I learnt loads of stuff I never expected to and it completely took over my whole life for two weeks! At midnight on the Saturday half way through the competition I was discussing “what is time?” with some friends at a wedding. It really made me think about things that I’d not considered before.

Laura, Hormones Zone

An event like this is a fantastic way of giving school pupils an idea of how many areas in science there are and to let them see that scientists really are quite normal people (mostly).

It was a manic two weeks but it was so much fun and VERY addictive! The Live Chats were crazy at times but always great fun and certainly kept me on my toes. Any chance I got, I was answering the question on ASK (all 214 of them!) – on my journey to work, breaks, lunch, journey home, on the way to meet friends – any chance I got!

Richard, Pharmacology Zone

Wow! What an amazing two weeks. Without a doubt, I’m A Scientist, Get me out of here has been one of the most enjoyable but exhausting experiences of my career.

The live chat sessions are insane!  Questions ranged from everyday trivia like “Batman or Superman?” through philosophy and ethics “should doctors be allowed to assist in suicides” to hard-core pharmacology “how are drugs developed?” Now…. imagine trying to handle all three of those questions simultaneously, and fast enough so that your competitors don’t get in there first with a killer answer, and you’ll have some idea what it was like and why it was such fun.

Thomas, Polymers Zone

[The students’ questions] got me thinking on all fronts – from how to describe my research, and why I actually carry it out, to appreciating why the sea is blue and coming up with a “hand-shaking and waving” analogy for pi and sigma bonding during a quiet evening – definitely a blast all in all.

Hayley, Ytterbium Zone

I was continually impressed with the questions posed by the students in both the live chats and also via ASK. My very first question to answer was about black holes (a topic waaaay out of my comfort zone!), so I’ve been learning myself from day one!

… I have learnt so many diverse facts from this event, including how chameleons are able to change colour and learning that plants may, in fact, have feelings!

Ryan, Thulium Zone

The two weeks of answering questions from you all was crazy. I’ve never gone out of my way so much to be on time for everything. I had alarms set so I could attend chats, I spent my evenings answering all the ASK questions which were left for me and others.

I had questions ranging from “how many stars exist” to “why do I do science” each question was fantastic and there were so many I actually had to stop, think about and wonder how it actually worked.

Normally I’m one quick fire answers back but there were so many questions where I had to stop and think to even form an idea of an answer.

The whole event was an experience and I recommend it to anyone to try it, you’ll learn so much not only about your own area of expertise but also about others.

Jonny, Lutetium Zone

Initially I didn’t know whether I should enter I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here. I’ve not really done much written science communication before and I didn’t know how I would come across without actually being present.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the breadth of the questions all of us scientists were asked. It made me realise how much I didn’t know.

Chris, Hafnium Zone

The last two weeks have been an absolute blast. The range of questions you get on the board is insane! You guys ask better/harder/faster/stronger questions  that I ever imagined coming into the contest.

If you think you can take the better/harder/faster/stronger questions… Want to discover new ways to communicate your work… Or want to learn new facts about chameleons…

Apply now to take part in the next event

Click to apply for I'm a Scientist

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. For more information on the zones running in November 2015, take a look at this post.

Posted on July 27, 2015 Moderator - Josh in Event News, IAS Event, News | Leave a comment

Understanding Animal Research – Google Hangout

UARBefore our most recent June 2014 I’m a Scientist event we partnered with Understanding Animal Research to run a Google Hangout for scientists who work with animals.

Students often ask the scientists for their views on animal testing, and we want to help give scientists the confidence to be open and talk about working with animals in their research.

John Meredith, Education Manager at UAR, ran this session with six scientists who were taking part in I’m a Scientist the following week:

The A word: how to talk about animals in medical research 
This informal webinar presented by Understanding Animal Research will look at how and why we should talk about animals in medical research. It will cover current public attitudes to animal research, the facts and figures, the value of openness and how to answer the tricky questions or deal with confrontation. There will be plenty of time for questions and discussion during and after the presentation, which should last around an hour.

We asked the scientists to fill in a short survey after they’d taken part in I’m a Scientist, to assess whether the Hangout was useful, and whether we should offer it before every event.

Five scientists gave very positive feedback. In summary they found the Hangout useful and informative, but often didn’t use the training in I’m a Scientist as students didn’t ask about animal research, and the scientists didn’t want to bring it up. If we run it again we could make it more interactive, giving the scientists more practice in answering potentially difficult questions during the session.

Was the Google Hangout good?

  • All 5 scientists said yes

Did you use the training during the event?

  • 3 said no, because it didn’t come up, and they didn’t want to mention it unless they had to
  • 1 said yes, finding themselves using the training many times during the event
  • 1 said a little, but they didn’t get many questions on it

Did it make you more confident to talk about animal research?

  • All 5 scientists said yes
  • 1 of the scientists mentioned they were wary of talking about animal research in the live chats, in case time ran out and they couldn’t explain their work properly

Would you recommend it to others?

  • All 5 scientists said yes

How would you improve it?

  • Open the session up and ask for individuals input more
  • Links to resources that show that animal experimentation is not ‘animal cruelty’
  • Have more scientists who use animals in their work, to encourage more open discussion among peers

And a few other comments:

“Very helpful and answered a lot of the questions I had about discussing animal research with the public”

“I have contacted UAR and organised a school visit of my own!”

Posted on August 6, 2014 in Evaluation, IAS Event, News | Leave a comment

March 2014 Moderator Job Vacancies

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here is an award-winning online event allowing students (from 9 – 18) to interact with real live scientists. We’re looking for 3 moderators to work on the next event which will run from the 10th March to the 21st March 2014. We will also be running a zone in I’m an Engineer at the same time, which will also need moderating.

Your key responsibilities will be:

  • checking and approving questions
  • adding appropriate keywords and tags
  • logging and keeping track of questions, comments and dialogue
  • checking the site for errors and inappropriate content and usernames
  • moderating live chats
  • helping to run the site

It’s actually a lot of fun as the students (and scientists) are quick and funny and full of energy. And hey, promoting science engagement is a good thing, am I right?!

What we’d like from you..

  • You should be bright, thoughtful, pick stuff up easily, ideally with an interest in science engagement.
  • You’ll have great attention to detail and will enjoy being online, perhaps have experience in an online community.
  • The site is all built on WordPress, so if you’ve used that the techy stuff will be pretty familiar.
  • You’d be working from home, so you must also have broadband which doesn’t die every 10 minutes.

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by Monday 3rd March 2014), to Emily at, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 10th – 21st March (Monday – Friday)
  • Hours: 37.5/week, 08.30-16.00 GMT
  • Pay: £7.50/hr

You can (and should) find out more about the events at: and You might also want to read this – on what kind of thing we’re looking for.

Posted on February 6, 2014 modemily in Event News, IAS Event, Science Engagement | Comments Off on March 2014 Moderator Job Vacancies

How does I’m a Scientist change students’ perceptions of science?

We’ve just run I’m a Scientist in Ireland and are curious to know how our event actually affects students’ attitudes towards science.

In order to do this, we included a short and compulsory pre-event survey in the form students used to register. We then asked students to fill in the exact same survey on their profile page after the event. When we matched the data from the two surveys, 92 students (7% of 1,247 students that participated in I’m a Scientist) had filled in both surveys. Importantly, data from the total number of students that filled in the pre-event survey very closely correlates with the pre-event data of this 92 student sample.

We were very happy to find out that students’ interest in science and science related careers is clearly increased after taking part in I’m a Scientist. This is what we have learnt:

The amount of students that say they love science doubled after taking part in I’m a Scientist

How does school make you feel about science?

How does school make you feel about science?

I’m a Scientist really got the students excited about science! Before taking part in the event, only 23% of students said they loved science, but this number increased up to 51% after the event. On the other hand, the number of students that don’t feel really excited about science or think it is boring decreased from 9% to 3%.

Participating in I’m a Scientist encourages students to choose a science subject in the next stage of their education

In the pre-event survey, 66% of the students were absolutely certain or very inclined to choose a science subject next year. However, this percentage raised up to 71% after participating in I’m a Scientist.

Thanks guys for talking to me really helped me make my decision for the leaving cert – sarahlawless, student

Students are keener on science related jobs after participating in I’m a Scientist

The majority of students that completed the surveys already thought that jobs involving science are at least fairly interesting before taking part in the event, but there was still room for improvement and the percentage of students that considered science related jobs very interesting saw a big increase from 36% to 62%.

Taking part in I’m a Scientist increases the likelihood of students looking for a job that uses their science skills

How likely are you to look for a job that uses your science knowledge?

How likely are you to look for a job that uses your science knowledge?

Before taking part in I’m a Scientist, a big portion of the students (37%) couldn’t decide whether they would try to look for a job that uses their science skills and only 10% said they were sure that they would look for this type of job. However, the event seemed to be the boost that students needed to be more confident about looking for a science related job. After I’m a Scientist, most of the students (68%) said that they would certainly or very probably look for a job that uses their science knowledge.

Honoured to have taken part. The future of science is in very good hands with you guys! – scientist

In addition to this, students left several comments that stated clearly how they were enjoying and learning at the same time throughout the event. They liked that the event was so interactive and that they had an active part at every step: asking, commenting, chatting and voting.

In the future, we would like to use this same strategy to measure the impact of other events or activities. We are also very interested in analysing the gender and year course differences that could be found in the pre-event data.

Posted on December 19, 2013 modangela in Evaluation, Event News, IAS Event, News, Science Education, Science Engagement, Teachers | Leave a comment

What criteria do students judge scientists on?

When students take part in I’m a Scientist they get to vote for their favourite scientist to win £500 to spend on communicating more science. It gives them ownership of the project and they decide who gets, in effect, a small grant for public engagement. But what are students’ votes based on?

This is how 855 students (or groups of students) have ranked certain criteria from most to least important when considering how to vote for scientists, since January 2012. The results come from a Drag & Drop ranking activity in the first lesson plan “You’re the Judges” that teachers run to introduce their students to I’m a Scientist.

Voting ranking criteria

The top ranked criteria are all linked to health or the scientific method. This is reflected in the number of questions students ask scientists about saving lives and animal testing. Reassuringly, the more superficial criteria lurk at the bottom of the list.

Other criteria that students suggested include:

“Abides to Scientists ethics, and morals”

“A person that thinks ‘outside the box’. Confident person. Optimistic person”


“How much they believe in and care about their work”

“The speed that they answer my questions. Also if they turn up for a chat”

“How great their beards are”

“If the scientist works at weekends (as well as during the week)”

And finally, the crux of all scientific research:

“Whether their tests are fair or not”

One teacher commented that, “the class disagreed on the ‘good-looking’ criteria because some feel that people are judged by first impressions and looks are included in that”.

Teachers, how do these criteria compare to how your students judge the scientists? Did students generally agree on the rankings or did certain criteria provoke more discussions than others?

Posted on November 8, 2013 in Evaluation, IAS Event, News, Teachers | Leave a comment

Using teacher feedback to plan future themed zones

A question I sometimes get asked when I tell people about I’m a Scientist, is how do we choose which zones to run? In short: we ask teachers what they’d like.

In July we emailed all the teachers signed up for I’m a Scientist to ask them what zones they’d like to see in our next three events: November 2013, March 2014 and June 2014.

Just over 40 teachers filled in each survey by ticking as many of the 40 zone choices as they’d like (some are zones we’ve run before, others are new).

Which zones came out top?

20 zones

The graph shows the top 20 zones, by the number of teacher requests across the 3 surveys for November, March and June. Forensic Science and Genes zones came out top, closely followed by Stem Cells, Health, Organs and Sport Science. Most of the top requested zones are biomedical; this might be because there are more Biology teachers on our list, due to the majority of funding coming from the Wellcome Trust since 2008.

When to run these zones?

What’s more interesting is the variation when teachers want to see certain zones, reflecting when topics are taught in the school year.

  1. Stem Cells, Drug Development, IVF and Subatomic zones were more requested in November than March or June.
  2. Earth, Chemicals and Technology zones were less requested in March than November and June.
  3. Communication and Human Limits zones were more popular in June than November or March, while Blood and Reproduction zones were less popular.

So what…?

We’ve used this feedback to choose some of the zones we’ll run over the next year in advance. This will help us plan teacher and scientist recruitment throughout the year. STEM contract holders have also told us it’s useful to know dates and zone themes in advance.

And sad news for any linguists out there, I don’t think we’ll be running a Language Zone any time soon. With only four requests there just isn’t the demand.

A taste of the themed zones running over the next year is at We’ll add more themed zones from other funders to the mix nearer to the events.

Posted on October 30, 2013 in Evaluation, IAS Event, News | Leave a comment

Class filmed taking part in I’m a Scientist

Laura Heintz, teacher at Weston School in Wisconsin, US, recently posted this great video of her students taking part in I’m a Scientist. Her class were in the Technetium Zone in March this year. Take a look…

In the video, the students gather around laptops to discuss the scientists and their research, planning questions in advance. There’s a real buzz after the live chat, with the students excited that they’ve just talked to “real scientists”. One student comments: “It was really fun – they said that we were really good students too.” The class seemed to most enjoy the interaction with the scientists and chance to find out more about their work, with another student saying: “We were talking to Jon a lot, we were kind of bombarding him with questions… We watched some of his videos, the one where he threw a rock down on some lava was really cool.”

Laura explained to us what she thought were the main benefits of taking part: “Our school’s in the middle of a cornfield, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. We have students who’ve not left the state or gone further than Madison, which is a little over an hour away. It allows students to look beyond school and understand the world is a larger place. I thought it was amazing overall.”

She added: “Every day they do things over and over again, this was completely outside of their comfort zone – they see the world as it is and connect with it.”

Posted on July 17, 2013 in IAS Event, News, School | Leave a comment

The Final Countdown

It’s traditional at IAS HQ to play some music in the final hour of every event.

Here’s our playlist:!/playlist/I+m+A+Scientist+Final+Combat/98990489

Hit play at 2pm and join in the fun on Twitter with the #ias2014 hashtag.

Posted on June 28, 2013 in IAS Event | Leave a comment

Organising schools visits from IAS scientists – a teacher’s view

Something we’d like to encourage is more scientists visiting schools after taking part in I’m a Scientist. After every event we add the participating scientists and schools to this map – – sharing the scientists’ contact details with teachers. 

One teacher who’s made the most of the scientists nearby is Tom Holloway, from Westfield Primary School in Surrey. 4 scientists have visited the school, and he tells us more about what they got up to…

Westfield Primary School has taken part in I’m A Scientist Get Me Out Of Here for two years running now. It has been an amazing learning experience for our pupils who have been motivated and engaged by the event.

One of the best outcomes for our school has been the number of visits to us that it has generated. Impressed by our pupils enthusiasm for and love of science, lots of scientists who have taken part in IMAS have come to see us.


Fiona McMurray from MRC Harwell has visited us twice and ran a fantastic activity with Year 4 and 6 children in which they extracted DNA from strawberries. On her I’m a Scientist profile Fiona said she “Had a great time at Westfield Primary school!”


Gary Brickley, from The University of Brighton, visited and gave us an inspirational talk about his work on sport science and with paralympic cyclists.


Finally Simon Park from The University of Surrey, came and ran a brilliant workshop on bacteria in which the children learnt about slime mould, looked a bioluminiscent bacteria in the dark, examined a sample of their teacher’s spit through a powerful microscope and grew the bacteria living on their fingertips in petri dishes – a wonderful morning of learning.


We’re also looking forward to a visit by Jimmy Holloway who won the Palladium Zone last year. IMAS is a fantastic event and I strongly recommend taking part to all schools.”


If any teachers would like help contacting scientists for school visits, just get in touch with or on 01225 326892. 


Posted on June 26, 2013 in IAS Event, News, School, Science Education, Science Engagement | Leave a comment

June 2013 Moderator Job Vacancies

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here is an award-winning online event allowing teenagers to interact with real live scientists. We’re looking for 6 moderators to work on the next event which will run from the 17th to the 28th of June 2013. We will also be running 2 zones in I’m an Engineer at the same time, which will also need moderating.

Your key responsibilities will be will be:

  • hosting/moderating live chats
  • approving questions
  • looking after your zones
  • logging and keeping track of great questions, comments and dialogue
  • checking the site for errors and inappropriate content
  • helping to run the site

It’s actually a lot of fun as the students (and scientists) are quick and funny and full of energy. And hey, promoting science engagement is a good thing.

What we’d like from you..

  • You should be bright, thoughtful, pick stuff up easily, ideally with an interest in science engagement.
  • You’ll have great attention to detail and will enjoy being online, perhaps have experience in an online community.
  • The site is all built on WordPress, so if you’ve used that the techy stuff will be pretty familiar.
  • You’d be working from home, so you must also have broadband which doesn’t die every 10 minutes.

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by Monday 3rd June 2013), to Emily at, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 17th – 28th June (Monday – Friday)
  • Hours: 37.5/week, 08.30-16.00 GMT
  • Pay: £7.50/hr

You can (and should) find out more about the events at: and You might also want to read this – on what kind of thing we’re looking for.


Thank you to everyone who applied! We’ve now found our team of moderators. We’ll be looking for more moderators for our next event, which we’ll advertise again here, so check back in a few months.

Posted on May 13, 2013 modemily in Event News, IAS Event, Science Engagement | Leave a comment

Running I’m a Scientist with BTEC students – a teacher’s view

Teacher Emma Wagg, from Trentham High School (@ejw232 on twitter) has taken part in I’m a Scientist since 2011. I asked her if it feels different each time she takes part, and if some groups of students take to it more than others. Here’s what she said about taking part with her BTEC class..

Last year I did it with triple science students but this year with students completing the BTEC Principles of Science course. Their questions were amazing. Their interest was fab. They were genuinely interested in the answers. And were really impressed that the scientists gave up their time for them. It was the first time I’ve really felt like they truly appreciated that. They also recognised that the scientists could discover/create something truly amazing. The look on their faces when this dawned on them was something special.

At the end of the live chat, Jack said ‘Miss, that was awesome’. It made my day. Actually – probably made my term 🙂


Posted on April 8, 2013 in IAS Event, News, School, Science Education | Leave a comment

March 2013 Moderator Job Vacancies

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here is an award-winning online event allowing teenagers to interact with real live scientists. We’re looking for 4 moderators to work on the next event which will run from the 11th to the 22nd of March 2013. We will also be running a zone in I’m an Engineer at the same time, which will also need moderating.

Your key responsibilities will be will be:

  • hosting/moderating live chats
  • approving questions
  • checking the site for errors and inappropriate content
  • helping to run the site

It’s actually a lot of fun as the students (and scientists) are quick and funny and full of energy. And hey, promoting science engagement is a good thing.

What we’d like from you..

  • You should be bright, pick stuff up easily, ideally with an interest in science engagement.
  • You’ll have great attention to detail and will enjoy being online, perhaps have experience in an online community.
  • The site is all built on WordPress, so if you’ve used that the techy stuff will be pretty familiar.
  • You’d be working from home, so you must also have broadband which doesn’t die every 10 minutes.

If you’re in the Bath region though, we’d love for you to come in and work in the office, so we can groom you into one of us.

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by Friday 2nd March), to Emily at, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator.

  • Dates: 11th – 22nd March (Monday – Friday)
  • Hours: 37.5/week, 08.30-16.00 GMT
  • Pay: £7.50/hr

You can (and should) find out more about the events at: and You might also want to read this – on what kind of thing we’re looking for.


Thank you to everyone who applied! We’ve now found our team of moderators. We’ll be looking for more moderators for our next event, which we’ll advertise again here, so check back in a few months.

Posted on February 11, 2013 modemily in Event News, IAS Event, Science Engagement | Leave a comment

We’re oversubscribed with teachers wanting to take part in March

We run I’m a Scientist 3 times each year – March, June & November. The March events are always busy and popular with teachers. It coincides with National Science & Engineering Week and the timing fits in well with schemes of work.

Hands up who wants to take part in I'm a Scientist. Image by: moses

Thanks to more funding we’ve added 2 more themed zones – a Digital Zone and a Food Science Zone (more on these later this week in another post).

Despite these zones creating 50 extra class places we weren’t prepared for just how oversubscribed we would be this time round.

11 zones with 25 classes in each zone gives 275 class spaces up for grabs. 142 teachers asked for 374 classes between them. Making the event oversubscribed by 36%.

So, how have we allocated classes?

  • Give as many teachers as possible places, ie give fewer classes to more teachers
  • Cap the number of classes per teacher at 5
  • Try and give teachers a zone of their choice, if possible
  • Limit the number of classes per Primary School at 1, as the event is primarily developed for Secondary students
  • Limit the number of classes for teachers who’ve been given places in the past, but not used them
  • For the first time we’re not giving places to International Schools abroad

Get on the waiting list

Some teachers will drop out before the event, so we’ll give their classes out to those on the waiting list. Email with how many classes you’d like and we’ll let you know if we can fit you in.

Posted on January 23, 2013 modemily in Event News, IAS Event, News, Science Engagement | Leave a comment

I’m a NeuroScientist, Get me out of here – LIVE

I'm a NeuroScientist Live LogoAre male and female brains different? Is the brain more like a sponge or a computer? Do we really only use 10% of our brain?

We’re taking I’m a Scientist on the road again. In March and April as part of Wonder: Art and Science on the Brain, a partnership between the Barbican and Wellcome Trust supported BNA2013: Festival of Neuroscience we are running 3 live I’m a Scientist live events. Instead of answering questions from the safety of your lab we’re asking Neuroscientists to get on stage to take questions directly from an audience.

On Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd March, comedian and geek songstress, Helen Arney will be compering the events as part of the Barbican Weekender.  Five scientists will compete for the votes of the audience to win a place in the final which takes place on the evening of Tuesday 9th April in Cinema One at the Barbican.

UPDATE: the heats will run at 3:45 on Saturday 2nd and 3:15 on Sunday 3rd March. The final on 9th April is at 7:30pm in the Barbican Cinema 1.

Take part

If you’d like to take part in the Weekender events just send a quick email to with your name, contact number, preference of day and a couple of sentences about the work you do. Please pass this information on to anyone you think would be good at taking questions from the general public.

Nominate a Neuroscientist

The April event ups the ante. Not only will the 300 strong audience include some delegates from the BNA2013: Festival of Neuroscience, but they’ll be voting on real money.

The Weekender winners will join the champion from our March I’m a Scientist Brain Zone and two Neuroscientists nominated by you. The overall winner will get to nominate a charity to receive £200 as their prize.

We want to know who you would like to see taking questions. If there someone you’ve always wanted to ask a question? Someone who’s work needs more exposure? Or perhaps someone so engaging they are simply a pleasure to listen to? Send an email to with the person’s name, where they work and one sentence telling us why they should be included.

Ask a question

Come along to the Barbican. The Weekender events are free and we’ll publicise times here soon. The April event is ticketed and we’ll post a link as soon as they go on sale.

UPDATE: Book your tickets here: .

UPDATE: We’ve two places left on the Sunday bill.

Posted on January 9, 2013 in I'm a Scientist - Live, IAS Event, News, Project News, Scientists | Leave a comment

What themed zones do teachers want?

For I’m a Scientist to work we need to run zones that teachers and students want. So when we’re deciding on zones to run in the next event we ask teachers to tell us what they want.

Teachers voted on a longlist of zones we drew up – they could select as many as they’d be interested in taking part in. We also asked them for suggestions for other zones.

Over 100 teachers told us what zones they’d like to see. The results are below.

Posted on December 12, 2012 in Evaluation, IAS Event, News, Science Education | Leave a comment

Using I’m a Scientist to enrich our curriculum – A teacher’s view

Debate kits and information sheets

After taking part in I’m a Scientist in June 2012, Ellie Russell, a science teacher from Trinity CE High School in Hulme, told us about other ways she uses I’m a Scientist resources. Here’s what she said…

I can’t remember who first told me about I’m a Scientist last year, but straight away I knew it was a concept that would appeal to our students. Since then we have signed up for several zones with different classes and the students have truly enjoyed engaging with real scientists and finding out a bit more about what they do.

To be honest, even though I’ve been really keen, it’s taken me a few more months to realise just how useful some of the other resources are for us too. We teachers are never very keen to read through all that useful support information!

The Debate Kits for Drugs in Sport and IVF are great. We know that debating skills are important for our students and our BTEC students can even pass some of their assessment criteria by engaging in debates. We’ll integrate these in our Yr 9 and 10 SoW.

The Information Sheets about Nuclear Power pro’s and cons are already differentiated and lend themselves nicely to KS4 ‘ideas about science’ in one of the Core Science units… and just this week we’ve been told that the fabulous online GM Food debate will be archived for future reference. This seems a perfect source for our students should they have a GCSE Case Study of a similar title.

In fact, we should really introduce all our classes to the website to keep in mind for future reference, regardless of which science route they take.

I’m going to make sure I take a closer look at all future material I’m sent!

Posted on November 28, 2012 in Downloadable Teacher Resources, GM Food, IAS Event, News, School, Science Education | Leave a comment

Thanks for Applying

We now have our new mods for this year’s first I’m a Scientist event, and the first ever I’m an Engineer! While we welcome our six new team members, here is some short feedback for those who applied but didn’t get to interview.

There were loads of excellent applicants this year and we were especially impressed by all the amazing science communication work you had all been doing. From writing to volunteering at festivals, it’s great to see people who are passionate about communicating science, especially to young people. In this job, being able to handle groups of excited teens is definitely a plus.

We interviewed people who stood out because of their proven passion for the subject, but also based on their cover letters. This is the best way to try and get to a feel for what a candidate is like. So we like letters that get your personality across. We’re all about trying to engage young people, so being able to engage us with your writing is an excellent start. We are also looking for people who will be fun to work with, so dry and boring letters that could have been copy and pasted from any application just don’t stand out.

The best cover letters I looked at were lively, showed enthusiasm for the job, covered all relevant experience (rather than hiding it in the CV) and gave actual concrete examples to back up statements such as ‘I’m very organised’ or ‘I’ve worked with young people’.

That said, it is possible to be overly casual in a cover letter. Writing “Give me this job!!! xxx” although enthusiastic, doesn’t really give the best impression!

If you didn’t get through this time round we hope you will keep an eye out for future I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer events. We look forward to hearing about all the science communication you’ve been doing in the mean time.

Posted on March 8, 2012 in General, IAS Event, News | Leave a comment

Job Vacancies

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here is an award-winning online event allowing teenagers to interact with real live scientists. We’re looking for 5 moderators to work on the next event which will run from the 12th to the 23rd of March. I’m an Engineer is launched at the same time and also needs moderating!

Your job would be hosting/moderating live chats, approving questions, checking the site for errors and inappropriate content and helping to run the site. It’s actually a lot of fun as the young people are sparky and funny and full of energy. And hey, promoting science engagement is a good thing.

You should be bright, pick stuff up easily, ideally with an interest in science engagement. You’ll have great attention to detail and will enjoy being online. The site is all built on WordPress, so if you’ve used that the techy stuff will be pretty familiar. You’d be working from home, so you must also have broadband.

Please send a CV and short covering letter ASAP (by this Friday 2nd March), to Shamini, telling us why you think you’d be a good moderator. Feel free to give us a ring to find out more about the job – 07527 021004.

  • Dates: 12th – 23rd March (weekdays)
  • Hours: 37.5/week, 08.30-16.00 GMT
  • Pay: £7.50/hr

You can find out more about the events at: and

Posted on February 27, 2012 in IAS Event, News, Science Engagement | Leave a comment

We've cut our teacher survey from 41 to 18 questions

This morning I cut down the survey we ask teachers to fill out after taking part in I’m a Scientist. The old survey was a hefty 41 questions long, and the new one has just 18 questions.

By looking at teachers’ previous responses to the 41 questions we were able to identify the questions which worked, and the questions which didn’t. Using this information we’ve made the survey simpler.

It’s also more quantitative. Funding from the Wellcome Trust for the next 3 years allows us to improve the way we evaluate I’m a Scientist, and move to evaluating outcomes through more quantitative measurements.

My next task is to do the same for the scientist and student surveys, and cut them down from 28 and 25 questions.

Posted on November 23, 2011 in Evaluation, IAS Event, News | Leave a comment

Evaluating the Impacts of engagement

How can we evaluate the impact on students taking part in I’m a Scientist? Can we measure if they’re more likely to take a STEM subject at A Level? If they’re more likely to study science at University? How should we use the large amounts of data generated by online projects? How can we share our evaluation in a more useful way?

These are just some of the questions we’re trying to answer about evaluating I’m a Scientist and other Gallomanor run projects. Judging from the first in a series of seminars looking at Evaluating Impacts of Public Engagement and Non-Formal Learning, last Friday 4th November, others are thinking along the same lines.

The Core Issues & Debates seminar kicked off the series at the Dana Centre in London, and bought together a range of researchers, evaluators and learning and communication practitioners. Future seminars focus on areas such as how to reach new audiences, evaluating online engagement and using qualitative evaluation methods.

The 7 speakers approached evaluating impacts from different views – funding, strategy, science festivals, academic, and museums/science centres. There were some key themes that emerged during each of the 20 minute talks and the resultant Q+A sessions. (It would have been useful to have a bit more time for Q+A discussion after each speaker, as the allocated 10 minutes were quickly eaten into.)

  1. Evaluation needs to be shared with others so all projects are ‘learning projects’. The British Science Association’s Collective Memory is a good place to start. It’s worth constantly thinking about how to improve evaluation during a project, such as changing evaluation questions so they return more useful responses.
  2. Evaluation is very important right from the grant application stage at the start of a project, but shouldn’t be done for the sake of it, or just because funders ask for it.
  3. There are still lots of questions unanswered about how to evaluate and measure the impacts of an engagement project. Is it really possible to measure if students are more engaged with or interested about science as a direct result of one activity? Is it enough to accept your activity is one of many factors that may have influenced a change seen? These will hopefully be explored further, and maybe even answered, in future seminars in the series.
  4. Negativity can be hard to capture in evaluation. Evaluation studies can therefore be designed to try and capture negativity, such as framing questions to encourage participants to think not just about the positives of the event.
  5. Bad evaluation that draws inaccurate or invalid conclusions from data can be more damaging than no evaluation.

Overall it was a useful introduction and summary of how impacts are being evaluated. Armed with my 7 pages of dense notes scribbled during the seminar we’re now working out how to put some of these ideas into practice with I’m a Scientist. This will likely spark another post in due course.

Click on the RSS symbol at the top left of the page to subscribe to the blog, or register for email updates.

Posted on November 9, 2011 in Evaluation, IAS Event, News, Science Engagement | Leave a comment

Choose themed zones for June I’m a Scientist

It’s time to choose the themed zones for the June I’m a Scientist event. Here’s a list of suggested topics (these include ones we’ve used before, but there’s no reason not to use them again!).

Teachers, please vote for which themed zone(s) you’d most like your class to take part in. There’s more explanation about zones under the poll.

If there’s another theme you’d really like to see, then email us ( or let us know in the comments.

[poll id=”6″]

Further explanation about zones

How do I decide what themed zone to pick? It’s not a huge deal. The main point of the I’m a Scientist event is that students get an insight into How Science Works/HSW (particularly, how it really works). They are talking to real scientists, getting to see scientists are real people. They get insight into issues like science funding. So don’t get too caught up on the themes – HSW should still be the real focus. But a themed zone gives you the option of doing some more detailed subject work. Pick one that ties in with a topic you are studying, or one you think will capture your students’ interest.

Why do you have zones at all? To encourage students engaging more deeply with the issues. During I’m a Scientist students have to choose which scientist gets a prize of £500. Students can only choose out of the five scientists in their zone – this is so they have a chance to really get to know those scientists and think in more depth about which they will choose. If we didn’t have zones and students could vote for any of 100 scientists then we believe more would be choosing on who’s got the nicest picture, etc.

Are all zones themed? No. Half the zones will be themed. Half will be ‘general’ – this means a mix of scientists studying all different topics. General zones are named after elements. Have a look at the 2010 archive for an idea of the range of scientists, e.g. in Aluminium Zone we had everything from volcanoes to chicken behaviour.

Should I go for a themed zone or a general zone? Up to you, much of the experience (and the learning) should be the same in both. A themed zone can give you a more in-depth look at a given topic, a general zone can give students a better idea of the breadth of science. After the event last year we asked the teachers who’d taken part whether they’d rather be in a themed or a general zone next time and it was almost exactly 50/50. Once we’ve picked the zone themes for the June event (on Tues 26th April) we’ll email all registered teachers asking for your zone preferences, so you don’t have to decide now.

Posted on March 30, 2011 in IAS Event | Leave a comment

Exciting changes here at I’m a Scientist

On Monday we’re faced with the daunting task of selecting 30 scientists out of over 200, to take part in the March 2011 event. Whilst looking through the list of scientists this morning I was struck by how many volcanologists have registered, given my background in Geography and Natural Hazards. I also realised that I’ve been working here at I’m a Scientist for a whole month now and, despite regular reminders from Shane, I still haven’t introduced myself.

So, here goes! I’m Rosie and I’ve joined the team as ‘Project Executive’ so I’m dealing with the day-to-day running and admin of I’m a Scientist. Sophia is still producing I’m a Scientist but she’s now working part-time, giving her time to get involved with other exciting projects. I’ll be taking over as the main point of contact for the event, so you’ll be hearing a lot more from me! Sophia and I will both be keeping you updated through the I’m a Scientist twitter account, and to distinguish who’s who I’ll be ending all my tweets with RS. Sophia will continue tweeting as normal from @imascientist, with the luxury of not losing any precious characters through signing her initials at the end!

Santiaguito volcano erupting

I’m fresh out of university, having studied the Science of Natural Hazards at Bristol following a BSc in Geography at Durham. As part of my degree I went on a fieldtrip to Guatemala to see how local residents adapt to the volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides that disrupt their everyday lives. This time last year I watched Santiaguito volcano erupt at sunrise from Santa Maria volcano above,  toasted marshmallows on lava flows off Pacaya volcano, and visited the sobering site of the Panabaj mudslide that killed hundreds of villagers in 2005.

Bristol 'Doors Open' 2010

Back in Bristol I was really excited by science communication and public engagement so started volunteering at events such as Bristol ‘Discover’ Science and Bristol Festival of Nature. To give you some idea of what gets me excited, think back to mid-August 2010. Instead of being (sensibly) sat at my desk frantically writing up my dissertation I was standing in the middle of Ashton Court Estate making boats out of tin foil with kids. This was the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta and I was science busking with @Bristol Science Centre. Despite our modest stall being beside a giant purple Milka truck (complete with inflatable Milka cow and free chocolate!), children would repeatedly return to the @Bristol stand to experiment and compete to see whose ‘stomp rocket’ would travel the furthest. Being more popular than chocolate has never seemed cooler.

Since joining I’m a Scientist I’ve embarked on a steep learning curve. I’ve selected teachers for the March event, discussed evaluating the event, updated the Teacher Pack and our website and made many cups of tea. I can’t wait for March so I can experience the excitement of I’m a Scientist that I’ve heard so much about. See you there!

Posted on February 4, 2011 in General, IAS Event | Leave a comment

6 Easy Steps to Win I’m a Scientist!

Destined to win IAS?

Thinking about taking part in I’m a Scientist, but wondering how to increase your chances of winning? Wonder no more, we’ve done some analysis of last year’s winners and here are our top tips on how to win I’m a Scientist…

1. Change your first name to Jo (or Joe). It seems that if you are named Jo in any way you are more likely to win! Five of our winners from 2010’s events were called Jo or Joe. Out of the 125 scientists who took part in the events only 6 were named Jo or Joe.

2. Change your surname to one beginning with C, M or S. 32% of our winners from both the March and June events had surnames starting with C or M. This is closely followed by those with who begin with S who won 12% of the zones. Out of everyone that took part (n=125) 11 had surnames starting with C, 13 with M and 13 with S.

3. Go arty. Only two people used a black and white photo – however both won their zones!

4. Have something interesting in the shot. An interesting background seemed to have an effect on your odds of winning.  68% of this year’s winners had one, the pictures included aquariums, mountains and the sea. A brightly coloured wall also seemed to work.

5. Get speedy with your question answering. The more questions you answer the longer you seem to survive. Some scientists from last year’s event who survived the early evictions answered over 400 questions!

6. Head vs Long Shots. Last year the majority of people gave us head shots (115 people), only seven gave us long shots and three people used either no picture or a non-photographic image. Out of this only two people with long shots won their zone and those who gave no photo did not win at all. This looks like a reasonable showing for long shots, but actually those five non-winners were more likely to be evicted first or second – and no-one wants that, do they?

So as you can see, in order to win you need to change you name to Jo McCormick and then take your picture in black and white in front of the Taj Mahal. Once you’ve done all of that you’d better get practicisng your speed typing! Easy right…

Oh, it isn’t???

OK, so correlation doesn’t mean causation and we don’t really recommend changing your name. BUT do give some thought to your photo. A friendly-looking photo does seem to make a difference (we mentioned this in our top tips last year). A close-up picture where people can see your face seems to make a difference. – i.e. showing just your head, or head and shoulders. Other than that, just be yourselves, and relate to the young people as people – don’t expect to lecture them!

If this has whetted your appetite, and you’re interested in taking part in ‘the world’s most stunningly innovative teen science education programme‘, then you can find out more, and sign up, here. Good luck!

Posted on December 10, 2010 in General, IAS Event | Leave a comment

Choosing themed zones for next year

You’ve given us quite a few suggestions for themed zones for next year. Along with the ones we used last year, there’s a good list here for you to vote on. Please vote for the zones you think you’d like to take part in.

HOWEVER, you’ll see that some suggestions I haven’t put up. This is because I wasn’t quite sure how they’d work, or they were a bit vague and I wasn’t sure what the right specific suggestion would be.

I’m explaining why (i.e. rambling on about this) below the poll. Please can you help me work this out?! Use the comments to add your thoughts and when we’ve worked out more suggestions I can keep adding things to this list.

[poll id=”5″]

A discussion on How Science Works (HSW) zone topics

One suggestion was a HSW zone. The problem with this is, who would we put in it? Sadly we don’t have enough time/money to develop extra teaching materials for each zone, so the topic has to sort of be covered (as much as it’s going to be) by the people in the zone.

So surely any scientist could go in a HSW zone? In fact they are all HSW zones! The main idea of the event really is that students learn HSW more than anything else (and that’s why the info sheets and lesson plans are all on HSW topics). I can’t quite see how a HSW zone would work, but I can see how we could have zones on some HSW topics.

For example, Verity suggests Investigative Science and Evaluating data. But again, who would we put in those zones? Surely any scientist could go in there? What would make it specifically an evaluating data zone?

Emily suggests a moral/ethical debating zone. I’m not sure whether she means one ‘ethics’ zone, or having zones on different issues. Which would you prefer? What issues would you want to see a zone on?

I would definitely LOVE to have zones on different issues – and potentially have some relevant scientists, but also social scientists or philosophers, who could bring a different angle. I think this would be a fantastic HSW exercise, showing the students that different sorts of evidence and points of view need to be considered.

One specific example, we’ve just brought out the cannabis legalisation debate kit. I would love to have a cannabis legalisation zone. Then I think it would make sense to have scientists who’ve studied the effects of smoking cannabis, for example whether it’s likely to cause psychosis. But also have a sociologist who could talk about the social effects of it being illegal, etc, etc.

Or would broader topics be better – for example, ‘Medical ethics’ which could then include medical researchers whose research has ethical implications, as well as, for example, a philosopher who specialised in ethics?

Would you like zones like ‘Philosophy of science’ zone? Although I’m not sure that we could have any actual scientists in that…

Would you feel OK in general about including non-scientists in zones where it seemed relevant? For example,last year we had a Drug Development zone. If we did that again, would it make sense to have a medical ethicist who could discuss the ethical issues in drugs trials?

Please contribute your thoughts, requests, etc and together we can work out some things that will work well for teachers and in the classroom, but also are feasible for us to organise:-)

I can’t promise that whatever we decide, I’ll be able to recruit the ideal people anyway! Of course I’ll do my best, but bear in mind that to an extent, broader suggestions are more feasible to put into practice (like I can’t promise to find five experts on the science of climbing Everest). But too broad and topics become a bit meaningless.

Posted on November 26, 2010 in How Science Works, IAS Event, Science Education | Leave a comment

Suggest topics for themed zones

Screenshot of some themed zones from IAS June 2010Last year we had themed zones in the I’m a Scientist event, for the first time.

They worked well and we plan to do the same next year. Here’s your chance to suggest what themed zones you would like to see.

To start you off, below is a list of the themes from last year, plus some other suggestions.

Please suggest themes in the comments, this week.

Next week we will put up a list of all the suggestions, for you to vote on.

At the bottom there is also a short FAQ about themed zones, to help you decide.

Themed zones used in 2010

  • Brain
  • Genes
  • Are we too clean?
  • IVF
  • Imaging
  • Evolution
  • Cancer research
  • Sports Science
  • Drugs Development
  • Use of chemicals in everyday life

New suggestions so far

  • Energy generation
  • Climate
  • Space
  • Ecology

Further explanation about zones

How do I decide what themed zone to pick? It’s not a huge deal. The main point of the I’m a Scientist event is that students get an insight into How Science Works/HSW (particularly, how it really works). They are talking to real scientists, getting to see scientists are real people. They get insight into issues like science funding. So don’t get too caught up on the themes – HSW should still be the real focus. But a themed zone gives you the option of doing some more detailed subject work. Pick one that ties in with a topic you are studying, or one you think will capture your students’ interest.

Why do you have zones? To encourage students engaging more deeply with the issues. During I’m a Scientist students have to choose which scientist gets a prize of £500. Students can only choose out of the five scientists in their zone – this is so they have a chance to really get to know those scientists and think in more depth about which they will choose. If we didn’t have zones and students could vote for any of 100 scientists then we believe more would be choosing on who’s got the nicest picture, etc.

Are all zones themed? No. Half the zones will be themed. Half will be ‘general’ – this means a mix of scientists studying all different topics. General zones are named after elements. Have a look at the 2010 zones for an idea of the range of scientists, e.g. in Aluminium Zone we had everything from volcanoes to chicken behaviour.

Should I go for a themed zone or a general zone? Up to you, much of the experience (and the learning) should be the same in both. After the event last year we asked the teachers who’d taken part whether they’d rather be in a themed or a general zone next time and it was almost exactly 50/50. You won’t need to pick until later.

Posted on November 15, 2010 in IAS Event | Leave a comment

Dates chosen for IAS2011!

Students looking happy interacting with the I'm a Scientist website.

I’m delighted to announce that the dates for the two I’m a Scientist 2011 events will be:-

14th – 25th March

13th – 24th June

This is based on votes from teachers who’ve applied to take part. Let it never be said we don’t listen to teachers!

For the March event, these two weeks were the most popular with teachers. For the June event, starting one week later would have been marginally more popular, but would have excluded the majority of Scottish schools, who break up on 24th June. As the most popular week in June was 20th-24th (which we are still hitting) we’ve decided to go with 13-24th to exclude as few schools as possible.

Now the hard work begins in earnest. We’ve got to actually plan and organise them!

If you would like to take part, please use the links below to find out more and sign up.

Teachers sign up

Scientists sign up

NB if you have signed up previously, there’s no need to do so again, we’ll email you asking you to confirm if you want to take part in 2011, and when.

Posted on November 8, 2010 in IAS Event | Leave a comment

Help choose dates for I'm a Scientist 2011

What dates would work best for you for the I’m a Scientist events next year?

Like this year, we’ll be running a small, warm-up event in March, then the main event in June. This is based on research we’ve already done with teachers.

We’d just like to confirm what dates in June and March will work best for you. Please select on the poll below, the two best weeks in March and the two best weeks in June, for you and your classes.

[poll id=”2″]

[poll id=”3″]

Just to be clear National Science and Engineering Week (NSEW) runs from 11 – 20 March 2011.

Posted on November 1, 2010 in IAS Event | Leave a comment

I'm a Scientist: A student speaks

Here is an article written for a school newsletter by a teenager, about the experience of taking part in I’m a Scientist.

I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here!

Sound familiar? One small change – we’ve swapped a group of celebrities trying to eat the entire jungle for a group of buzzing scientists – each in a jungle of questions and comments.

Another textbook science lesson? Maybe not! I’m a scientist is a website aimed at all teenagers – interested in science or not (but believe me, by the time you finish the project, science will have taken over your brain and made you love it for the rest of your life). Each pupil is given a login, leading to their individual area which can be personalised with pictures of famous scientists, exploding chemicals and swine flu particles. The login works for a specific zone. In each zone, there are five scientists.

The aim of the game is simple – you ask questions (on practically anything – from “do aliens exist?” to “have you ever exploded any of your experiments?”) and the scientists reply. Then, at the end of the week, you vote for the one you think has answered your questions the best.

And it doesn’t stop there. To make the website more appealing I’m a scientist have come up with the clever idea of a live chat; you book a session where the scientists speak to you face-to-face! (Virtually anyway).

The scientists talk about general science – what topic you’re studying at the moment, and maybe even give advice on what you should study to be able to go into certain scientific fields.

In the end, everything is drawn to a climax – the votes are counted and the winner is presented with the grand title of “I’m a Scientist winner” and £500 to spend on teaching young people about what they are currently researching.

Your vote shouldn’t just be a split-second decision, a quick click and then nothing… a single vote has the power to change the world. The scientist who gets your vote may invent a cure for cancer, discover what all that ‘junk DNA’ codes for, or make a GM crop which could feed starving populations. So whilst I’m a scientist is fun, challenging and educational, it is a door into the future of science, which, with any luck, we will all be able to walk through one day.

The reason I’m a Scientist is supporting the Science is Vital campaign is because we too want today’s teenagers to be able to walk through that door one day, if they want to.

Posted on October 12, 2010 in IAS Event, School, Science Education | Leave a comment

Read about our session at Science Online conference

We’d never been to the Science Online conference. And we’d never given a presentation about I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! But when the organisers asked if we’d like to do a session on the event we jumped at the chance.

We then closed the office for the whole of August, so we had to write and organise our highly interactive, possibly risky session in 2 days when we got back last Wednesday. At the same time as do all our catching up from the holidays.

Last week was an interesting week…

So here is a summary of our session (last Fri, 3rd Sept) and what we, and others, said.

Our presentation

Photo of Sophia speaking, in front of prezi presentation and a twitterfall about the session

Sophia presenting at Science Online coference London

At Gallomanor we like to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. So we wanted to make the session as interactive and audience-led as possible. After a short (2 min) intro, we showed the audience the 12 topics we’d prepared and asked which 6 they wanted to here about.

Here’s the prezi presentation, with a slide on each topic. I’ll summarize below what we were going to say on each – including the ones we didn’t cover on the day.

IAS Solo on Prezi

1. Film – we showed our ‘Intro for the classroom’ film.

2. Our Philosophy

The audience didn’t vote to hear about this, which was a shame as I think it’s really important in explaining why we do what we do, and how. Fools, fools!;-) Maybe we should have called it something more exciting sounding…

Anyway, key points would have been:-

  • We reverse normal power structures (kids in our event are given some decision-making power and the chance to ask what THEY want to ask). This engages pupils who are normally turned off. See more on my thinking here in this piece on the Secrets of Engaging Teens.
  • Making it fun and game-like is not a gimmick and doesn’t make something not educational. It makes people pay attention and be interested! (e.g. this research)
  • It’s not just about getting kids to study science. Not all teenagers will grow up to be scientists, but they will all grow up to be people, and need to have a relationship with science. More on this point in this article for Wellcome Trust blog.
  • Scientists have a lot to gain from engagement too – they aren’t just doing everyone a favour. They can be energised, challenged and made to think by the huge variety, and inventiveness, of students’ questions.

“a 4.00am Eureka! moment solved a problem that’s been bugging me for the best part of a year. It came from a seed of an idea planted in my head by a simple question from a 13/14 year old, absolutely bloody marvellous! Next day I was skipping into work like a refugee Munchkin from the Wizard of Oz, bleary eyed but elated.”

3. History of event

Shane thought of the idea for our sister event I’m a Councillor, Get me out of Here! while drinking Guinness. It’s been running since 2002, helping councils and local councillors to engage with young people in their area.

We came up with the idea of doing a science version in 2007 and ran the first, pilot event in 2008.

4. Funding

The pilot was funded with a People Award from the Wellcome Trust. We then successfully applied for a follow up grant from Wellcome’s Society Award scheme.

We love Wellcome and they are fab. We approached lots of people – people like BIS and Dept of Education who you’d think would be the right people to approach, and we got nowhere. All roads led back to Wellcome.

If you’d like to apply for science engagement money from Wellcome, our advice would be:

  • Make sure you understand what they value and what they are looking for, and that your project fits in with that.
  • Contact them early and talk to them.
  • Make sure you have really thought it through and explained your plans (not just vaguely). They will fund imaginative, even risky stuff, but they want to know you aren’t going to piss the money up the wall.
  • Realise the importance of formative (and summative) evaluation.

5. Site detail

Shane was just going to run through what’s on the site and how it works. You can prob just have a look for yourself.

6. Site build

It was in WordPress, cos we like and support open source, etc. And also cos WordPress is great. Apparently the site is doing things with WordPress that no one has done before. This is of course very exciting.

Developed by total legend Mike Little. Here’s Mike’s presentation about the project at Wordcamp 2010.

7. Scientist Recruitment

We pursued as many routes as possible to recruit scientists, including contacting learned societies, universities, research institutes and companies. Personally, I also bore people to death at parties and force my card on them if they are scientists or know any.

Because we’d done formative evaluation (i.e. talking to possible end users) as part of the development, we were able to focus communication and explain what the benefits would be to the scientists.

Once we’d run the pilot, word of mouth was one of our most powerful tools, as the scientists who took part really loved it. We also had evaluation evidence to back up our claims of the benefits.

To select the scientists (as we are now oversubscribed) we involved our end users. For the last event we took each scientist’s one-sentence description of their work and put it up blind (i.e. just their words, no information on age, gender, ethnicity, organisational affiliation) on a website where students and teachers rated each description. We, and a representative of the Wellcome Trust, also rated each scientist and we combined the scores.

We still want to find new ways of recruiting scientists, and particularly reaching the scientists we aren’t reaching at the moment. If you can help, let us know! And if you want to get involved, sign up here.

8. Teacher recruitment

Timeline for debate kit sign ups, kit 1

Again, used many routes. As you can see from this graph of sign ups for debate kits, some of the most powerful methods are direct mail, the Planet Science e-newsletter, and posting on the TES message board.

Also, for the big event in June, we got a significant number of sign ups from the STEMNET newsletter and a few from many other sources. We think it’s worth casting the net widely.

Again, word of mouth incredibly powerful. Especially because we recruited a ‘teacher panel’ of teachers to help us develop the project, before the pilot, and they became very invested in the project and really helped us a lot. This emphasis on consultation with teachers also meant we really were providing something they wanted, in a way that was useful to them.

Cross-marketing from our debate kits project was also incredibly useful. It enabled teachers to get a sense of where we are coming from, and the quality of what we provide, before making the commitment of signing up to a two week event.

We are oversubscribed with teachers too, and here part of our selection procedure is to deliberately pick as varied schools as possible (geographically, type of school). This has included Special Schools, Pupil Referral Units and Bristol Hospital Education Service. And also schools in Shetland, Northern Ireland and Oman.

We also try to get a representative sample results-wise. By which I mean, high-performing grammar schools are overly represented in the schools who apply, we try to even things out by picking more of the less academically achieving schools. We think it makes a bigger difference to those kids.

As with scientist recruitment, this is still a work in progress. If you can help us get the word out to teachers (taking part is FREE to schools), please do! Or if you are a teacher who would like to get involved, sign up here!

9. Evaluation strategy

Formative evaluation has been absolutely key. We started talking to scientists and science teachers before we did anything else. Asking them about what they wanted, what would work for them, what motivates them.

For teachers, we recruited a teacher panel of people interested in the project, who could give us instant feedback via email on everything from lesson plan ideas to terminology on the site. This also meant that they were invested in the project, when the pilot came around, and understood it and what they could do with it.

We also included young people, for example testing possible designs on them. And we made several school visits to observe science lessons.

We had a limited budget for the pilot, so much evaluation had to be done in house. But we set aside money to appoint an external evaluation consultant, Yvonne Harris, to spend a few days on the project. She advised us throughout, and also conducted some independent interviews with participants at the end, and audited our report. This was absolutely invaluable as she could check things like questionnaires and methodology as we went along, and suggest solutions we would never have thought of, and bring an independent perspective to the whole thing.

It also helped that we had grown the project organically, as we had developed over the years questionnaires that worked, and found (and corrected) many useability issues as we went along.

You can read our evaluation report on the pilot here.

We now have a much bigger budget for the roll out of the project, and we have devoted far more of that to external evaluation. Kate Pontin is now our external evaluator, and she has been invaluable in helping us think with clarity about what we need to find out and how we can do it. She has also been able to do far more schools observation than we can, as we are busy running the event while it’s on! This has been extremely useful.

Kate’s interim report will be unveiled at a special event at the Wellcome Trust on 20th October. This will be part of a special ‘Beyond Blogging’ event, curated by us. Tickets will be very limited, but do get in touch if you’re interested in attending.

10 Evaluation findings

Shane outlined some topline figures so far from the 2010 events.

TopLine Web stats for IAS June 2010

  • 4,667 students
  • 100 scientists
  • 171 teachers
  • 6,580 questions
  • 4,744 votes

More in-depth evaluation results will be published on 20th October, as above.

In the meantime, you can read our full evaluation report on the pilot here.

A summary of the pilot evaluation report here.

Or our short evaluation report on the 2009 event here.

11. Summary of the strengths and weaknesses of this format


  • Power reversal truly engages and empowers.
  • Online gives access to scientists (for schools) and students (for scientists), without having to go anywhere.
  • Doing it online also creates intimacy (makes it easier to ask real questions and break down barriers), compared to a scientist in person giving a talk.
  • It also ‘levels the playing field’ – quieter and less confident students participate more.
  • You’re reaching all the students in the class – not just the very keen, as you find in science clubs, etc.
  • A conversation develops over time – over two weeks, students can read about the scientists, go away and find out more, ask questions, think about the answers, ask more questions…
  • For teachers, the preparation work is done for them and they can concentrate on facilitating learning.
  • For scientists, it saves time – no travelling to a school, they log in from their desk. Every moment spent participating is spent in engagement.
  • Scientists also find the range and energy of the questions rejuvenating, thought-provoking and inspiring.
  • And scientists get into the competitive aspect and have fun.


  • Some scientists (and some teachers) don’t like the informality of the project, although we think it has real value in making connections and breaking down barriers.
  • We’ve disguised the learning and made it fun, so some teachers/scientists/students don’t see that it’s there and think it ‘won’t help them pass exams’. (God help us if that is the only thing some people think education is about).
  • Schools IT (sigh!). Often school firewalls are over-enthusiastic and we do have some problems with schools blocking the site.
  • It can be hard work for the scientists. Some had ~700 questions to answer!
  • It’s expensive to run (although not compared to many other projects).

12. The Question Game

Our question comedy improv game! OK, so not very comedy, and not actually improv, but kind of a game, inspired by Whose Line is it Anyway? Audience members shout out a word, any word, and we search the site to see if there are questions (or answers) containing that word. Intended to give an insight into the enormous range of questions.

Here’s some results

Search dinosaur

Search space

Search evidence

If you want to play the question game for yourself (be warned, browsing the site can be addictive!), just go to the main page and type in the search box near the top.

Live chat

After the presentation, we wanted to give the audience a feel for what live chats are like, and why they are so popular with scientists, students and teachers. So we had a live online chat, with the audience taking the place of students. We gave out log in details and everyone in the audience who had a laptop (quite a few, it being Science Online) could log in and take part. We also showed the chat on the projector.

Some of the key benefits of live chats:-

  • Access to people who couldn’t be there otherwise: We had a scientist in Michigan, one in Sydney, a teacher in Shetland, and a student who was in school. All of them had taken part in the event and answered questions from the audience about what it was like.
  • Immediate and friendly
  • Fun
  • Newer comments appear at the top, so you need to read upwards.
  • Discussion isn’t threaded – we’ve found that breaks up the chat too much and stops it being a communal experience.
  • Chats can be difficult to follow at first, but you get used to it quickly. Students are often quite familiar with chatrooms and don’t find it’s a problem.
  • There are two chatrooms side by side, one for students, one for the scientists. (In this chat that means one for audience and one for our participants). This makes it more difficult to understand an archived chat, however, we’ve found from experience that if the scientists and students are all in the same box, the scientists’ replies get lost in an avalanche of comments from students, so this works better.

Archive of tweets relating just to our session, hashtag #iassolo.

Posted on September 7, 2010 in Evaluation, General, IAS Event | 1 Comment

How DOES magnetism work?

He doesn't know either: Gilbert demonstrating the magnet before Queen Elizabeth /Wellcome Images

Last year I saw A C Grayling talk on happiness and it’s importance. He said that he bans his students from using the word ‘happy’, that it’s a lazy portmanteau word. He thinks that if you are forced to choose a different word – hopeful, exhilarated, content – you’ll think about what you really mean far more clearly.

I think the same can sometimes be true of jargon. Scientists taking part in I’m a Scientist have told us before that explaining yourself without using jargon is hard work, but unexpectedly rewarding. It means you have to think through what you mean and it exposes your mental shortcuts.

We saw a great example of this in Imaging Zone. A fairly innocuous-seeming question (Why do magnets attract and repel?) pretty much lead to the scientists realising that they don’t actually know how magnets worked. Not really. Not when they tried to actually explain it to other people, without using jargon.

Now these scientists include a man who spends many of his days working with an fMRI scanner, containing a magnet so powerful that you have to remove any ferrous object from your person before entering the room. But still, magnetism turned out to be one of those things that he learned about years ago, and sort of assumed he understood.

I’m expecting that some of you have the same feeling I did when reading that Q+A – ‘OMG, I don’t REALLY understand how magnets work either. How did I not notice that before?’ I think the thing is, most of us rarely discuss how magnets work. And when we do, we use technical words (‘dipole’, ‘electromagnetic’, ‘electron shell’) which we and our listeners all know, which can obscure the fact that you don’t truly understand the underlying mechanism.

By all accounts this question, and the attempts to answer it, lead to an awful lot of magnetism-related discussions at scientific breakfast tables and coffee machines around the country. So, one outcome, of just this question, has been much thinking about and discussing the mysteries of physics, by scientists, with colleagues, and others, about a subject they all thought they understood, but actually it turns out they’ve got lots of questions about it.

If the essence of science is asking questions and taking nothing for granted, then I’d call this a result.

This post started life as part of a mammoth post I’ve been writing about how June’s I’m a Scientist event went. The post has taken about three days so far and we’re up to 3,000 words. So I thought I should really break it into bits and start bunging some up now.

Posted on July 13, 2010 in Evaluation, IAS Event, Scientists | 2 Comments

Press announcement: IAS2010 winners

I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here! has found its very own kings (and queens) of the laboratory, as chosen by 5,000 school students from across the UK.

For two weeks 100 scientists, in 20 different zones, have been answering questions from school students and having online live chats with them. The students have now voted for who they think should win and the final votes have now been counted.

It really does give us the most enormous pleasure to announce that the winners are…

Zone Winner
Beryllium Ian Sillett
Boron Hywel Vaughan
Nitrogen Joanna Buckley
Oxygen Tom Hardy
Fluorine Mark Roberts
Neon Jon Copley
Sodium Ben Still
Magnesium Dean Whittaker
Aluminium Katy Mee
Silicon Andrew Maynard
Clean Panos Soultanas
Brain Joanna Brooks
Cancer Joanna Watson
Chemicals Joe Cook
Drugs Deuan Jones
Evolution Ceri Thomas
Genes Steven Kiddle
Imaging Stephen Curry
IVF Vicki Onions
Sports Sally Fenton

This has been the largest I’m a Scientist event ever staged – four times the size of earlier pilot events. All thanks to a generous grant from the Wellcome Trust.

The event puts young people in the driving seat and gets them truly engaging with real science and real scientists. It gives them an insight into issues like ‘how do we decide what science to fund?’  shows them that scientists are real people they can relate to and inspires them with a taste of what it’s like to study cutting edge science.

For the scientists it’s a rollercoaster masterclass in communicating what they do. It’s a chance to connect with young people and find out how they view science. And it’s an inspiring and energising experience.

The event has involved people in a way science engagement activities rarely do. Students have been forming fanclubs in school and cheerleading for their favourite scientists. Scientists have been staying up all night making videos for the event. They’ve been so dedicated to making the live chats that one requisitioned a stranger’s computer at a conference, another got up at 4.30am to take part from the States while another was typing away in the toilet queue at Glastonbury!

Scientists have also been meeting scientists from other research areas and getting support from other scientists both on twitter and in their departments. It’s got students and scientists making new connections and excited about talking about science.


“If any scientist is feeling jaded, run down, disillusioned with their lot, I thoroughly recommend IAS therapy. The energy, the intensity, the free uninhibited approach to asking science questions displayed by a class of energised and interested teenagers, is far better for the scientific psyche than any shrink could manage, it got me pumped again.”

Dr Mark Fogg, York University, in a moving blogpost about the event


“thankyu for this whole experiance ive learnt loads in this experience and we ar deffinatly voting for you good look with ur phd and hope u will b called the doctor soon and become very succesful!”

“Science really is truly mind baffling and you have all just made it even more fascinating, therefore tres bien! Good luck with the eviction Joanna you are my favourite.”

“This has been the best chemistry lesson ever”


“The I’m a Scientist event is one of the most exciting, interactive, cutting edge activities that my pupils and I have taken part it.  My pupils love being in contact with real Scientists and finding out about their research.”

“They worked so hard during this event, but they didn’t seem to think of it as work”

Notes for Editors

Interview opportunity
Participant pupils and scientists from this, or previous pilot events are available for interview on request.

Scale of event
This largest event ever has run from 14th – 25th June with:-

  • 20 zones
  • 100 scientists (five scientists in each zone)
  • 5,100 students
  • in 152 schools and colleges
  • 7,500 questions asked
  • 68,000 visits to the site
  • 493,075 Pageviews

About ‘I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here!’
‘I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here!’ is a science dialogue event where school students talk to real scientists online for two weeks. It’s in the form of an X Factor-style competition between scientists, who compete for a prize of £500.
For two weeks students read about the scientists’ work, ask them questions and engage in live text chats with them. The students vote for the scientist they want to get the money. The scientists with the fewest votes are evicted until only one is left to be crowned the winner in each zone. The event is supported by carefully developed and tested teaching resources that develop students’ skills and deepen their understanding.
The event is funded by a Society Award from the Wellcome Trust, with additional support from the National Science Learning Centres and the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

Information about the scientists taking part in the June event.

The names of all the schools taking part in June

The hashtag to follow the event on twitter is #ias2010

About the Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is a global charity dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.

Posted on June 25, 2010 in IAS Event | 1 Comment

Don't Panic! More advice for our scientists…

OK, judging from Twitter you are all getting worried about what you’ve let yourselves in for and fretting about getting evicted. I’m writing this to reassure you, although, I’m afraid most of you are going to get evicted and there’s not much I can do about it. Sorry!

The moderators and I do hate the evictions. It’s excruciating having to say goodbye to people who’ve put in lots of effort and been great contestants. But evictions are a big part of what makes the event exciting for young people, they create a buzz and a tension. And I guess we should all remember that it’s the taking part that counts (tell that to my Dad on pub quiz night…).

However, these are my top tips on surviving evictions, based on running events in this format over 6 years. I think the things that make students vote for someone are:-

1. How worthwhile they think your work is – in IAS terms curing cancer scores high. As does stopping people starving in the developing world. It’s not only heroic lifesaving scientists who have won the event in the past though – but it is worth thinking about how you explain to teenagers what benefit your work brings to the world.

2. How much they’ve interacted with you and how they felt about that interaction. Common comments when we ask students why they voted for a particular scientist or councillor are ‘They answered our questions’, ‘They weren’t patronising’, ‘They listened to us’, ‘They seemed nice’.

3. Smiley photo. In my exp, kids don’t vote for the best looking person,  but they do vote for the one who looks genuinely friendly. We actually did a test of this once with I’m a Councillor by getting friends to rate the attractiveness and smileyness of councillor photos then comparing to who won. It was only a small sample but attractiveness did not correlate with winning, smiley photos did. But of course we can’t rule out the fact that perhaps a person with a smiley photo does much better at number 2.

There is a discussion of what made students vote for particular scientists in the I’m a Scientist evaluation report, in section 1.1.7, if you are that keen!

Posted on May 18, 2010 in IAS Event, Scientists | Leave a comment

Advice to our scientists

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


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

Themed zones

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

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

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

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

General zones

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


What do we need from you right now?

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

What is involved in taking part?

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

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


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

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

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

Live chats

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on May 17, 2010 in IAS Event, Scientists | 1 Comment

Latest event news: Who's taking part in March?

I’m sure you are all on the edge of your seats to find out who’s taking part in the next I’m a Scientist event, so here they are!

We are having five ‘zones’ in March (in each zone there are five scientists, talking to 20 classes of students, with one prize up for grabs in each zone). Two of these zones have a theme (the Genes Zone and the Brain Zone) and the other are general, with a broad mix of scientists. The general zones are named after elements.

The themed zones are a new thing we are trying out for this event, and teachers seem to really like the idea, so I think they’ll turn out well.

The event runs 15th – 26th March, and you can watch everything that happens on the website.  Only the students taking part can ask questions, chat to the scientists and vote, but everyone is welcome to read all about it and see what’s going on.

Brain Zone


Nick Bradshaw University of Edinburgh I study a set of proteins which are believed to be involved in schizophrenia
Joseph Devlin University College London My work focuses on what happens in the human brain that allows us to use language when other animals cannot.
Carolyn McGettigan UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience I use neuroimaging to investigate how the brain processes speech and voices.
Anne Seawright University of Bristol Looking at measuring emotions in dogs.
Mariana Vargas Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics Learning and memory. Neurons and Synapses.


Swanlea School Stoke Newington
Unity College Lancashire
Harrogate Ladies’ College Harrogate
Castleford High School Technology And Sports College Castleford
London Academy Edgware
St Cyres School Vale of Glamorgan
Burnage Medi Arts College Manchester
Wye Valley Bucks
Garibaldi College Mansfield
Bacon’s College Rotherhithe
Beechfield Secure Unit Copthorne
Heanor Gate Science College Derbyshire
St Columba’s High School Renfrewshire
The Park Community School Barnstaple
Queen Elizabeths Grammar School Faversham

Genes Zone


Olivia Hibbitt Oxford University Gene therapy for high cholesterol
Lorna Houlihan The University of Edinburgh Searching for genes involved in intelligence and age-related change in intelligence.
Chris Needham School of Computing, University of Leeds (I’m an RCUK Research Fellow) I am interested in computational biology and bioinformatics, such as modelling gene regulatory networks from high throughput gene expression data, and using machine learning to predict protein function.
Kay Penicud London Research Institute (Cancer Research UK) I research how our cells repair their DNA when it becomes damaged, and how unrepaired DNA can lead to cancer.
Kerstin Zechner Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford I’m looking at how a stretch of DNA coding for a gene is copied into another molecule known as RNA and how this copying process is kept under control in worms.


Broadoak Maths And Computing College Weston-super-Mare
Abbeyfield School Chippenham
British School Muscat Sultanate Of Oman
Balby Carr Doncaster
Tiffin School Kingston upon Thames
Broadgreen International School Liverpool
City Of Portsmouth Girls’ School Portsmouth
Middlesbrough College Middlesbrough
Ripon Grammar School Ripon
The Woodlands School & Sports College Coventry
The George Ward School Melksham
Sacred Heart London
Abingdon School Abingdon
Bury St Edmunds County Upper Suffolk
St Leonard’s St Andrews

Hydrogen Zone


Louise Buckley Scottish Agricultural College Hungry chickens find it more difficult to learn complex choice tasks
Pamela Docherty University of Edinburgh I work in the area of integrable systems in mathematical physics, which roughly means trying to predict how certain real-world objects move in time, for example, planets.
Freya Harrison University of Oxford, Dept of Zoology I use experiments and simulations to understand why and how cooperative behaviour has evolved
Katy Milne Imperial College I develop inspections for jet engines to ensure that they are safe
Helen Vaughan University of Durham I use really powerful lasers to blow up molecules in order to develop new materials for use in highly efficient plastic lighting applications and flexible television screens!


Queen Ethelburga’s College York
The George Ward School Melksham
Twynham School Dorset
George Heriot’s School Edinburgh
Pembrokeshire College Pembrokeshire
St Joan Of Arc Catholic School Rickmansworth
Mid Cheshire College Cheshire
Rochester Grammar School Rochester
Cheadle And Marple Sixth Form College Stockport
Samuel King’s School Cumbria
Kinlochbervie High Sutherland
Brockenhurst College Hampshire

Helium Zone


Martin Coath Centre for Robotic and Neural Studies Designing sensory systems for machines that work just like biological systems.
Emily Cook Barts Hospital X-ray vision: probing your body and luggage
Chris Cooper Dept of Biological Sciences I make (or rather try to make) artificial blood to replace blood transfusions.
Tamsin Gray British Antarctic Survey I am trying to work out how fast Antarctica is warming up and when the hole in the ozone layer is going to get better.
Natalie Stanford University of Manchester I build electronic versions of cells so we can subject them to extreme disturbances in order to increase our understanding of their function.


Francis Holland School London
Pate’s Grammar School Cheltenham
City Of Westminster FE College (Maida Vale Campus) London
Ashington High School Northumberland
Keswick School Cumbria
The Compton London
Birkdale High School Dewsbury
King Henry Viii School Coventry
Highbury Fields School London
Addey & Stanhope Lewisham
Elton High School Bury
Kingsmead Commuity School Somerset
Shimna Integrated College Co. Down
Bishop Thomas Grant School Streatham
William Farr C Of E Comprehensive School Licolnshire

Lithium Zone


Kiran Meekings Decision Resources A trained molecular virologist by nature, I now work in pharmaceutical research building drug forecasts for cancer drugs in all stages of clincial development for many of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms.
Sarah Mount University of Wolverhampton I try to find new ways for scientists and artists to use small computers embedded in the environment
Duncan Murdock University of Bristol I am using pioneering x-ray techniques to work out how skeletons evolved in animals.
Sharon Sneddon University of Manchester I am trying to find ways of creating ethically acceptable human embryonic stem cells.
Paul Stevenson University of Surrey I try to understand what makes protons and neutrons stick together and so form all the elements.


Kingsbury High School Brent
Ryton Comprehensive School Tyne & Wear
Hardenhuish Chippenham
Clydebank High School West Dunbartonshire
Broxburn Academy West Lothian
Presdales School Herts
South Thames College (Merton Campus) Surrey
Saltash.Net Community School Cornwall
John F Kennedy Catholic School Herts
The Long Eaton School Nottinghamshire
Broadgreen International School Merseyside
Longridge Towers School Berwick upon Tweed
St John’s, Marlborough Wiltshire
Forest Education Centre Hythe
Posted on February 25, 2010 in IAS Event | 1 Comment

Latest event news: Schools chosen, scientists next week

We’ve now chosen the schools to take part in I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! March 2010. 70 teachers, in every setting from selective grammar schools to young offender institutions, will be logging on with their students and talking to real scientists. Then those students will be choosing which scientist gets a public engagement grant of £500.  Nothing engages young people like giving them some power.

Choosing the schools has been agonising as we’d love to include everyone but we’ve been very over-subscribed with five classes wanting to take part for every space. We’ve tried to ensure a mix of types of school, types of class and school location.

Many teachers wanted to take part with a whole year group (or two or three whole year groups in some cases!), which is great. We know from I’m a Councillor that getting the whole year group involved really adds to the buzz about the event and has students talking about it outside the classroom. However, as March is a fairly small scale event we have restricted it to one or two classes per school.

I hope that the teachers will see March as a way to test out the event, and then take part in June with many more classes. We know that having seen it in action once helps teachers make the most out of the event the second time.

Teachers can now register their interest in the June event


We are still taking registrations for scientists who want to take part in March. We’ll close registrations and choose the scientists next Friday (19th Feb). So far all sorts of fascinating scientists have signed up. Here’s just a few of the things they are studying:-

  • Climate change in Antarctica
  • What happened just after the big bang
  • Undersea volcanoes
  • The origins of co-operative behaviour
  • The molecular basis of schizophrenia
  • Ways to reduce the use of animals in research

And loads more! Choosing the scientists next week is going to be every bit as agonising… But, there’s still plenty of time to sign up if you are interested in taking part. Please pass it on to any scientists you think may be interested.

Info for scientists here

Registration for scientists here

Posted on February 12, 2010 in Event News, IAS Event | Leave a comment

I'm a Scientist March 2010 FAQs for teachers

I’m getting a lot of requests from teachers for more info about the next event, so I thought I should put up the answers here and save people writing to me. Not that I mind people writing to me, I hasten to add, but hopefully this will save time all round.

When is the event?

Teacher registration closes: 9th Feb – we will let everyone know that day if they have been selected
Scientist registration closes: 19th Feb – we will let everyone know that day if they have been selected
Event begins:
March 15th
Event ends: March 26th

The event lasts for two weeks. The first week is ‘getting to know the scientists’ week, the second week is chucking them off week:-D. We have evictions almost every day in week two, with the winner in each zone being announced on the Friday.

Where is the event?

It’s online! You can take part from anywhere with an internet connection. Your students don’t need to go anywhere.

When do the students talk to the scientists?

Students interact with the scientists in two ways:

Sending scientists questions can happen at any time (students can even log in at home. Yes, we moderate the questions…).

Live chats are booked by the teacher for the time that suits them. We are very happy for chats to be at lunch time or after school (e.g. if you are taking part with the science club). Scientists, of course, have their own jobs to do so won’t be able to make every chat. The important thing is that the students get to talk to some scientists and (hopefully) realise they are normal people, and possibly even quite nice.

What age groups is it suitable for?

In the pilot we had a post-16 zone and two pre-16 zones. The classes in the pre-16 zones were mostly year 9s, with some year 10s and 11s (S2-S4 in Scotland). The post-16 classes included A Level, AS level, BTEC and Higher classes. All of these students got a lot out of taking part.

We produce three sets of supporting resources

  1. Post-16
  2. Pre-16 foundation
  3. Pre-16 extension

The resources will probably be too advanced for younger groups, but the format of the event itself is very flexible. Because students ask the questions they want to, they can take part whatever their level. Our sister event, I’m a Councillor, Get me out of Here! often has primary schools taking part and they really love it.

However, I’m a Scientist has mainly been designed to support How Science Works (HSW) for GCSE and above. If there’s enough interest in it we might run a version for younger students in the future.

If you want to have a look at them, the teaching materials from the pilot are here. This may help you to see whether they would be suitable for your students. We will be making some minor changes, but mainly the resources will be the same.

Can my Scottish/Irish/Welsh school take part?

Yes! Scottish and Welsh schools have taken part in the pilot and Northern Irish schools have taken part in I’m a Councillor, our sister event. We are also happy for schools in the Republic of Ireland to apply. As long as you feel it will help with your curriculum then you are very welcome.

Can my SEN pupils take part?

Yes! Oak Lodge Special school took part in the pilot event and found it worthwhile, here is a case study about their experience.  The supporting resources will not be geared towards your pupils, which may cause you extra work, sorry. We hope to be able to produce specialized resources for SEN at some point, but we don’t have the resource to do it at the moment.

How do I register?

Fill in this form

You will then get sent a confirmation email and you need to click the link in it to confirm. If the email hasn’t arrived in a few minutes then check your spam folder as some of them have been going in there.

You haven’t answered my question!

Sorry. There is more info about the event and what’s involved for teachers here. If you still have a question, please email me (or put it in the comments below). But please make your question specific! I’ve got several emails saying ‘please send me more info’ and it’s hard to know what they want me to tell them. There is really a lot of info on the website already…

Posted on February 4, 2010 in IAS Event | Leave a comment

I'm a Scientist 2010 Registration open

This is a weird moment. I can’t quite believe I’m actually doing it. I am now declaring registrations open for the first full scale I’m a Scientist event!

We are ready to hear from classes and scientists who want to take part in I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! 2010.

Teachers should register here.

Scientists should register here.

Getting us this far has taken a large proportion of my professional life for the last three years. Too large a part, Mr McCracken would say. It’s also taken loads of work from dozens of  other people – the lovely (and long-suffering)  teachers panel, all the previous participants, the people who’ve worked with us and the many people who’ve supported us.

I’m proud of what we’ve done. Thank you everyone. The event this year is going to be amazing. But I tell you what, if I’d known what hard work it was all going to be, I might have kept my mouth shut when I had that bright idea, all those years ago.

We are making a lot of improvements to the event this year, building on the things like live chats that we know really work. We think we’ll be making the site easier to use, more interactive, more personalised, but also more thought-provoking. Come and join in!

Timetable for March 2010 event

9th Feb: Teacher registration closes
19th Feb: Scientist registration closes
March 15th: Event begins
March 26th: Event ends

More info

Hear from Professor Peter Styring, one of our previous participants…

…Or read more about what’s involved

For scientists

For teachers

Or you can register here.

If you simply want updates without registering to take part then give us your email address below:

Scientist Teacher 3rd option (Other)


Posted on January 26, 2010 in IAS Event | Leave a comment

Registrations for this year's I'm a Scientist opening very soon

This is just a quick post to keep you all in the loop. My pre-publicity has obviously been too successful and I keep being contacted by people who want more info about taking part in the event this year!

We will be running two I’m a Scientist events this year (details below). If everything goes to plan we will open registrations on Friday this week (22nd Jan).

March event | 15th-26th | 5 zones | 25 scientists | 100 classes

June event | 14th – 25th | 20 zone | 100 scientists | 400 classes

If you just can’t wait to let us know you want to take part, then feel free to email me (, but it will just mean I send you an email on Friday telling you how to register:-). There’s more info about the event here, but, of course, if you’ve got more questions then get in touch.

Posted on January 19, 2010 in IAS Event | Leave a comment

I'm a Scientist gets funding!

Our I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! event has been awarded a grant of £209,000 by the Wellcome Trust, so that we can roll it out nationally over the next two years. Hallelujah!

Yay! Time to celebrate

Yay! Time to celebrate

Long bit of waffle about how this came to pass

Long time readers will remember that we ran a pilot of the event in June 2008, funded by Wellcome. We then ran a second event in March 2009, funded by us, with assistance from Bristol University. These events went really well. As you can see from the evaluation reports, they got students really engaged with science, changed students views of science and scientists and were memorable and exciting learning opportunities.

Since then we have been chasing the funding to roll the event out bigger and better and give the same great learning experience to thousands more students. It’s been a frustrating experience – so many people have said ‘It’s a great idea, but we don’t have any money to give you’.

In February we applied for a Wellcome Trust Society Award. We got though the first round. We submitted a more in-depth application. We got the reviewers comments, which were mainly brilliant, “This is one of the most imaginative ideas that I have come across in 30 years of working in this field” particularly sticks in my mind, natch. We responded to the comments. And then, last Wednesday we had to go and present to the committee, at Wellcome’s Headquarters in London.

It must be said, I did not enjoy the experience. Imagine, three years of work, on something you completely believe in, all riding on one 20 minute presentation. I kept having this dread that there would be something we’d forgotten – like in one of those dreams where you are sitting an exam but it all goes wrong in some crazy dream-like way. “Oh no, we were supposed to bring a kangaroo butler! Where can we get a kangaroo and a dinner jacket in the next five minutes?”

My heart was in my mouth from the moment I woke up. I know that I know the event, the feedback and our plans inside out. But sometimes you feel like you know far too much about something to explain it or to answer questions with any sort of clarity.

I tried desperately, in my over-earnest way, to get across just how wonderful the event is, and answer some pretty harsh questions clearly and persuasively. Shane did a great job of explaining his bit (even if he was going extremely fast by the end). But the committee looked unconvinced.

We walked out of there, straight into the nearest pub, convinced that we hadn’t persuaded them. After getting the train home to Bristol I frogmarched my flatmates to another pub and made them listen to me moaning all evening about how we’d blown it. And then on Thursday we got the best phone call ever. The committee had been very impressed by the idea and were giving us the money!

Apparently the committee deliberately put on serious faces so they don’t give anyone false hope. I have to say I have now just about forgiven them for this. In light of the £209,000.

Just how much do I love our participants?

Loads! The students, teachers and scientists who’ve taken part have all been such fun to work with, done so much with the event, and helped us so much with their input, support and advice over the last two years. But now I love them even more.

We especially wanted to get across to the committee just how much people get out of taking part. So we emailed the scientists and teachers asking if they could record something to show to the committee.

Loads of them did. Even though for many it was 18 months since they’d taken part, their enthusiasm shone through. I’m sure that was very persuasive with the committee. Cheers everyone! I will look into the possibility of putting up some of the clips. If the students from Heanor Gate Science College don’t make you laugh then you haven’t got a heart.

What we’ll do with the money

You can read lots more about the money stuff and what this means for the company here. (For some strange reason my boss sets more store by this side of things, whereas I just care about getting kids thinking. I realise this is one of my many flaws as a private sector employee.) But basically,  over the next two years we can run the event with:-

50 zones altogether, which means

  • 250 scientists
  • 1,000 classes
  • 20,000 students

All (students, scientists and teachers) breaking down barriers, learning new skills and changing the way they think about each other. I can’t wait!

And best of all, we take on a full-time admin assistant and I need never address another envelope. Is that shallow of me?

*Photo credit Tony Hisgett

Posted on November 18, 2009 in IAS Event | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doors open!

I’m a Scientist is a FREE online science enrichment activity where your students talk to real scientists, learn about How Science Works (HSW) and get inspired.

We are now taking applications for classes to take part in I’m a Scientist June 2009. It should be even better than last year and we are looking forward to hearing from you!

Event dates: 15th-26th June 2009
Deadline for applying:
15th May 2009

Spaces are limited, so get in early. Although it won’t be strictly first-come-first served as we want to make sure we have a good spread of schools.

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Teacher Application Form for IAS June 2009
* indicates required field


Year 9 (S2 in Scotland)
Year 10 (S3 in Scotland)
Year 11 (S4 in Scotland)
Year 12 (S5 in Scotland)
Year 13 (S6 in Scotland)

To find out more before applying:-

The event site is here, and you can look back at the March 2009 event, or the pilot last June, and see the kind of questions young people asked and the answers scientists gave. Please note, this doesn’t give you an idea of the energy and usefulness of live chats, which many teachers, students and scientists say are their favourite bit.

Our evaluations of the pilot and the March event are here, where you can find out what students, teachers and scientists said about taking part and what they got out of it.

Teaching materials specially designed for the event are here and you are free to download them and use them as much as you want, whether you take part in the event or not. Most of them work fine as stand-alone activities.

Or feel free to call or email me for a chat about it. I’m really very friendly (once I’ve had my morning cup of tea:-)). (Sophia Collins, the event organiser) or call 01225 869413.

Posted on May 5, 2009 in IAS Event, School | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Nice I'm a Scientist press coverage

There’s an article about IAS in the ASE‘s Education in Science magazine for April, surely the crème de la crème of science education media? The article was written by me and Ian Francis, our Education Consultant. Our author copies have just arrived so we are all quite excited (look Mum, my name in print!). Unfortunately they don’t publish the articles online, so I can’t link to it, but look out for it if you are a subscriber.

If you are an Education in Science reader who’s here because you read the article, then Hi! This site is the project blog, where you can find out what we’re up to, and about the development of the project.

The event site is here, and you can look back at the March 2009 event, or the pilot last June, and see the kind of questions young people asked and the answers scientists gave.

Our evaluations of the pilot and the March event are here, where you can find out what students, teachers and scientists said about taking part and what they got out of it.

Teaching materials specially designed for the event are here and you are free to download them and use them as much as you want. Most of them work fine as stand-alone activities.

And if you want to take part in the event with your class, then fill in the ‘get more info’ section over there <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< and we’ll put you on our list and send you more info.

The next I’m a Scientist event will run 15th – 26th June 2009.

Posted on April 27, 2009 in IAS Event, Science Education | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

These scientists were just like real people!

Hi everyone, here’s a summary of how the March 2009 event went (PDF download). I was supposed to write a couple of pages so of course it’s 12 pages long (I’m the same with cooking – if I have a couple of friends round I make enough food for ten and we’re eating leftover curry ’til thursday…). Fortunately Shane (my boss) is busy being terribly important in London running his G20 bloggers tent, and hanging out with Bob Geldof (pictured), so he can’t tell me off about it.


Shane (just behind Sir Bob) at the G20Voice

What we found was pretty similar to the pilot (but it’s important to check everything is still working:-)). One of my favourite quotes was the one I used as the title. Students were over and over amazed that ‘scientists are just like real people’, and that they were taking time to talk to young people. They also couldn’t quite get over that we were giving them a say about something, “[I liked] being able to vote as a child and make a difference.” I find that quite moving – we all want to make a difference, don’t we? Do we give young people so few opportunities for doing that?

As for the grown-ups, all the scientists and all the teachers (who filled in the feedback survey) would take part again, and recommend the event to a colleague. Everyone enjoyed taking part, the scientists developed their communication skills and got inspired about public engagement, “I got a tremendous amount out of it, and I think I probably learnt a lot more from the students than they learnt from me!”, and the teachers felt their students benefitted enormously.

The key elements mentioned, once again, were:-

•    Exciting and intimate medium for interaction
•    Real scientists and real science
•    Taking young people seriously and giving them actual decision-making power
•    Supported by thought-provoking classroom discussion activities

But looking through all this data has confirmed for me again how important each of the elements is and how they work together.

For example, one thing that works is that live chats are an intimate and familiar medium for young people – so they can ask questions when they might normally be shy in class. But it’s the fact that they have a real decision to make about real science, primed by appropriate classroom discussion exercises, that gives some purpose to that conversation, and means it’s not just students asking what nipples are for.

We can’t claim this is entirely due to our genius as event producers (although I’m sure it’s a factor;-)), it’s also to do with the organic way I’m a Councillor, and then I’m a Scientist have developed*. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t as we’ve gone along and built the event up. We also owe the biggest debt of gratitude to the teachers, scientists and young people who’ve helped us. Thank you everyone! I was going to talk about that lots more, but I have to go and catch a train to see my baby sister’s band play so it will have to wait for another time. Have a great weekend everyone!

*I particularly like how this theory confirms all the prejudices of my biologist worldview: Evolution, much better at engineering than engineers are.

Posted on April 3, 2009 in Evaluation, IAS Event | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The winner!

The results are in!

Huge congratulations to the winner of I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! 2009:

Gillian Hamilton!

Gillian will use the £500 prize money to help communicate her research to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust conference in London.

Gillian says:

“It’s been really great to chat to so many folk about my work and to be able to give them information about what a real scientist actually does in the lab and how to get there too. I didn’t really plan to end up where I am but it’s all worked out. So I’m glad they were interested in my work and what I do!”

Well done to Mark Roberts, who came in second place, and to all the scientists for their great work.

And… biggest thanks of all to the students for working hard, asking questions, and chatting… The students are the stars! We couldn’t have done it without you!

Posted on March 13, 2009 in IAS Event | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Two scientists out, three to go!

We’re almost halfway through! Two scientists – Christine Cooper and Scott Grandison – are already gone, and the others are shaking in their boots. Who will the students evict next?

Continue reading

Posted on March 11, 2009 in General, IAS Event | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Open the Floodgates!*

Our next I’m a Scientist event is about to start on Monday and we’re all very excited/tired. The site is up and running,  and next week the scientists and the students start talking (and the students start voting).

Teachers have been introducing their classes to the event this week, and doing some of the preparatory lessons to get the students thinking. The IVF debate (teachers can download lesson materials from here for free) is still a big favourite, ‘my 6th form did the IVF debate today … their response….. can we do another …. just as successful as least year! I love it … it is so simple to use and the kids love the role play.’

The scientists taking part this month are:-

Gillian Hamilton
University of Edinburgh
I am looking at the genetic differences between people and whether these can result in a person developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Mark Roberts
University of Oxford, Lincoln College
I work on the bacterial sense of smell.

Christine Cooper
University of Bath
Research into catalysts to force molecules to take a highly specific 3D structure.

Nizar Drou
John Innes Centre
I am a Bioinformatician working on the B.rapa genome sequencing project , which is an international genome sequencing effort.

Scott Grandison
University of East Anglia
I am interested in thinking about living organisms as if they were mechanical devices and studying the changes that they go through as they grow and develop.

Caroline Grainger
University of Bristol
I’m an organic chemist. We work out the recipes to make new medicines.

Check out the site over the next couple of weeks to see how the conversations develop and which scientists impress the students with why they should get the money. We hope you find it entertaining, and even, sometimes, thought-provoking.

(You can get full access to the site by clicking on the ‘GUEST ACCESS’ button, you just can’t post messages, as that power is only for young people.)

*Actually, we don’t make jokes about floodgates here in Bradford on Avon. The town rumour has it that we always flood because the people in Bath close their floodgates to protect all their posh buildings. We last flooded a couple of weeks ago and the sandwich shop is still closed. Damn those pesky Bathonians!

Posted on February 27, 2009 in General, IAS Event, Scientists | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment