Research Councils UK have announced the Strategic Support to Expedite Embedding Public Engagement with Research (SEE-PER) programme.
The aim is to help HEI’s and Research Institutes embed Public Engagement within their organisations and to address identified challenges stopping it being embedded.
I’m a Scientist is offering to partner with an applicant or multiple applicants for SEE-PER to help address issues of:
- Supporting Public Engagement in Research
- Motivations for PER
- Making PER sustainable
We have a strong track record in public engagement not just with the event itself, but in the follow-on activities carried out by all participants. One clear message that comes from participating scientists is that they want to do more Public Engagement and the evidence is that they do go on to do more engagement.
We would like to work with HEI’s and Research Institutes to investigate why I’m a Scientist acts as a boost to researchers public engagement activities.
This partnership research could involve RCT’s to compare future public engagement activities; qualitative approaches to investigate the comparative differences between online engagement and performance based engagement or a look at the benefits of remote engagement to help researchers connect with communities normally out of reach.
We’d love to have a conversation about how the I’m a Scientist event can work with you on a SEE-PER project. Please give Shane a call on 01225 326892 or email email@example.com.
Category Archives: Project News
Partner with I’m a Scientist on Strategic Support to Expedite Embedding Public Engagement with Research
In the last year I’m a Scientist has developed more than at any other time since we launched in 2010. We’ve hired new people, moved offices, moved servers, launched and relaunched multiple international projects (Vietnam, Spain, and Kenya), started projects like I’m a Medic and I’m a Researcher, developed a new Live Chat system (see Tim Peake using it for the I’m an Astronaut event), we even celebrated our company 15th anniversary… And to meet the needs of all these developments we’ve created a sleek new theme for the site.
The ‘theme’ is like the skin of the website. It doesn’t really change the functionality, just the style and way it looks. This new theme is a huge improvement over the previous one:
It’s fully mobile responsive – making it more accessible for scientists and students on whichever device they might be using.
It’s flexible and easy to implement – meaning we can roll out events more efficiently and at a lower cost than before (take a look at the I’m a Medic site).
It’s adaptable to other languages and alphabets – so we can keep expanding the event to new countries whilst maintaining identity and voice.
It’s easier to navigate and, we think, much better looking – it also matches the style of the new, astronaut-approved, live chat engine.
The theme has taken an incredible amount of work. The key factors in its design were accessibility, performance efficiency, and using modern systems and methods in creating a user-friendly experience for anyone who visits the site, on any device.
A huge thanks go to our wonderful team of Mike (dev), Lesley (chat dev), Andy (front end dev) and now Luke (front end dev) who have done a spectacular job adapting the functionality to meet more current, accessible standards, and testing everything into oblivion. They’ve succeeded in taking a very old theme and creating a new theme which allows old content to work in its structure, and where new content looks modern and is more accessible.
See the new site up and running live on I’m a Scientist.
We’re also always on the look out for bugs, glitches or anything we may have missed during the testing phase, so if you spot anything that doesn’t work or look right, please email me – firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re aiming to roll out the new theme across the rest of the projects over the summer, including I’m an Engineer, I’m a Researcher, and international events (it’s already on Ireland). We’ll also be redesigning specific parts of the site, such as the profiles. Thanks to the new theme, it’s now easier to improve the experience of online engagement in response to feedback. We hope you enjoy it.
The Careers Zone is a new zone where students attending a careers fair at their school can talk online with a range of scientists and engineers, based all over the UK.
A lot of the time, school careers fairs are only able to accommodate businesses and organisations in the local area. We want to give students an opportunity to ask their questions to experts working in a multitude of areas, letting them see how diverse STEM careers can be. In turn, STEM professionals can pass on honest advice and information, showing students what it’s like to be a real engineer or scientist.
We selected a range of experts to take part, including a deep-sea researcher, a scientist for the NHS and a Jaguar Land Rover engineer. There were also engineers who had gotten into their professions through an apprenticeship. It was important for us to let students see the different options they have as they make decisions about their future careers. Experts could log in to the site from wherever they were for their scheduled Live Chat sessions, and then answer questions sent to them as they had time throughout the day (we even had an engineer take part in a chat from Mexico).
We set up on a long table with iPads and laptops for students to sit down at and use. We had two banners which showed some example questions, but often students came with a specific area of interest and asked us who the best expert was for them to talk with.
After two pilots, we’ve learnt it’s important for us to be on the same level as all the other stands at the fair, making approachable for students to ask who we are, and whether they can join in. We were also told that there was an announcement in the school newsletter about us being at the fair, and students had been preparing questions during tutorial times. This meant they came to the stand interested and prepared, making the chats lively and focussed. We’ve left the zone open so students can continue to log in, ask questions and leave comments.
The project clearly works at some level, but we are keen to pilot it in different schools. There are things we’ll have to change for next time, such as shortening the log in process, which can take valuable time away from students who only have 30 minutes or less at the fair. We’d also like to try a new way of showing students how to use the site. We’ve written up a report about our second pilot, including some examples of conversations that happened in the chat and ideas for next time, which you can read here.
In September last year we wrote about Widening Participation. We’ve refined our criteria a little since then; below is our definition of a widening participation school.
We’ve decided on these criteria because they match, in broad terms, the kinds of criteria universities use to identify widening participation students.
A widening participation school is…
In England and Wales
- A school in an area where POLAR3 is in the first quintile, or…
- A school where the % of students eligible for free school meals is higher than 41%, or…
- A school where the % of students achieving 5 grades A*–C at KS4 is below 45%, or…
- A school where the % of students level 4 in reading, writing, and maths at KS2 is below 45%, or…
- A school more than 25 miles from their nearest HEI.
- A school in a remote rural area, or a remote small town
Where an independent school matches the criteria it will not be counted as a widening participation school.
Distance as measure
The Aspires project, from King’s College London found that science capital is a key factor in terms of students aspiring to a science-related career. Science capital refers to knowledge about science and how it works, interest, understanding, and contacts (knowing somebody who works in science).
We think that one of the most substantial factors limiting students’ science capital is the ability for those students to have contact with STEM professionals; to meet scientists who they can relate to. This is where an online activity, like I’m a Scientist, has a great advantage. There is no distance barrier, no travel time. A scientist in central Manchester can have a live chat with a school in Cornwall followed immediately with a school in the Highlands.
To this end, we’ve added to our criteria: A school will count as distant if it is more than 25 miles from a major research higher education institute (HEI).
Starting with England and Wales, we took all of the schools, mapped the distance to the top 70 institutions by research output, and worked out the shortest distance between a school and a university. The map shows the schools which are more than 25 miles from one of these institutions.
We did not include smaller institutions, or those with more focused research areas as contact with scientists working in a wide variety of subjects and fields is important.
In Scotland the Department for Education lists schools with an urban/rural classification. Largely this covers what we are looking to achieve with the distance analysis in England and Wales (though we do plan to add HEI distance data for Scotland and Northern Ireland).
In Scotland, a school in a remote rural area, or remote small town will count as widening participation.
This measure excludes schools in accessible and urban areas; in effect the schools accessible from universities.
What about the most recent event?
In June 2016, by prioritising places for widening participation schools (meaning teachers at those schools are more likely to be given additional classes), 27% of the students taking part in I’m a Scientist came from widening participation schools.
21% of the schools taking part in June 2016 were widening participation schools.
Last year, in June 2015 we reported that 16% of the classes taking part were from schools meeting our criteria.
- Targets — By 2020, our aim is that 30% of the schools taking part meet the widening participation criteria.
- More data — We’re missing criteria for schools in Northern Ireland, and we’re missing attainment data for schools in Scotland. We need to add this.
- Improving the definition of schools in relation to their nearest HEI — Do we need to look at creating a more nuanced definition of distant schools in England and Wales? The current definition looks at distance rather than travel time. Travel time is likely a better measure but more difficult to assess. We would also like to look in more detail at the level of outreach different schools are receiving.
- A new database — We’re in the process of building a database of all UK schools which will be integrated into the teacher application process. This will allow us to more easily identify and allocate places to priority schools. It will also open new reporting features to teachers, giving schools more data on how their students are using the projects.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Demand for our activities has been slowly increasing. We regularly have more classes requested than we are able to accommodate and we have to limit the number of classes we offer teachers. In November 2015, for the first time we had to start turning down teachers, unable to limit classes to a point where every teacher who applied could be given a place.
This increasing demand for classes has lead us to prioritise schools where we believe our activities can add the most value, where online STEM engagement can make the most difference.
Most of our funders are prioritising underserved audiences. For us that means schools that traditionally don’t send many students on to Higher Education or are located disadvantageously for STEM engagement activities. Sadly this means that some schools who have been able to take up places in the past will not be able to take part without additional funding.
Beginning with the June 2016 events, fee paying schools can choose to pay £100, for every class of students, in order to guarantee participation in the event. This money will go towards providing additional zones.
We’re aware that some of the teachers who have participated the most in the past will be affected by this change. We truly hope that you will be able to take part. In order to guarantee your spaces please email email@example.com.
I’m a Scientist is about showing the diversity of science to students and whilst we’ve always been strong with biologists and physicists until 2015 we were a little light on chemists.
So we are especially delighted that the Royal Society of Chemistry have decided to support our project over 3 years through to the end of 2017. We will be running 9 zones across the UK and Ireland using this funding. Part of the arrangement is that we’ll be including RSC members in five of our General Zones to show school students the full breadth of science.
Rio Hutchings, from the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Outreach team, says:
We’re really proud to be involved in inspiring scientific discovery in a whole range of ways and I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here is an excellent example. It’s great for both students and for putting science communicators through their paces, so we’re very pleased to be funding events for the next three years.
The next RSC funded zone will be in November 2015; the Spectroscopy Zone. Chemists can sign up at imascientist.org.uk/scientists — Apply now, before all the places argon… Sorry.
On Monday 11th May I’m a Scientist lands in the U S of A with the very first I’m a Scientist USA event!
We’ve had some US schools and many US scientists take part in our UK event but this is the first time we’ve run an event just for them.
Our local partner, Keep On Questioning, is looking for schools and scientists to sign up by April 13th.
So if you get any joy from explaining the world or want to attend the best crash course in science communication, sign up now.
If you want your students to meet and question a wide range of scientists from across America, then please get your class involved.
Science used to be so simple.
Physics involved dropping lead weights, and swinging pendulums. Chemistry meant mixing two liquids and measuring the heat rise or change in colour. Biology was about identifying leaves and insects.
But that has all changed.
Physicists now use the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to generate vast quantities of data to model how the universe is constructed. Chemists study molecular structures through crystallography through complex computer transformations. But perhaps the biggest change has come in biology.
Geneticists are working out the details of the building blocks of life through sequencing genes. Epidemiologists are working out how disease spreads using computer models of millions of people. Neuroscientists are embarking on projects to recreate the brain using computer networks.
Computers and the Big Data they generate are radically changing science.
The I’m a Scientist Big Data season in 2014 will explore how computers are used in real science today. We’ll look at the science and scientists at the cutting edge of Big Data and we’ll explore some of the issues that Big Data presents to society.
This year we will run 6 zones for school students to talk with scientists to see how bioscience is done with computers in 2014. We’ll create a debate kit on the wider issues that the data collected by science has on society and through both online and live events we’ll give the general public the chance to question scientists, ethicists and policy-makers about the modern methods of bioscience.
The Big Data Season is being supported by BBSRC, TGAC, Wellcome Trust, STFC, Marie Curie Fellowships, and we are looking for more funders. Please contact Shane McCracken via email or phone on 01225 326892.
If you are a researcher who would like to take part in this season of events please sign up.
These three zones are particularly exciting for me because they are a big endorsement of the appeal of our little science outreach event. To date we’ve run over a 100 zones in the UK, we’ve run the event in Ireland, our friends at bridge8 have run it five times in Australia, but Utarid, Zuhrah and Bumi are special because they are taking place in Malaysia, a country that doesn’t have an Anglo culture.
We’re teaming up with the Academy of Science Malaysia to provide them with the site and knowhow to run the event. It all kicks off on October 21st and there is still time for any Malaysian scientists working anywhere around the globe to apply to take part. If you might be interested just email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re reading this thinking that your country’s scientists should be engaging schools in an innovative but proven online way then please do get in contact: email@example.com
For those not fluent with Bahasa: Utarid is Mercury; Zuhrah is Venus and Bumi is Earth.
In just 10 weeks time we’ll have started our next ‘I’m a Scientist’ event. From Monday June 17th to Friday June 28th we’ll be in the midst of yet more wonderful science engagement and outreach. We’ve got 18 zones confirmed so far.
- Human Limits – funded by The Physiological Society
- Cells – funded by the British Society for Cell Biology
- Energy – funded by the Royal Society of Chemistry
- 3 zones just for STFC researchers. Preliminary suggestions are:
- New Materials
- Extreme Speed
- 2 zones funded by the Institute of Physics for Stimulating Physics Network schools
- 5 general zones funded by the Wellcome Trust – from Silver to Antimony
- 5 biomed themed zones funded by the Wellcome Trust
Proposed Biomed zones are:
- Animal Behaviour
Last Summer Valeria Senigaglia, a researcher working with dolphins in the Philippines, took part in I’m a Scientist’s Animal Behaviour Zone. Valeria enjoyed the experience so much that she dedicated a blog post to it.
I didn’t win but I had so much fun! It was challenging to explain complicated theory in few simple words and some of questions were so advanced I had to look it up myself. However it does remind you why you enjoy this work so much, by putting the research in perspective. […] It was the perfect chance to exchange ideas and information with some peers. Especially since scientists are usually secluded in small windowless rabbit holes, also called offices, and have few chances to share experiences and opinions, even less in an informal setting as it was this event. […] I highly recommend my colleagues to participate as well. Especially because you have fun in doing it and you may find out that you actually look forward to get the chance of answering some challenging and inspiring questions.”
Read Valeria’s full post here.
Over the years we’ve had great support from schools across the world taking part in I’m a Scientist. There is one teacher who has been involved from almost the beginning, taking classes from 3 different school across different time zones, onto the site. I can imagine the event helps english-speaking students at schools across the world keep in touch with the UK through science.
Having science questions from students in Budapest or Singapore makes our events more engaging too. Some of the keenest students have been based abroad.
Our funding from the Wellcome Trust is for only 50% of our costs and is only for schools in the UK. That means we need to give priority to UK schools and this March we are full.
There is a way for overseas schools to take part. If we charge to cover some of the cost for you to take part then we can create extra space. Costs start at £100 per class but go down if you book more. There is more information on our international schools page.
I’m a Scientist is too good to keep to ourselves. We want to run it across Europe. We can’t do that on our own so we’re looking for others who want to join us in making it happen.
Saskia Heijltjes is working with us to explore options, but we’d really like to help from any organisations across Europe who’d like to make the event happen in their country.
There is more information about how we run IAS overseas here.
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.
If you’d like to take part in the Weekender events just send a quick email to IASLive@gallomanor.com 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 IASLiveNom@gallomanor.com 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: www.barbican.org.uk/education/event-detail.asp?ID=14614 .
UPDATE: We’ve two places left on the Sunday bill.
We put this up, not just because it’s awesome, but because Paul explains perfectly the purpose and point of I’m a Scientist; the importance of outreach, that it’s not just beneficial for students, but for scientists too.. And obviously, how much fun it all is. Congratulations Paul!
“I’ve always has this fear of having to talk to primary school students as I think they’re going to tear me apart or ask hard questions I don’t know and they won’t like my answers or something, so I think this is a really good way to get scientists to realise that it’s actually not that scary and they actually are interested in science. If you’re excited they’ll be excited. So it’s a really good way to get scientists to do outreach.”
Visit Science Calling! for more science related treats.
We’ve started using a new toy here at I’m a Scientist. It’s called Storify and is “a way to tell stories using social media”.
Storify allows you to build up a story by gathering media such as tweets, blog posts and photos in one place. You can re-order the content how you like, and add descriptions and commentary to explain what’s going on.
Creating a story of the event will be helpful in a few ways:
Firstly, it will provide commentary during the event, all in one place. Anyone interested in the event, from teachers to scientists and sponsors, can easily get a feel for what I’m a Scientist is about.
Secondly, we’ll have a record of the event to look back on. Whilst we follow what’s being said about I’m a Scientist on sites such as twitter at the time, it’s easy for updates to get lost and forgotten after the event. By creating a record on Storify we can remember the event, keep a note of great questions and answers, and different people’s reactions and opinions.
We’ve embedded our Storify feed on the I’m a Scientist site, so have a read!
Do you think science is perfect, or is there something about it you want to change? And can the internet help you do it?
- Is the peer review system broken?
- Why do we still publish research papers? What are the problems with the system?
- What’s the proper relationship between government and scientific advisors?
- Are there barriers (that we could change) to women excelling in science, or are they just not as good at it? What about ethnic minorities and people from different socioeconomic groups?
- How can scientists explain the value of their work (and funding it)?
- Are scientists answering (or asking) the questions that really matter?
- Are there ways that scientists could gain by communicating better with others in their field? With scientists in other fields? With people outside science?
- Fold.it and Galaxy Zoo are great. Are there other areas where people could get involved in actually taking part in science?
What these, and many more questions have in common is that they partly have to do with communication, and communication is something that the internet is good at. Here at Gallomanor, we’ve been involved in democratic engagement using online tools since 2002.
We are total fans of things like They Work For You, which makes it easy for everyone to find out what their MP is up to, and contact them. We’re fans of Armchair Auditor, which lets you see how your council spends your money. We’re fans of TextSafe Gorton, which makes it easier for a local community to engage with the police in their area.
We think these are simple things which make a difference. Are there things like this that science could do with all the online technologies now available, that we haven’t thought of yet? To put it bluntly, are we missing any tricks?
If so, we want to help! So we’ve decided, with the help of the marvellous Wellcome Trust, to try to do something about it. We’re bringing together a range of people involved in science, science engagement and science policy, along with some hackers and developers from the online civil society scene, to see what they can all spark off in each other.
Event will take place on the afternoon of Wednesday 20th October, at the Wellcome Trust. Put it in your diary! Tickets will be released early next week.
It’s almost two weeks since I’m a Scientist ended. Doesn’t time fly? Do you miss it? We do, but we’re maybe a bit sad like that.
Now we want to know what YOU think about it, what you liked and what you didn’t. If you tell us what you thought, it helps us make it better for next time. Also, you’ll go into a prize draw to win £20 of WH Smiths vouchers.
Thanks for telling us, we really appreciate it.