Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Working from home is a lonely business, so the chance to meet and engage people with our science was too good to pass up. Schools and work places are not the only places that have to operate remotely. Across the UK clubs, societies and groups are using the internet to keep their interests alive.

The RAF Air Cadets are one such group. Looking for a good evening for her cadets, Flight Lieutenant Katy Lee, the commander of 2402 (Burghfield) Squadron in Berkshire got in touch and asked if we could work with her cadets.

The RAF Air Cadets has a strong interest in Science and Maths, it’s an interest fuelled by their passion for aviation. Science does more than keep aircraft in the air. One of the most important questions we have to face is ‘Does it work?’ Does our science deliver benefit in the clinic?

When we met Burghfield’s Air Cadets on 15 April we asked them to think about how we can find out how well new therapies, and vaccines, work.

With a certain virus in the front of everyone’s minds, we thought we’d ask them to think about how clinical trials work. How do we know that a new cancer therapy works? How do you ask good quality questions about the effectiveness of therapies and vaccines?

The Air Cadet motto is ‘Venture Adventure’. We have lots of experience of working in schools, but this was our first online event. Getting ready I felt a strong sense of adventure.

Air Cadets can be 12-20 years old and with all voluntary youth organisations it’s impossible to know who will turn up on a given night. I would have to be ready to respond to my audience’s needs.

Courage is an Air Cadet quality. I wasn’t sure how this would go, but courage is definitely about facing the unknown and giving it your best shot, so when Wednesday evening came, it was time to lead by example. I prepared some slides to screen share and thought through how I could make it as interactive as possible.

Shortly after logging on, I met the first challenge. With so much variation in bandwidths, the cadets attend sessions with videos ‘off’. I spoken to many audiences, but this was the first time I’ve spoken to 20 people I couldn’t see.

I’ve always known that I get feedback from the audience as I talk, but I hadn’t really taken on board how much I would miss by not being able to see them. You have to be much more proactive about asking questions and waiting for the audience to think, formulate their response and then type it in.

To prevent people talking over each other the cadets turn their microphones off unless they are actually speaking. The absence of sound deprives you of yet another feedback loop. There was a strong sense of sensory deprivation as the presenter.

We started by discussing how you would assess a magic spell that claims to cause a white Christmas. Sounds crazy? Well, yes. But it allows us to explore important topics without getting bogged down in details. What do you mean by a white Christmas? What’s the control? Do we want a placebo or something else? What does the literature say on white Christmases (The Met Office does have form on this).

By the end of the evening the cadets were cheerfully designing a trial of the impact of ginger supplements during pregnancy on the hair colour of the baby. They had some very insightful things to say.

The cadets were amazing. They engaged, made suggestions, questioned and showed real insight. Thank you for taking part! Thank you to Flight Lieutenant Lee, for inviting us.

This was an absolute pleasure; I am sure I learned at least as much as the cadets that night.

An adventure in the time of COVID.