Engaging in lockdown - exploring ways to reach student audiences virtually
24 August 2020
Being in lockdown has naturally made it more difficult for individuals/organisations to run public engagement events. However, with many students out of school, it has become increasingly important that we, as scientists, try to engage with this group as much as possible. One of the ways that I have been trying to continue engaging with students during lockdown has been through I’m A Scientist – Stay at Home!, which ran a special lockdown version between May to July.
If you’ve never heard of it, I’m A Scientist works on live text-based chats (no video/audio). Scientists are placed into a zone loosely based on their research interests, and scientists and schools sign up for live chat timeslots. During 40 min chats, students are given the opportunity to ask scientists any questions they want in real-time. These questions can range from science-related questions, such as ‘I understand that chemistry bonds really well with other subjects and would like to know which subject do you believe it bonds with best – rating of single to triple bond? And what elements were involved for that rating?’', all the way to ‘what’s your favourite biscuit?’' and ‘is pizza better with cola?’' Every scientist also uploads a short bio about their individual research, allowing students to ask more specific questions about their work and the career path they took to get to where they are now. Students are also able to submit questions to be asked outside of live chats, allowing them to make sure that they can get their questions answered.
In the normal I’m A Scientist events, students are given a vote each week to vote for their ‘favourite scientists’, with scientists being evicted from zones each week until just one remains (there’s a cash prize to be used for engagement projects if you’re the last one standing). The special summer event ran a bit differently – while students were still encouraged to vote towards scientist of the week, no-one was evicted, resulting in zones of ~150 scientists in them. I was placed in the Medical Research and Chemistry Zones, and also took part in the Summer Zone, which was a zone that was open to the general public (as well as students) every day, and which ran themed chats for events such as ‘National Insect Week’ and ‘International Women in Engineering Day’. I particularly enjoyed the live chat aspects of the experience as it was great to see students’ enthusiasm in real time – often, the live chats got really hectic (one chat had 85+ students logged on!), making for some very frantic typing/thinking. It was fantastic to see how many students were already considering becoming a scientist in the future and even better to be able to convince those that were previously unsure about their abilities that they can definitely pursue a science career if they’re interested in it. It was also great to be able to connect with other scientists and learn about their research (in an easy to understand way!). Seeing the same few scientists in chats every day bonded us together as a little ‘team’, to the extent that we were able to direct students’ questions towards someone else if we knew they would have a better answer.
If you’re interested, I’m A Scientist – On Demand is running between 31 August – 18 December. You can apply to take part at the following link: https://imascientist.org.uk/scientists/. I’d really encourage you to apply as it was definitely one of the highlights of lockdown for me (particularly as I ended up being voted the overall winner of the Chemistry Zone by the students – a real honour!) It’s easy to fit around your schedule as live chats are only 40 min long, and all it requires is a PC with a keyboard and fast typing skills. Shout out as well to the brilliant I’m A Scientist team who are excellent at keeping everyone under control. If you have any questions about how to get involved, feel free to drop me an email.
P.s. – I thought I’d end with some food for thought, showing some of the types of questions asked by the I’m A Scientist students!: