Tag Archives: public outreach

Round Up #4

Back when I was blogging regularly, and when I was writing more about science news and less about the woes of being a PhD student I did a few round ups of interesting things I had read that week which I didn’t have the time to write an entire blog post of. Given how much stuff I’ve managed to stray across this week (mainly because I seem to be back on Twitter, after a long hiatus) I thought it was time for another one.   Continue reading

I’m a scientist: GM Zone

Somehow I managed to get so caught up in that stupid EU Commission advert this weekend that I completely forgot to mention I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here.

I’m a scientist is a really cool outreach program that allows school kids to talk to real scientists, asking questions and evicting the ones they don’t like for a two week period. It runs twice a year, and this year an extra ‘Zone’ has been added that starts running this week (the normal Zones all finished last week). This time it’s not just for school kids, and instead of a broad theme, they’re talking about GM foods. Anyone can ask any question they like and the five scientists involved will do their best to answer. Pretty cool huh?

I’m a big fan of the I’m a scientist program: it’s engaging and inspiring and does a good job of showing kids what science is really about and just how human scientists really are. (It’s pretty common to get personal questions thrown into the mix as well as questions about science!) Hopefully this time around it can also be a fantastic tool for engaging with the public over GM foods.

As I say it all kicks off today, but you can still submit questions for the next two weeks, so go get involved!

Science: it’s a girl thing. We are nerdy and that is okay.

This week the EU Commission launched a campaign called Science: It’s a girl thing designed to encourage girls to  become scientists. It involved some nice shorts of female scientists talking about who they are and what they do.

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On engaging with the public, and why we do science

This morning I read a fantastic piece by @ScientistsMags about science engagement, which so completely echoed my own sentiments I just had to link to it. Quite apart from the fact that I think we need more women in science and greater scientific literacy amongst the general public, there is another reason why I really like talking to sixth formers and school pupils about science; and even teaching undergrads. Every time I explain my research, I understand it a little bit better myself.


You would think that a scientist would love nothing more than to talk about their work. They do, usually to another scientist. The general public is an afterthought or not even considered. … I do believe that if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough, and so did Richard Feynman.

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An ode to science journalism and science education

I like science.

I like doing science.

But I also like telling people about science.

Many of my colleagues view outreach as something that has to be done in order to tick the box labelled ‘Public Engagement’. It’s a waste of their time, it’s uncomfortable, and nobody cares anyway. Who wants to turn up at a school to do a lunchtime talk only to find that none of the sixth form even come? Who wants to give up their Saturday for a big public engagement event when all anyone is interested in are the ecologists at the next table with the fun game?

I’m at the other end of the spectrum. My PI has specifically warned me that next year (aka The Final Phase) he doesn’t think I should be doing any outreach, and he wants me to give up my in-house teaching commitments (because I do too much at the moment). I love teaching. I love telling people about what I do. And I also love debating about important issues like GMOs or food security or climate change or the links between autism and … well…. everything!

I like talking to interested young people. I like talking to interested old people too. But more than anything I think it’s incredibly important to  talk to uninterested young people. Here in the UK it’s compulsory for students to take a certain level of science until they are 16. Students learn about forces and they learn about the periodic table and they learn about photosynthesis and respiration and food chains.

They rarely learn how to interpret a scientific news article.

And for me, this is where the major problem is. I blame scientists for poor dissemination of their research and I blame the appalling standard of science journalism in this country for a multitude of sins. But I also blame the inability of the general public to read a ‘science’ article and go hang on a second… ? 

Major decisions about public health, food security and the environment are heavily influenced by public opinion, which – while notoriously manipulatable in many fields – is often based far more on empty rhetoric than on any understanding of what is actually going on.

I don’t believe for a moment that scientists should have carte blanche to do whatever they please without some measure of public accountability. But if I hope to achieve anything in my scientific outreach it will be showing 15 year olds just why it’s important that they have science lessons.

And believe me, it’s not so that they’ll know that 6H2O + 6CO2 à C6H12O6 + 6 O2