…Yes! When you are doing outreach it certainly is.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of being involved in a careers outreach activity led by Mr Ryan Badham of the Holmesdale School in Kent for his Year 7 students. I was one of four scientists (expertly selected by Mr Badham!) to be asked anything and everything about being a scientist. As I eagerly waited on the other end of a Google Hangouts chat session, I had no idea what I was going to be asked but I knew for sure it was going to be fun…and it totally was! So this week, I am continuing the outreach theme, and dedicating a blog post to the power of outreach and how, no matter what your field/career, it can be really valuable for everyone involved.
When people talk about science outreach, it is easy to imagine big science festivals or school visits. They are of course, serious fun (as Dr Helen Tidy demonstrated in last week’s post), but it doesn’t always have to be a big event to have an important impact. That was the beauty of this activity. A small-scale, simply run, question and answer session. It took less than 2 hours, and required neither party to travel beyond the office/classroom. Yet it was highly effective. I was uplifted, and given many things to think about, and the Year 7s had a blast too. I have some feedback quotes from the class, that I think are really worth sharing;
“I really liked it because it made the people think that they were helping us learn about their job”
“I found it interesting because we found out about why they wanted to be scientists”
“To have the scientists speak to us meant a lot as we were able to have the experience and learn new things”
“Speaking to the scientist was fun and exciting, we learned about their jobs and what they do. This was helpful as if I wanted to further my education in science, it’s good to know what I can get from it”
“Talking to these wonderful scientist was an honour, it was fun and educational, like [scientist’s name] fixing a multi-million pound machine. It definitely helped with career decisions and the whole class had a great time”
“I realised that not everybody becomes what they are planning to be, so it made me think that you can do anything”
“I really liked it because it made me realise that you can become anything”
So the activity was certainly helpful for them, in many different ways it sounds like, and that is fantastic. I was so pleased to hear all of their feedback, but it was those last two quotes in particular that really struck me.
The comments about it being possible to be anything resonated with me because it dawned on me that, other than my teachers at school and college, I don’t think I ever met or spoke to a scientist as a kid. I went to a pretty good school and a pretty good college but I don’t remember ever really thinking about what careers were out there.
Despite my school and further education being reasonable, I come from a large commuter town that doesn’t have a University. In fact, I think it is one of the highest populated towns without its own University. Before me, no one in my family had ever been to University either. I don’t think I registered at the time how much that impacted my world view and my view of my future trajectory, and although I had a few friends that went off to University, I stayed. Pursuing a future as a scientist had never occurred to me, I guess I didn’t even see it as an option for me.
Thankfully, a couple of years later I ended up heading to Portsmouth to study for an undergraduate degree. It was there that I was lucky enough to meet (and become friends with) Mr Badham, which sort of brings us full circle. While I’m still not entirely sure what it was that gave me the confidence to go in the end, I am really glad that activities like this one are allowing young students to realise early on that being a scientist is absolutely possible.
Not only did this activity really get me to think about and reflect on my own journey, it was really valuable for me in a few other ways too;
- It was mentally refreshing
As I mentioned earlier on, it really uplifted me. Sometimes, being a scientist can be quite intense, focusing on a difficult research question or trying to design a mind-blowing module. You can become enveloped in the academic bubble and when you are in that bubble it can be easy to forget how cool what you do is. It’s awesome to be reminded of that.
- I was up-skilling
Being able to explain your work and ideas to different demographics is a really important and beneficial skill. Taking a break from interacting with peers to engage with a younger audience helped me develop those skills a little further – a huge benefit for me as I enter into my first year as faculty staff teaching across foundation, undergraduate, and postgraduate levels.
- It was good fun!
Finally, and arguably most importantly, it was really good fun! The kids came out with some cracking questions (I’ll give some examples at the end of the post), some really made me think, and others made me laugh out loud.
But what did Mr Badham think of the activity…
“First of all I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank all the scientists for giving up their time to make this event possible. The student’s really enjoyed the event and were speaking about it for days afterwards. Furthermore, outreach like this is critically important as it allows students to develop better social skills, improves their motivation, confidence and raises their aspirations. Stereotypes persist over scientists being old men in white lab counts and countering this stereotype is an important aspect of outreach in my opinion. Additionally, exposing girls to successful female role models can help to counter negative stereotypes in science, because girls see that people like them can be successful in these fields. One of my students summed this up much more succinctly than me and I would just like to end by repeating that quote:
“I really liked it because it made me realise that you can become anything” ”
So, a great exercise all round then. Huge thanks to the Year 7s at Holmesdale School and to Mr Badham for making it happen – amazing job, everyone! 😀
As promised, here are some examples of the questions I received:
“What is your favourite part of your job?”
“How many bones and muscles are in a body?”
“How cute are your dogs?” (I don’t have any dogs!)
“Have there been any sights that have scared you?”
“Were you ever in trouble at school?” (A very popular question to all of us!)
“Has anyone in your family been in the same job as you?”
“What subjects did you have to study to get your job?”
“What was your dream job when you were younger?” (Another popular question asked to us all)
The other scientists were also asked some brilliant questions, here a few examples of those:
“What type of experiments do you do?”
“Do you think we are close to curing cancer?”
“Do you believe in aliens?”
“How many chemicals actually go into a painkiller?”
“What is the most expensive machine you have ever fixed?”
“Have you discovered anything new to man?”
“How did other people inspire you to do your job?”
And finally, I’ll leave you with my personal favourite question and blog title inspiration:
“Is work ever fun?”
Post written by: Amber Collings