Last year, Ananthi Ramachandran, SfAM member and a PhD student at University of Leicester applied to take part in the online STEM engagement project, I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here.
“It was my supervisor who brought it to my attention,” says Ananthi.
“She suggested that it might be something that I would enjoy and be good at as I love science outreach and working with young people.”
Research has shown that nearly 80% of school students in the UK value science; though fewer than 20% feel that it’s something for them.
I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here is an online STEM engagement project, where school students from all over the UK meet and interact with scientists and researchers. SfAM part-funded the Microbiology Zone in the November 2017 event.
It takes place at imascientist.org.uk, where over two intense weeks students ASK questions, take part in live CHATs, and then VOTE for the scientist they think most deserving of a £500 prize to spend on their own STEM engagement project.
After being selected to take part in the Microbiology Zone, Ananthi filled out a profile on the site giving students a clearer idea of her day-to-day work, and life outside of the lab; all of which helpS students to see Ananthi as a ‘real person’. Then it was down to answering questions from students all over the UK; from Somerset, to Suffolk, to Stranraer.
“I absolutely loved the curiosity displayed by the school children. The huge variety of questions that ranged from antibiotic resistance to cancer to microbial life on Mars really got me thinking at times,” says Ananthi,
“ It was a very memorable two weeks.”
If we were to transport algae to mars and use the ice caps as a water source, could we potentially start to oxygenate mars using it? even though they may not produce a lot of oxygen, do you think they may create enough to support 5 people so they could plant trees to finish of the habitation?
Adapting how she communicated was key to Ananthi’s approach. “ I tried to keep things relatively simple. On day one I had no idea about what kind of questions I was going to get asked but by mid way through the event I did notice a few trends so was able to tweak my answers to make them as interesting and concise as possible.”
Ananthi believes explaining your work to school students in simpler terms benefits her professional development as a researcher.
“ It helps me fully understand my work in the first place and this helps when it comes to writing reports or giving presentations. I talk to my mum and many of my close friends about my work and as they are not from a science background I try and make sure I don’t use too much jargon when I am speaking to them about it, or if I do I make sure I explain myself. This has helped me a lot.”
Ultimately, the students voted Ananthi the winner, awarding her the £500 to spend on her own STEM engagement project. “Of course being voted as the winner for the Microbiology Zone was a real highlight especially as I was grouped with five other fantastic and inspiring scientists so it was very unexpected“, she says.
Ananthi plans to spend her winnings forming links between schools and universities, facilitating visits, talks, and demonstrations. “Another idea of mine is to use the opportunity to increase awareness of antibiotic resistance, either via interactive workshops or through a roadshow or something similar especially as it is such an important topic at the moment and is featured heavily in the news these days.”
Forging a future
The experience has also got Ananthi thinking about public engagement as the next step in her career “I have definitely been inspired by I’m a Scientist to do more, and would love to combine my love of research with public engagement as a career after I complete my PhD later this year.”
Ananthi believes that public engagement should be interesting and memorable. “Most of the time that means taking a step back and simply thinking about the key points you want to get across.” Basically: “Keep it simple.”
Applications are open year-round for researchers wanting to have a go.
Categories: Feature Articles