Claire is one of our fantastic team of moderators for the 12 I’m a Scientist zones taking place this November. But her relationship with the project goes all the way back to her days at school.
Here ModClaire talks about what the experience meant then, and how it feels now to be part of running the activity.
2012: Frustrated with school science
I come from quite a scientific family. My dad is an engineer and my mum teaches Chemistry in a local secondary school. Although I’ve always loved science, I’m far from what you might describe as a ‘natural academic’.
I used to get quite frustrated with science at school. To me, science was (and still is!) so much more than what’s taught in schools but school felt totally different. Floating around the middle ability or mixed science sets there weren’t many with the same level of enthusiasm for science.
When you’re 13/14 you’re so conscious of matching what everyone else is interested in – you don’t want to feel like you’ve fallen into the category of a ‘geek’. It’s easy to become a bit demotivated with science if you don’t know where to go for the fun.
Exploring what I wanted to do
Then I had the chance to do I’m a Scientist, which completely changed my mindset with science. Suddenly I was in an environment where my questions weren’t weird but actually really inquisitive. It was one of the first times I really saw science beyond school.
Suddenly, I had an outlet where my questions weren’t seen as stupid or pointless but inquisitive and thoughtful. Even now I still remember having so much fun. My questions were quite random – everything from beetroot as a performance enhancing drug in the Olympics to slippery banana skins!
It meant I could see what really interested me in science – topics I didn’t think were interesting actually were! You’re also chatting with people who might only just be beginning their science careers. They learn from you and you learn from them.
Taking part gave me the motivation to push through frustrations I had with school and science as a whole. It was almost a case of forgetting what everyone else thinks and just exploring what I wanted to do.
Keeping up the science excitement…
Channeling my new found excitement for science, I started doing activities like CREST projects – everything from growing crystals to Space. I got involved with a whole range of activities, where I could research what I was interested in, not just what the government told me I should be doing!
For example, whilst I was off school after an operation I set up a kitchen science project. I collected shells from a beach and looked at the impacts of different acids on the shells. It was pretty much a small scale model of what’s happening in our oceans today. Some of it was definitely easier to do as my mum teaches Chemistry in a local school – but it shows what’s possible with yoghurt pots, vinegar and lemonade!
Another of my favourite one projects involved writing a book for Amazon Kindle – ‘Science Bites’. There I took people on a short tour of the universe, right from the atom up to some of the weird animals of the world! The whole idea behind it was to make science seem less intimidating and easier to understand.
This book project led to my school’s first ‘Space Week’ – where I held loads of competitions and talks. We even did a mini space race competition with straw rockets!
…in to a degree!
Everyone always says, “what do you want to be when you grow up” – I think students can fall into the trap of thinking they have to have this perfect plan. I believe that if you take all the opportunities, one will lead to another.
Taking various opportunities like I’m a Scientist let me discover the bits of science I really love. This led me to my love of animals! I wrote another Kindle book, an A-Z Guide of the even weirder animals, I kept visiting zoos, and taking loads of animal photos.
Fast forward 7 years and I have a degree in Animal Science from Canterbury Christ Church University. I’ve loved every single second! I’m now on a mission to get even more people engaged with science. I want everyone to see how cool it really is!
2019: Seeing the other side
I’m now a moderator for I’m a Scientist this November. Over two weeks, I’m looking through the questions and approving them before they go onto the website.
I’ve loved reading all the questions so far, I see myself in so many of the students taking part this year. Seeing the project from the other side, I have to apologise to the moderators from 2012 for my own endless questions!
This programme gives scientists like me such a unique insight into what young people are interested in. And this stays with you long after the activity has finished. It means we can carry on doing more of what interests the students and keep them engaged with science!