It can be absolutely anything – moderators will take out clearly nonsensical, or gratuitously rude questions, but that leaves a big field! The most common questions are usually variations of:-
1.What made you want to be a scientist?
2.Will the world end?
3.When will there be a cure for cancer?
4.Which came first the chicken or the egg?
5. Why is the sky blue?
Also as you can imagine, there is quite a lot about current trends and memes.
But there is a huuuuuuge long tail of questions about everything from the speed of light to where bogies come from. The format of I’m a Scientist also encourages students to ask the questions that relate to them and their own lives.
DO NOT feel you need to be up all night on Google to answer questions way out of your area. Although remember, you’ll know more than most of the students. Answer what you feel you can, but it’s fine to say you don’t know. You can suggest who they should ask, or how they could try to find out. It’s also fine to say if you had a look for the answer – “I was interested by this too, so I had a quick look. Wikipedia tells me that x” etc. Occasionally you might be asked questions related to a student’s personal health or that of a family member, so we have additional advice for answering personal health questions.
A cautionary tale. Last year two scientists ignored our advice to say ‘I don’t know’, Googled the answer to one question, found the same spoof site, didn’t realise the information was nonsense and repeated it in their answers. I think they must have been rushing, because it was pretty obviously nonsense if you thought about it. I hope I don’t have to say this, but use your critical faculties if you’re going outside your area and want to avoid looking silly.
Yes! The most important part of the registration form is the one sentence summary description of your work.
We ask teachers and students to rate this one sentence description of your work, then use this to help select the scientists to take part in each event. It’s therefore really important that your one sentence description explains what you do in a simple, interesting and accessible way that appeals to 13-14 year olds.
Top tips for writing your one sentence description:
- The 13/14 year old students are from all across the ability range, and prefer it if you use language they understand: deadly not pathogenic, find not identify, use not utilize.
- Use imaginative language to describe your work, to grab the students’ attention by giving a real sense of what your work involves and making it relevant to them.
- Show your one sentence description to someone else – not a scientist working in your field!
And obviously, a couple of good examples (all made it through to the competition… Some even won):
- “Making plastics from plants!”
- “I am making a new way of sending secret messages so that not even the best hackers could figure them out!”
- “I’m making colourful inks that can conduct electricity, then printing them on plastic to make flexible solar panels, bendy mobile phones and roll-up TV screens.”
- “I want to see if dogs are right handed or left handed and if left handed dogs are unhappier than right handed dogs”
- “I work on parasites that grow inside insects and make them glow in the dark to stop mice eating them!!”
There’s some examples below, with our advice, but if in doubt ask us, it’s what we’re here for!
‘Are you gay?’
This is quite a common question. Sometimes, understandably, the student is just trying to be cheeky. But they could be a young person struggling with their identity and trying to start a conversation with a non-threatening adult about it. Because we’ve no way of knowing the difference, we will always approve this question at least once.
We recommend you’re as honest as you feel comfortable with in your answer. And bear in mind that whatever the motivation of the original questioner, there will certainly be gay teens who read your answer.
Questions about sex and relationships
If the question is relatively scientific, then answer as you would on any other topic – sex isn’t something to be ashamed of.
We won’t approve personal question which are inappropriately intrusive, but you may get things like, ‘Do you remember your first kiss?’, or, ‘Do you believe in love at first sight?’
It’s possible, but extremely unlikely, you’ll get more personal questions where students are asking for your advice about their own lives. If you do, answer in a friendly, reassuring way, but remember you are not a trained sex and relationships educator. It’s probably a good idea to refer them to accessible but reliable information (Bish’s website is a good source) and if appropriate, suggest they speak to a trusted adult or their doctor.
It’s very rare, but we occasionally get questions about bullying. Refer students to accessible but reliable information (we recommend Bullying UK) and suggest they speak to a trusted adult, if appropriate. If there seems reason for concern we will alert the teacher.
All questions are moderated before they are sent to you, in order to strike a balance between making your lives easier as scientist participants and giving students the chance to ask real questions.
Merge (deduplicate) very similar questions, but allow some questions which might appear similar, but make slightly different points.
Remove rude or offensive questions, but allow challenging and irreverent questions.
Allow questions which may be unclear – you can start dialogues with students to clarify them.
Will not correct the spelling, grammar or punctuation of any students questions.
During the event scientists typically spend about 2 hours a day participating, for the ten weekdays that the event is on. This will vary according to how busy your zone is and how much detail you go into with your answers. Some people have been known to spend a lot more (up to six hours a day), but that’s not compulsory!
Don’t worry if work is taking you abroad during the event, you can easily take part from there, as long as you have access to the internet and some free time. In fact several of our scientists are permanently based outside the UK.
You can answer the questions on the site whenever is convenient for you, the only time you need to be aware of are live chats; which run through the UK school day (8.30am – 4pm). There may be a couple of after school STEM clubs which run until 5pm.
A few minutes before the chat booking you should go to the CHAT page in your zone and the chatroom will open.
Live chats are text only, a bit like Whatsapp or Facebook. You don’t need any special software or anything, just your computer and access to the internet.
Schools will sometimes take a few minutes to turn up, as the teacher is briefing the students, handing out cards, etc. Occasionally the school will not show up at all. Usually this is an IT issue. We’ll try not to make you wait around, if it looks like a class are going to be a no show, we’ll let you get on.
Chats are are booked by the teacher, to coincide with their science lesson, so the time is fixed, but we don’t expect all the scientists to make each one as we know you all have other commitments. We do explain this to teachers and students. As long as a couple of scientists attend each chat the students will get a lot out of it.
Although, be warned, students are most likely to vote for scientists they have chatted to. It’s our semi-scientific opinion that this is the biggest factor in determining who students vote for (based on student survey responses and ethnographic observation in classrooms). Maybe you think it’s the taking part and not the winning that counts, but you might change your mind when the first eviction is looming :-).
Starting on the second Tuesday of the event at 3pm, we ‘evict’ the scientist who’s received the fewest votes from students. This happens each day until Friday, when the final scientists will battle for the £500 prize.
Students get a new vote every day in Eviction Week, so there are always votes to fight for.
What happens if you’re evicted
Being evicted just means you’re out of the running to win the £500 prize – you’re still part of the event.
You’ll still be able to attend chats, so please do. You won’t be sent new ASK questions, but you can answer ones asked before the eviction and comment on others.
Students only take part in one live chat, so some won’t have had the opportunity to speak to you yet. They still want to know about your work!
How you find out
We’ll announce the evictions in our online staffroom at 3pm each day.
You’ll also receive an email every day with details of who has been evicted. The announcements are sent to everyone in the zone: students, teachers and scientists. So don’t worry if they don’t look like they’re aimed at you.
To embed a video from YouTube, or individual photos from a Flikr account, you’ll need to use the embed shortcode around the link URL:
1. Paste in the URL of the video;
2. Make sure the URL is not a link. It should not be underlined. If it is, click the link once to make it active then click the break link icon in the toolbar (it looks like a broken chain);
3. Put (embed) before the link and (/embed) after it but use [square brackets] in place of the brackets.
It has been tested on all major browsers (even, shudder, IE6) and should be fine on machines running Windows, MacOS or Linux.
If you can access the site, edit your profile and answer questions then everything is working fine.
If you can, come to one of the drop in chat sessions to say hi, and just check that you can use the live chat. Rarely a corporate firewall or similar may block the live chats. This is more common with school firewalls, and far less common since we got better live chat technology. But best to find out in advance of the first chat booking!
What is the money for?
The £500 is to be spent on a science communication project. You should use it to engage school students or the general public with science or research.
There is a vast range of projects you could use the money to fund: visiting schools, arranging class visits to a laboratory, creating a website, taking an exhibit to a festival, making videos or podcasts, putting on a show… The possibilities are endless; use it for any form of science communication you can imagine.
Some previous examples include:
- Buying equipment to allow a research oceanography vessel to communicate with school students
- Funding a community open day for mothers and children involved in a medical research project to find out about the research and get health advice
- Giving the money to a school in Uganda to pay for science kits and a projector to watch science films on
- Funding scientist visits to schools, or school visits to labs
- Buying a touchscreen for a local zoo, to help show visitors more about the primate research done there
Check out how past winners have spent the money at: about.imascientist.org.uk/category/prize-winner
Please don’t use the money to purchase equipment for your lab, or fund travel to an academic conference; it must be spent communicating science to the public, not to other scientists.
There is also a distinction to be made between engagement and education. For example, the money should not be donated to a school to purchase science equipment. If you’d like to give the money to a local school, you could go into the school to run a workshop showing the students how to use the new equipment, and how what they’re doing relates to research and the world around them. The aim of your project should be to engage with students or the public, not simply educate them.
How do I tell I’m a Scientist how I’ve spent the money?
Every year, we give out tens of thousands of pounds in these small science engagement grants; we need to be able to account for the money, and tell our funders where it’s going.
Keep in touch, let us know how your plans for the money are coming!
Once you’ve spent it, write us a brief report for us to post on our blog (about.imascientist.org.uk/category/prize-winner) to update the students on how you’ve spent your winnings. A good report might include an idea of how and why you chose your project, how the money helped or made it possible, and what the outcome was. Did you learn anything? Who was your audience? Do you think the project was a success? Has it inspired ideas for future science engagement?
Please also include a basic breakdown of how you spent the money, such as:
- £200 Buying video equipment
- £50 Travel expenses
- £250 Editing the video
Please email your updates and reports to Antony (email@example.com).
When do I have to spend the money?
You should aim to spend the money within a year of winning. After 6 months we’d like to have a firm plan of how you’ll be spending it.
During an event – the best way to contact us is in the staffroom. There will always be a moderator or two in there chatting about sandwiches and updating teachers and scientists about system problems or live chat changes.
We strongly recommend Twitter as a way to keep in touch with us, and with your fellow contestants. There is always a lot of online camaraderie with scientists giving each other tips, sharing fears and joking around. The I’m a Scientist team will also be passing on the latest event news and so on.
Do bear in mind though that Twitter is a public medium and students taking part in the event may read what you say.
Please get in touch if you’ve got any questions not covered here, or you need help with anything. You can do this on twitter, to @imascientist, by email on firstname.lastname@example.org, or on 01225 326 892. We’re here to help!