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I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here is a two-week long STEM engagement activity that takes place online.
The activity gets young people talking to real scientists online, to learn about real science. It goes deeper than ‘flash-bang-wow-inspiration!’. Students have fun but also get beyond stereotypes, learn about how science relates to real life, develop their thinking and discussion skills and make connections with real scientists.
Ultimately, it’s about helping all students, whoever they are, feel that science can be something ‘for them’. The activity is split into zones, and in each zone there are 6 scientists and around 400 students aged 9-18. The zones are either general (named after elements) or themed.
Rationale: The primary objective of the activity is to change students’ perceptions of science, and make them feel it’s something they can relate to and discuss. Giving students some real power (i.e. deciding where the money goes) makes the activity more real for them. Read more about the philosophy of I’m a Scientist and Science Capital.
For two weeks you interact online with young people (aged 9–18) through live chats and posted ASK questions. You answer their questions about your day to day work, your career, your hobbies and interests, and just about anything the students can think of. You also get to find out the students’ opinions on science, research and society and get them thinking about how this affects their daily lives. All you need to take part is a computer with an internet connection.
In addition to your profile there are three sections to the site:
- Students ASK you questions which you answer in your own time; the sooner the better.
- You CHAT with school students online, answering their questions and hearing their opinions.
- Students VOTE for their favourite scientist throughout the activity. ‘Evictions’ take place in the second week of the activity and the person with the most votes at 3pm on the final Friday wins £500 for their own engagement ideas!
Please think seriously about what you want to do with the prize money as the students will ask you about it. Some suggestions 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.
- funding scientist visits to schools, school visits to labs. or supporting a local after-school STEM club
- buying a video equipment and creating a YouTube channel for a local zoo, to help more people learn about the primate research they do there.
- giving the money to a school in Uganda to pay for science kits and a projector to watch science films on.
How to use the site
Go to imascientist.org.uk and enter the username and password that we have emailed to you. Your username will usually be “firstnamelastname” (e.g. joebloggs).’
You have a profile including a photo of you, information about you and your work, and a set of “interview” questions. Find your profile from anywhere by clicking on your name at the top of any page in the zone.
Your profile enables the students to find out more about you and your work. It’s really helpful if you fill in your profile as soon as possible. When filling out your profile remember to save regularly, click the “Update Profile” button at the bottom after filling in each section.
Not all fields may be needed for your zone. Most are required but follow any instructions displayed (e.g. if you’re not in Careers Zone leave those questions, for example).
Editing your profile
Log in then click on the “Profile” tab.
Click the “Edit your profile” button at the top of the page. A series of boxes will appear to be filled in. There are four sections to your profile.
For the first sections you’ll be asked for a one sentence summary, and then a longer version. The short versions are all displayed on one page with a “read more” option underneath. This is because testing showed this makes it much easier for low literacy students, while it’s easy for students who want to read more to access it. Don’t feel you need to write a lot, even for the longer versions; people reading online tend to prefer shorter texts- a short paragraph will be fine to give people ideas of what to ask you.
- About me – This lets students find out more about you and your interests so they can see you as a real person!
- My work —Here the students can read about what you do in more detail.
- My typical day —Writing about your typical day gives students a tangible sense of what your work is like.
- What I’d do with the money – Students vote for the person they want to win, so they want to hear how you would use the prize money
towards further science engagement.
- CV—This shows students how you’ve got to where you are now.
- The interview — These one line questions are here to show your personal side to students, who often feel that people working in STEM are not like real people they can relate to.
Note on social media accounts: Please don’t add details of your social media accounts (twitter handles, instagram etc) to your profile page. This helps to keep the school students’ interactions with you during the activity in a fully moderated space, this website. We’ll ask you after the activity if you’d like to to have your contact details shared with schools to keep up the engagement in future.
Update your profile
When you have finished, click the “Update Profile” button at the bottom. You can come back and edit your profile at any time by clicking on your name at the top of any page in the zone.
Adding images and other media
You can put photos or other images (for example, graphs or images that illustrate your research or where you work) into the long answers “About me”, “my work”, and “My typical day”.
You can also embed video. However, do be aware that some school systems will block YouTube and many other video sites. This isn’t necessarily a reason not to use video, as it can be very effective, but don’t make understanding your profile dependent on viewing the video as it will leave out some students.
Your main profile picture
Please upload a friendly colour photo (not a black and white one) to use as your profile picture for the site.
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Ways of interacting:
Answering ASK questions
You will be notified by email of all new questions. You can answer them in your own time, but the sooner the better.
- Log in
- On your profile page you will see a “My Unanswered Questions” box on the right hand side. Up to 100 recent unanswered questions will appear in this box as clickable links.
- To answer a question, click the link and type your answer.
You will also be able to view other scientists’ answers to the question. To make it easier to find questions moderators will tag keywords in questions. The keywords are then used to list any similar questions in the “Related Questions” box on the right hand side.
It is up to you what questions to answer and how much detail to go into. Don’t be afraid to write a really long answer, but at the same time you don’t need to write long answers.
Our advice is simple; be honest, straightforward and to the point in your answers.
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Doing Live CHATs
Live chats are consistently the most popular part of the activity for students, teachers and scientists. They take place in our online chatrooms, where students ask you questions and express their opinions on your work over half an hour. Live chats are fun and give immediate contact between scientists and students, allowing students to relate to you. Many teachers tell us that the quieter students are more active in live chats than face to face, providing an interesting change to class dynamics.
There are also Family Chats on every Thursday of the activity. These evening chats allow students and their families to talk with you from home.
The first time you log in there will already be chats to sign up to…
How to sign up for chats
- Once logged in, go to this page: imascientist.org.uk/live-chat. There’s also link on your profile under Live chat bookings
- For each chat booking you want to do, click the link to leave a comment on its page, saying something like ‘Yes, I’ll be there!’ or ‘Sorry, I can’t make this one’
- We recommend making a note of the chat in a digital calendar/dusty leather-bound notebook of your choice (Some email clients will even automatically turn the notification subject line into a calendar appointment direct from your inbox)
At the time of the chat:
- log in to your zone and click on the pink CHAT icon at the top.
- about 5 minutes before each booking, the chat box will appear on this page.
Note: You will be notified by email of any new live chats booked by teachers.
Please confirm whether you will take part in the live chat by following the instructions in the email. This is really important for us to know if there are scientists taking part in every live chat.
Tips for the chat
Chats can be hectic, but also exhilarating. Enjoy the hurly-burly and don’t worry too much about your spelling!
To help you prioritise questions, the numbers next to each student’s username are how many times an expert has answered them. If you see a ‘0’ or ‘1’ there, this student may appreciate your next answer most.
Remember that anyone with a mortarboard next to their name in a chat is a teacher.
Click on a student’s message to address your answer to a particular student. Otherwise they may not realise you’ve answered their question, and keep asking it. If you get behind on a chat room, it’s better to skip a few questions and get back to the bottom of the screen, otherwise you keep answering questions after the students have gone! Moderators have had a lot of practice and they can repeat questions that have been missed.
Use the ‘Message@[your name]’ option at the top right of the chat window to see only the messages directed at you in real-time. This helps to focus on relevant questions during busy chats.
Be patient. Some young people’s turn of phrase and use of language may be different from academic discourse. It may take you a little while to understand what they are trying to ask. This is especially true when Special Schools are involved.
Be tolerant. Sometimes young people can be over-exuberant online. Chat with them and they will calm down and engage with you.
Don’t take offence. Sometimes you will receive questions which seem quite blunt, but usually students don’t mean to be offensive. The benefit of an online activity is that they feel empowered to ask.
Moderation of questions: Our policy
All questions in ASK are moderated before they are sent to you. The moderators work very hard to strike a balance between making your lives easier as participants, and giving students and the chance to ask real questions. Remember most students are 13 or 14 years old, although there are some Sixth Form classes taking part too, or you may be in a Primary-only zone. Some classes are from Special Educational Needs Schools or young offender institutions.
We know you will get sent some very similar questions (believe us, the moderators wade through and weed out a lot more of them!). Moderators will take out duplicate questions in ASK, but allow through questions which may be similar, but make additional or slightly different points.
Moderators will remove rude or offensive questions (there are generally very few) and anything which breaks the house rules. They will allow challenging questions. They will allow irreverent, but friendly, questions. There will always be a moderator in the chatroom to help things along.
However, they are not miracle-workers, and from time to time there will be the odd chat that we cannot get on track. Bear with us, we’re doing our best!
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Four key things you need to know
1. This may take about 2–3 hours some days.
Depending on your schedule, you might do three half-hour CHATs on one day, then not be able to do as many on other days. That’s completely fine, there are other scientists online to share out the load.
The ASK questions can be answered whenever you like, so don’t feel the need to completely clear your list every single night/lunch break. We’ve heard they are particularly useful for passing the time on rainy weekends…
2. This is not a seminar for the super-smart scientists of the future.
There will be a wide variation in the students taking part and a big variation in ability. Some will be “gifted and talented” students, some will be lower ability classes, or have special educational needs. The point of the activity is to provide a space that engages all students, not just the ones who might go on to study STEM subjects at university.
Most teenagers won’t grow up to be scientists, researchers or engineers, but they will all grow up to be people. As adults they’ll have to make decisions about science and engineering — as voters, as consumers — and we are trying to help them develop the skills and confidence to do that. For some, “Where do bogies come from?” or, “Do you like your job?” may be the most pressing question they can think of. Part of the point is that this activity humanises science for young people; they realise that you are “like normal people” who they can relate to.
3. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”.
You will be asked some questions which are not in your area. Answer what you feel you can, but don’t feel you have to Google all evening to answer these questions.
Part of the point of the activity is that students get more realistic ideas about scientists. They can learn that, for example, there’s no reason why a psychologist should know about how much the moon weighs. This makes STEM seem a lot less intimidating. You can be a scientist without being a genius who knows everything! This can be a liberating realisation for students.
Also, of course, many things in science aren’t known. Otherwise there’d be nothing for scientists to do. And even as adults, we can learn new things all the time. This is part of the fun of science! Don’t be afraid to let students in on that secret.
4. Get your boss onside.
We’d strongly advise you to tell your boss you are taking part in the activity, and get their support, if you can. Several participants said that this made a big difference. Questions on the website can be answered during the evening, but live chats have to be during the school day, likely during working hours.
Also, many people found themselves discussing some of the more intriguing questions with colleagues. This can be one of the most stimulating things about the activity. Get your workplace involved in the fun! If you need ammunition to persuade your boss of the benefits, we suggest the following points:
- Taking part in I’m a Scientist develops your communication skills. This is the most mentioned benefit from taking part.
- It can re-energise you about your own work, and get you thinking differently. Teenagers can ask great questions.
- It can broaden your relationships with other scientists and engineers. It’s easy sometimes to get stuck in your specialism. People in previous zones have learnt, or been reminded of many other areas, and even formed collaborations (or friendships) with scientists and engineers in other areas who they “met” during I’m a Scientist.
- You’re “giving something back” and contributing to science education and the future of science and engineering.
Advice on engagement
Our best advice is to be yourself in your answers. You don’t need to pretend to like Beyoncé/Justin Bieber/Taylor Swift for young people to relate to you, being genuine is what’s important.
When we asked people what they would do differently if they did it again, one answer that summed up many was, “I would be less formal and more personal from the start”.
De-technify your language
Even if you think you are using easy-to-understand language, you likely work in an environment where there is a lot of jargon, and technical words are often used when more accessible ones are available. It’s easy not to realise when your language may be going over the heads of most 13 year olds.
Don’t “identify”, “find”. Don’t “utilise”, “use”. Don’t “investigate”, “look at”.
Here’s a great video from our funders, Wellcome, which might also help:
When you talk about science, are you sure the words you are using don’t mean something different to others? Here are five examples of scientific lingo to use with caution ❗️ pic.twitter.com/kV24VmqtGA
— Wellcome Trust (@wellcometrust) August 28, 2018
Talk to us!
Please communicate with other scientists and the moderation team, as well as the students. We’ve occasionally had people finish the activity and say in feedback that they were having technical problems, or were worried about particular questions, or similar. We’d much rather hear at the time so we can do something about it.
Let us know if you’re having problems by using the feedback form on the your profile page, use the Staffroom chat page, or email us directly.
We use our Twitter as a way to interact with experts taking part in I’m a Scientist, among other things. It’s a great way to communicate how your zone is going, learn more about you, the people taking part, and ultimately keep in touch with everyone after the activity. Get on board and follow us at @imascientist and keep an eye on tweets marked #IASUK.
If you need any help, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01225 326 892.
Visit the Staffroom at imascientist.org.uk/staffroom during the activity to say Hi, or if you’ve got a question for the moderators.
The small print page
By accepting your invitation to I’m a Scientist you are agreeing to these listed terms and conditions
We think you’ll agree with it but it’s best to be sure, so please have a read.