The questions asked were both fun and challenging, keeping me on my toes at all times and giving me a fresh perspective and enthusiasm for my own research
I’m a Scientist is an online public engagement activity that gets all kinds of people working in science (researchers, technicians, managers, private sector, public sector… everyone!) talking to school students across the UK.
Scientists develop their communication skills, gain a fresh perspective on their work, and find out what young people think about science and the role of scientists. It’s even a chance to win prize money for further public engagement.
Applications for the competition are open year round – The next activity runs 11-22 November.
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The activity is split into different themed ‘zones’. This November, there are zones for people related to:
- big data
- electromagnetic spectrum and light
- chemistry, particularly elements
- health behaviour psychology
- social psychology
Plus general zones suitable for anyone with a science background!
Thanks to Microbiology Society, Royal Society of Chemistry, British Psychological Society, the Institute of Physics, Science and Technology Facilities Council and Wellcome for funding these zones.
How it works
Everything happens online so it’s easy for you to be involved right from your desk or smartphone and at times that suit your schedule.
Scientists put up a profile on this site, answer students’ questions about science, their work, the universe and beyond. They engage directly with students in live text-based chats. It’s also a competition. Students vote for their favourite scientist to win £500 to spend on further public engagement.
When the activity happens
The questions students ask
All questions are moderated, to remove duplicate questions, as well as rude or offensive ones. The variety of questions and reactions from students are key to the benefits scientists get from taking part.
Live chats with classes
Live chats last 30 minutes; they are text-based, fast paced and fun. We limit the chats to 3 a day, but usually there will be fewer. We don’t expect all scientists to attend every chat!
Evictions up the excitement
Starting on Tuesday of the second week, the scientist with the fewest votes will be evicted at 3pm each day, until one is left to be crowned the winner on the last Friday! Students get a new vote every day, so there’s always something to play for.
Prize money for your projects
One scientist in every zone wins £500 to be spent on a science engagement project: school visits, science fair exhibits, videos or podcasts, blogs, arranging class visits to your lab. Check out how past winners have spent their money.
Time commitment is flexible and the format is designed to so you can fit taking part into your normal schedule as much as possible.
Most scientists say they spend around 1-2 hours a day on the site; maybe 1 hour on live chats and another hour answering students’ questions, which can be during the evening, outside of the work day, on the train home… Each run of the activity usually takes place over two weeks. See how IAS fits into the schedule of a busy scientist.
Zones: A group of scientists and schools
The activity is divided into ‘zones’, usually including six scientists and 10-12 schools in each one.
Some are general zones, named after a chemical element and featuring a mix of scientists from different areas, like the Lawrencium Zone. Others are themed zones, such as Nuclear Zone or the Relationships Zone. Several zones run at the same time, for example there were 17 zones running in the March 2019 event.
Equipment you need
All that’s needed is a computer with internet access. The live chats are text-based (no video or audio needed) and run through this site. Find out more about the benefits of a text-focused format.
Who can apply
The activity shows students the wide variety of careers that science leads to, so is open to anyone from industry and public sectors with a background in science and all kinds of scientists from academia (from PhD students to research associates to professors, and including technicians). If you’re not sure you’re eligible, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Scientists write a short summary explaining their work to 13/14 year olds when they apply. Students and teachers rate these summaries, to guide who is selected for each zone. Read more about the application process.