Throughout March 2020, 28 MRC-funded scientists, including three representatives of the LMB, took part in the Medical Research Zone on the I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here online public engagement platform. I’m a Scientist is an online activity during which scientists talk with school students from all over the UK and answer any questions they have about science, demonstrating the possibility for continuing public engagement while people are encouraged to stay at home.
One aim of the event was to show the variety of research being funded by the MRC. LMB’s participants – Nathan James from Venki Ramakrishnan’s group, Xiaohan Li from Madan Babu’s group, and Jennifer Roe, an animal technician in the Biological Services Group – showcased structural biology, bioinformatics and the important roles played by technicians in research.
More than 1000 students took part in the event, asking questions in two different formats: scheduled live text-based chats lasting 30-45 minutes in which classes of children ask rapid-fire questions to groups of scientists, and individual questions that can be asked and answered at any time of day and often require more in-depth answers. Between them, Nathan, Xiaohan, and Jennifer took part in more than 20 live chats and answered more than 60 questions outside the live chats.
Although the end of the event coincided with the point at which most schools around the UK were shutting due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the students had a lot of questions about coronaviruses, they asked about all sort of topics. As Xiaohan said, “The questions are really diverse, from the origin of dreams to the structure of photosynthesis systems!” Jennifer also noted the number of questions that weren’t about science at all and the importance of showing students that all types of people can work in medical research, including those, like herself, who do not select science subjects at A Level.
Since the Medical Research Zone event finished, I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here has rebranded as I’m a Scientist, Stay at Home and is running events between 20th April and 17th July, with the aim to help students stay connected with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths), their teachers, and their classmates while their education is being so disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. With another event funded by the MRC coming up soon, LMB staff, scientists, and students have the opportunity to help out teachers (and parents) who are struggling to provide remote activities to children while schools are closed for the coming months, by signing up to take part.
“Interacting with the students was a positive experience all round. They asked questions that made me think about my work from a different perspective. I enjoyed it all the way through.”
“I would really recommend such public engagement activities to other people in the future.”
“If you’re enthusiastic about science and eager for a challenge, do sign up for the next competition!”