As part of the Biological Sciences workshop a ‘Meet the Researcher’ session was planned to enable pupils to discuss a few areas of research in more detail with researchers currently working in that field. This was based on the extremely successful section of the LifeLab day called ‘Meet the Scientist’. The aim was for the sessions to be as informal as possible and so we arranged for the researchers to join the school pupils in the lounge area just after they had finished their lunch.
Around ten researchers volunteered, most of whom had helped the pupils complete the lab work they had carried out that morning. The pupils were split into groups of three and given ten minutes with three of the researchers, who were men and women of a variety of ages and nationalities who had taken different paths into research and were at different stages in their careers. Each researcher began by introducing their research and talking about the science involved and some of the techniques they used. Many of the researchers had brought a prop along with them or showed a short film to better illustrate their work.
During the planning stages, some of the researchers had stated that they were worried about how they would initiate discussion with school pupils. They were unsure what the pupils would have already been taught in the relevant areas and therefore what level of scientific language they should use. Feedback from similar events had also identified problems with ‘awkward silences’. At LifeLab, training is provided to the researchers who take part in the ‘Meet the Scientist’ sessions. This involves information on questioning techniques and the national curriculum led by teachers from local schools, and the researchers are given guidance on how to put together an ‘elevator pitch’ so that their explanations of their work are succinct and well thought out. These sessions now run regularly and are hugely popular. A training session was arranged to support the researchers who would be involved in the Biological Sciences ’Meet the Researcher’ session but many of the researchers were unable to attend.
Despite this, the event was a huge success and many pupils stated that this was the session they had enjoyed the most. One pupil in particular was inspired by a researcher who works on skin conditions such as eczema. The research had a personal connection due to the pupil’s personal experience of skin conditions. The pupil commented that, “She made me inspired – I want to do that.”.
Most of the researchers involved in this session had been working with the pupils in the labs that morning and the day before. This had enabled the pupils to meet the researchers and work with them on a personal level before being asked to engage with the more academic side of their work. There were several researchers who had clearly built a good rapport with some of the pupils during this time in the lab and this meant that the conversation during the ‘Meet the Researcher’ session was more natural. We also asked the pupils to think about some generic questions that they might like to ask a researcher before the session started so that they were not put on the spot when asked if they had any questions. The pupils were also able to meet the researchers in small groups and so the interaction felt much more like a natural conversation than it would with larger groups of pupils.
On this occasion all these factors meant that the need for training was removed to some extent by the ease with which the interactions were able to occur. It is often not possible to assemble so many researchers at once, not just for the ‘Meet the Researcher’ session itself but for the preceding lab sessions as well. This activity was a one off but if input from researchers is needed on a more regular basis, as with the ‘Meet the Scientist’ sessions at LifeLab, then training is definitely needed as researchers will not have had the chance to engage with the pupils before the session and will also be leading much larger groups. Training is also vital for recruitment purposes to ensure that this activity is sustainable.
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