Scientist survivors

"I've always been a bit shy about talking about science," said Kerstin Zechner, a genetics graduate student at the University of Oxford. So when she heard about the online competition that let high school students decide whether a scientist is worthy of receiving a ₤500 prize, Zechner hesitated, and then decided to give it a shot. As part of a two-week-long online event that ran in March called "I'm a Scientist, Get me out of Here," Zechner and other scientists responded to any questions

Edyta Zielinska
Jun 21, 2010
"I've always been a bit shy about talking about science," said Kerstin Zechner, a genetics graduate student at the University of Oxford. So when she heard about the online competition that let high school students decide whether a scientist is worthy of receiving a ₤500 prize, Zechner hesitated, and then decided to give it a shot. As part of a two-week-long online event that ran in March called "I'm a Scientist, Get me out of Here," Zechner and other scientists responded to any questions high school students in the UK came up with and posed via a dedicated website. Then, every day of the second week, students get to evict one of the five scientists they'd been talking to. "Both the scientists and the kids thought it was really fun," said Sophia Collins, the producer of the competition. In a much larger version of the competition than the one that...
eard about the online competition that let high school students decide whether a scientist is worthy of receiving a ₤500 prize, Zechner hesitated, and then decided to give it a shot. As part of a two-week-long online event that ran in March called "I'm a Scientist, Get me out of Here," Zechner and other scientists responded to any questions high school students in the UK came up with and posed via a dedicated website. Then, every day of the second week, students get to evict one of the five scientists they'd been talking to. "Both the scientists and the kids thought it was really fun," said Sophia Collins, the producer of the competition. In a much larger version of the competition than the one that Zechner participated in, linkurl:"I'm a Scientist";http://imascientist.org.uk/ is up and running again this month, from June 14th through the 25th. This time 100 scientists will sign in and chat -- live and via message posts -- with some 8,000 students across the UK. Teams of five scientists, grouped by topics like cancer or genes, interact with 20 classrooms over the course of the competition. Collins ran the event on a smaller scale earlier this year and in 2008. But this month's event will be "the biggest one yet," said Collins. When Zechner participated in March, she said that she wasn't too worried about the evictions, but perhaps she should have been. The students chose which scientist to evict based on a range of criteria -- from "I am very good looking," and "I drive a sports car" to "My work will help us to protect the environment" and "My work will save some lives." Based on the criteria they thought were most important, students picked which scientist they wanted to see get axed every day, with the knowledge that the last scientists standing in each group would get an award of ₤500 to spend toward science education -- funded by a grant from the Wellcome Trust. Collins was somewhat surprised when the evaluations came back at the end of the event, with students saying that they made their choices based on the scientific impact and how well researchers engaged and communicated with the students, rather than on the more superficial criteria. "Students get to feel that they're really making a decision," said Collins, giving them responsibility and insight into "how we decide about science funding." Students get a sense of what it's like to be a scientist, about the peer review process, and how health recommendations based on scientific findings can sometimes turn out to be wrong, so that they can better evaluate research reports they read about in the media, said Collins. (Read a sample linkurl:lesson plan;http://imascientist.org.uk/files/2010/03/Drugs-Info-Sheet-A-Level.pdf here.) Many of the students start out uninterested in science. But over the course of asking questions such as, "What's your favorite band," and ethical questions like, "Do you care that you have to kill worms?" students get a fuller picture of who scientists are and what they do. They realize that "scientists aren't weird distant people who don't have any friends," said Collins. "Scientists are normal people who make jokes." Once students feel comfortable that the scientists are responsive, "they'll get down to it a bit," and ask some harder questions about science, she added. In one of Zechner's chat sessions with a classroom full of pupils, she noticed students became more engaged in her work with __C. elegans__ as the chat progressed. "Everyone kept saying, 'Ooh I'd like to see that,'" she said. So when she was the last scientist standing, she decided to invite that class to visit her lab. She put her prize money towards travel expenses and costs of lab experiments for the curious students. "I probably will enjoy it more than they will," she said.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Bringing research to high schools;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57486/
[4th June 2010]*linkurl:Drive-thru lab;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/56075/
[November 2009]*linkurl:Sticking it to science;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55803/
[26th June 2009]

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