Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm a scientist - what I hope to achieve

I'm surprised at how caught-up I'm getting in the preparations for "I'm a Scientist, Get me out of here!" I literally can't wait for it to start.

It's a mixture of nervous anticipation and just wanting to get on with it, something akin to the feeling before a race or going on stage, I suppose.

The event kicks off properly on Monday next, but we've been told that we may well start early because of the huge numbers of questions submitted by eager students wanting to interact with the scientists they've been assigned in individual zones. So far, the whole thing seems to have been organised fantastically well, with the website being easy to use for editing my profile, adding images, etc.

So why am I doing it? As you can probably tell, I have a huge interest in communicating science to the general public. Not just the facts of science but also the role, function and process of science. It's important to communicate about new scientific breakthroughs, but it is equally important, I believe to speak about how these breakthroughs come about, how scientists work and how that work is evaluated and peer-reviewed.

Hopefully, I'll get across some of that during the next two weeks.

The feedback from previous scientific participants has been good. Joanne Buckley, a winner from 2010, described the event as her "flat out fortnight" with a slow start but an "intense" final week.

I'd be lying if I said that the competition element didn't hold an attraction for me. I'm fairly competitive by nature, and I think the competitive edge will push each of the scientists participating on to give their all for the relatively short event, ensuring that both the students and the scientists themselves get the most out of their experience.

I'd be interested in finding out what the students themselves think of the event. Do they enjoy the live chats and online interaction with scientists? Does it encourage any of them to study science or to become scientists themselves? After all, it would be pointless in investing time and resources into such an event if it didn't have a real effect on student perceptions of science.

For the record, I'm sure it does. Having taken part in numerous open-days and career days, promoting science at third-level, I'm convinced of the value in potential young scientists meeting and chatting with 'real' scientists and having a few of their questions answered. Face-to-face is great, but social media and the internet is often where the new wave of young potential scientists are influenced and do their communicating. So, why not bring science to them!

Even if you're not taking part in the event, anybody can follow the process and view the questions and answers on the event website. If I have time, and I'm told that the event gets pretty frantic and all-consuming, then I'll update you on how the process is going next week.


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