Feature: Engaging tomorrow's talent today
Collectively, the Research Councils fund a range of activities, resources and schemes that help link researchers with schools and young people. This article takes a look at some of the activities that BBSRC-funded scientists have taken part in recently.
Former PhD student Tamsin Langley relates her experiences of working with secondary school students as part of the Researchers in Residence scheme, which opened the door to a new career in teaching.
"My passion is neuroscience and so I was very keen to focus on how amazing the brain is. I devised mini practical experiments that involved balancing rulers, eating sweets blindfolded whilst holding your nose, and fooling your brain into perceiving the colours of words rather than the words themselves."
"The Year 11 students who I worked with were fascinated by facts such as the adult brain is a mere 3 pounds, yet it uses up to 25% of our oxygen intake and has messages flying around inside it at an incredible 268mph. They also enjoyed the true story of Phineas Gage – an unfortunate railway worker whose personality was altered due to a pole piercing his left frontal lobe. This sparked off much debate over nature versus nurture with regard to criminal behaviour.
"I also talked about how much fun a PhD is and how science can take you all over the world to study anything you want to… your research only being limited by your imagination. By the end of my time with them I believe they had a better idea about how exciting science is in the real world; and some of the negative stereotypes of scientists were definitely shaken off!"
"Researchers in Residence is a really good way for new researchers to get experience of public speaking and build their confidence. You could organise an outreach activity by yourself, but you would not get the training and support that you do through this programme.
"The scheme has had a huge impact on my subsequent career choices. After finishing my PhD, followed by a period as a Research Assistant, I went on to enrol on a graduate teacher placement programme.
"You could say that Researchers in Residence changed my life. Through it, I discovered a joy of teaching and now cannot wait to begin on my new career path."
Dr Langley spent a week-long placement at Phoenix High School, Shepherd’s Bush. She completed her PhD at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London in 2008.
Researchers in Residence
Researchers in Residence, funded by Research Councils UK with support from the Wellcome Trust, brings together researchers, young people and teachers via exciting and innovative placements in secondary schools across the UK.
Tel: 0845 365 7470
Twenty A-Level students from the Cambridge area gained first hand experience of life in a research lab last summer as part of the Nuffield Foundation’s bursary scheme.
They presented the results of their projects to scientists, teachers, parents and industry representatives at the Babraham Institute in October.
The Babraham Institute, an institute of BBSRC, hosted 4 students who investigated how cells communicate and relay intricate biochemical signals within cells. All 4 students were awarded Gold CREST awards for their projects, an accreditation from the British Science Association.
Nicholas Evans, one of the students who spent time at Babraham, said, "I found this experience at the Babraham Institute very valuable in giving me an insight into the world of scientific research."
The John Innes Centre, another institute of BBSRC, supported 2 students, whose projects investigated the growth characteristics of different varieties of wheat. The University of Cambridge, MRC, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research and ARM Ltd also provided an exciting range of projects.
Hannah Stuart, 18, a bursary student at Babraham in 2008, was invited back as a guest speaker, having been awarded national prizes for her research project. As a finalist at the Big Bang – the UK Young Science and Engineers Fair in 2009 – Hannah won a prize for her Gold CREST project and was invited to present her research at an EU competition for young scientists in Paris in March. She also won an opportunity of a life-time – a research project in Borneo next summer with the Royal Society.
She said, "My Nuffield placement allowed me to gain invaluable hands-on experience in lab work and develop a deeper insight into an exciting scientific field. Returning to Babraham again this summer has cemented my desire to pursue a research career."
Dr Simon Rudge, Hannah’s supervisor at Babraham explained, "This scheme is very useful, not only because it ensures that new ideas and experiments are explored in our lab, but I personally enjoy mentoring young scientists and providing them with an opportunity to develop their enthusiasm for research science."
Dr Claire Cockcroft, who runs Babraham’s public engagement programme commented, "It is through these schemes that school students get first-hand insight into the world of research, and a greater understanding of its relevance to society. We hope this will inspire them to consider research or science-based careers, contributing to the UK’s future need for science, technology, engineering and maths skills."
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