I'm a Scientist Get Me Out of Here!
I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here! is an award-winning science enrichment and engagement activity, 50% funded by the Wellcome Trust. It’s an X Factor-style (or Pop Idol or American Idol, or Big Brother depending on your points of reference!) competition for scientists, where students are the judges. Scientists and students talk online on their website. They both break down barriers, have fun and learn. But only the students get to vote.
The winner takes a £500 prize, which they normally spend on efforts to further science engagement (in the UK or abroad).
The March 2014 iteration of the competition began with 5 scientists engaging with 475 students from 7 schools, with over 1000 questions asked. Anna offered 3,000+ lines of live chat and was voted the winner by the students.
On 26 March 2014 Anna wrote about her win for the site's blog:
"Incredible! What a wonderful surprise and thank you so much, I feel so honoured to be chosen. Thank you so much also to the other scientists, I learnt a lot too from their answers.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed up but very quickly I was hooked! I found I wanted to answer every question as quickly as I could and to be in touch with as many of you as possible – this is what motivated me as I took part. It was great checking in each day and seeing if there were new questions, I was excited and stumped on a daily basis about how I was going to answer your questions in a meaningful way. Participating made me think hard about how I explain stuff. The biggest lesson I learnt was turning something complicated into two sentences. You will not believe the number of times I re-wrote my answers.
I really enjoy my work and am very enthusiastic about it and I found myself really wanting you to enjoy it too. Scientists come in many different shapes and sizes – we don’t all work in a laboratory, wear a lab coat and have crazy hair. There are many of us who do our experiments in ways you wouldn’t expect. I’m currently using Twitter and Facebook as a way of reaching people to explore their attitudes towards genetics, there is no lab work involved, but that doesn’t make my work any less scientific in its approach and analysis.
What I really like about science is the logic of it – ask a question, measure something, get an answer. Job done. It’s a very satisfying process, even when the answer isn’t what you were expecting. For those of you who like to think this way, science is a great subject to explore, study and turn into a career. I really hope some of you will consider it for your future.
Best of luck to all of you, I had so much fun in the online chats – the cheekiness, the daring questions, the loud and the sensitive souls – you were all fabulous to talk to and I had a smile on my face the whole time!"
I'm a Scientist Get Me Out of Here followed up with Anna a year later, writing on 13 May 2015:
"Anna Middleton won the ComputationalBio Zone in 2014. We asked her to tell us what she’s been up to with her £500 prize, and here is what she said…
I was incredibly proud to have won I’m a Scientist Get me out of here. My research is within the field of social science, I’m interested in how people engage with genetics and what they want to use from the technology. This involves framing complex concepts about genetics in a way that means something to individuals and then asking them questions about the subject. I try to use as many imaginative ways to explain genetics as I can, e.g. film and metaphors. I learnt from the young people who asked me questions on I’m a Scientist that they liked direct answers; for many of the research areas I cover, there is no right or wrong answer but many shades of opinion, so it was a challenge for me to condense the ethical issues surrounding genetics into a few sharp sentences.
I engage with many different types of people as part of my position – teaching genetic/genomic counselling to health professionals, teaching ethics to scientists and communicating the findings of my research to the public. As with I’m a Scientist the audiences I work vary in their knowledge about genetics – some have no background knowledge and others know a lot. I find it is really helpful to gather feedback on what audiences know and understand and in the past I might have asked for a show of hands in response to a question, but now with the I’m a Scientist prize money I can do this via a Turning Point handheld voting pad.
One of the pads used for gathering the opinions of the audience, linked to a laptop.
These pads enable audiences to click a button and share an anonymous opinion on genetics. Being able to engage in this way is fun (the results are instant and the audience can see how they have voted within a graph beamed onto a screen) but is also informative (it allows people, in an anonymous way, to see how their views compare to others present). The voting system also allows me to do more social science as I can use the data to explore people’s attitudes and this in turn fuels my research.
The feedback I have had from using this voting system has been incredibly positive – audiences like to play ‘Who wants to be a Millionnaire’ and be asked a question they can give direct feedback on. The £500 prize money was incredibly welcome and is being put to good use. My only problem now is the voting handsets are in so much demand from colleagues that I’ve had to create a booking system to lend them out!"
I'm a Scientist Get Me Out of Here. (2014). And the winner is Anna - ComputationalBio Zone. [online] 21 March. Available at: https://compbio.imascientist.org.uk/2014/03/21/and-the-winner-is/ [Accessed 30 May 2019].