I signed up to take part in I’m a Scientist get me out of here to help improve my ability to answer questions. As a scientist and a lecturer I spend most of my time struggling to find answers. I heard rumours that participating in a competition like I’m a Scientist would give me a unique opportunity to answer a wide variety of questions from secondary school students. Even though I visit lots of schools each year, there is just never enough time to visit as many as I would like. I always feel guilty that I have to decline most of the invitations I receive. I hoped that by taking part in I’m a Scientist I could engage with far more schools than I could by visiting them in person.
Despite being confident about my reasons for taking part, once the competition started I was not prepared for the onslaught of questions. It was the most intense rapid-fire rounds of questioning I have ever been involved in. Connecting a scientist to an online forum where 30 students at a time can anonymously bombard them with questions sounds like madness. And it is. But in the best possible way. There were great questions and there were strange questions. There are only so many times you can try and answer “What does the fox say?” and “Bro, do you even lift?” before despairing at meme-culture.
The scientific questions were fantastic but they were questions we should be used to answering. The more unusual questions included: “Why are people so judgey?”, “Where did you get your scarf?” and “Have you got GTA5?” It seemed like some of the students decided they would test the limits of what I would be comfortable answering. Little did they know that their desire to find a question that I would not answer could not outweigh my masochistic need to reply to every single question I was asked. I am not sure why the students picked me as their winner but it is probably simply because I answered more questions than anyone else.
When I was taking part in the competition I was working on finding novel ways for underrepresented social groups to engage with science. I decided that the best way to accomplish this would be to invest in more creative approaches to teaching.
I spent the prize money on a design course to help better equip myself and my colleagues to embrace technology in our lectures. We started encouraging our students to design and record short films explaining science and to share them with each other for feedback. The highlight of this process was when we worked with the Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities.
This Centre is a flagship initiative of the college that promotes inclusion for people with intellectual disability through education and research. We worked with a group of students that otherwise may not have had the chance to encounter higher education science. You can see the some of the students’ work in the video. The impact of this project is that it will raise awareness among people with intellectual disability that they can gain a higher-level education in science at Trinity College Dublin.
Dr Joseph Roche is an Astrophysicist and Assistant Professor in Science Education at Trinity College Dublin. His research area is the role of science in society and he is course coordinator for Trinity’s Masters in Science Education.