Guest post: Researchers in Residence
What can practicing scientists teach schoolchildren, and what can they teach the scientists? The Researchers in Residence scheme puts that question to the test and the results are rewarding, writes Mathew Clement.
I first came across the Researchers in Residence scheme on a noticeboard at my institute, the Henry Wellcome Research Institute, Cardiff University. The scheme puts practicing scientists in secondary schools and colleges across the UK with the aim of engaging young people with real-life research. The idea of communicating my research and getting some teaching experience on my CV was a major attraction for me, so I decided to give it a try.
Following a training day to prepare me for the scheme, I heard that a secondary school, St Illtyds RC high school in Rumney, Cardiff was interested in taking me on . The teachers told me that I would specifically be working with students aged 13–14. I was to present a talk to the students – around 100-150 altogether – focusing on an aspect of my research, in this case skin cancer. I had recently been working on melanoma with my laboratory group and I felt the impact of the disease, often highlighted in newspapers and television coverage, would be of interest and relevance to the students. This talk included aspects of how we specifically research the disease using the skills and tools available to us.
Back in the classroom, I initiated multiple competitions/projects which involved the students designing posters/leaflets aimed at promoting awareness of skin cancer, its causes, associated risks and potential treatments. I also attended classes where the students used their IT skills to source and use information from the internet to help them with the competition. My main apprehension was that the students may get bored. This wasn’t an issue though. I received a positive reaction from the students to the subject, which made for a positive atmosphere. Including the poster/leaflet competition meant everyone had a skill or interest area to contribute to the project; students with artistic skills were equally as engaged as the keen scientists.
During the placement I had the chance to host informal discussion groups with the students answering their questions about scientific research and for some the possibility of pursuing a career in academic research. I was highly impressed with the aptitude shown with regards to the poster/leaflets, some of which were so good they would not look out-of-place in a doctor’s surgery.
My placement within the school ran for one week and I presented my talk to multiple classes, attending their informal discussion groups and poster/leaflet sessions frequently throughout the week. I enjoyed helping the students as they worked on their projects, offering advice and suggestions along the way. And the students responded by investing extra hours of their own time to enhance their projects.
When I first embarked on the placement, my aim was to show the students how scientific research is not a boring profession, but how exciting it can be and to hopefully dispel any stereotyped images of ‘boffins’ they may have had. And I think I largely succeeded. The positive feedback I received from both teachers and students made the whole experience worthwhile and rewarding. The teachers even decided to display their students’ work throughout the school, which reinforced the success of my placement.
I would highly recommend an Researchers in Residence placement to my fellow researchers. Not only was I able to improve my presentation and communication skills, but I was also able to promote how real scientific research is done to some potential future scientists and highlight the dangers, in this case, of skin cancer.
Mathew Clement is a Wellcome Trust funded Research Assistant/Ph.D student at the Department of Infection, Immunity and Biochemistry, Henry Wellcome Research Institute, Cardiff University.
The Researchers in Residence scheme is funded by Research Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust. If you’re interested in finding out more, visit the Researchers in Residence website.