I decided to take part in this competition to get young students enthused and excited about science. I had wanted to take part in a project like this for a while now and was thrilled to receive an email from the organisers saying that I was going to! Scientists from across the UK were placed in particular zones depending on their scientific background. As mine is in toxicology, I was quite rightly placed in the Toxicology Zone along with four others. In total there were nine zones, including Gravity, Biochemistry and Medical Physics. For two weeks, from 7th to 18th March 2016, we talked to school children aged between 11 and 18 across the country (and Spain!) about what it is like to be a scientist. The discussions took place on an online forum-like setting for thirty minutes at a time. Students were encouraged to ask us any burning scientific questions they had, ranging from ‘How does the liver work?’ to ‘Are you worried about climate change?’ with a few random questions thrown in like ‘Do you like Justin Bieber?’!
As if the prospect of inspiring students wasn’t enough, the outreach project was also a competition whereby students were allocated a zone and had to vote for their favourite scientist within that zone. The winner of the Toxicology Zone, sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry, would have to spend the generous £500 prize money on an event of their own to engage students into science. The votes were totted up every evening and during the second week; one scientist per zone was eliminated. The two finalists had to battle it out for the prize money on the final online chat forum. Sadly I was eliminated early on in the competition but this did not dampen my spirits. I found the whole experience extremely rewarding that I could talk to students and help them out with concerns they were having in their academic journey. One student said that he wasn’t too keen on pursuing science in the future and that we would probably end up as a lawyer. I mentioned that scientists and lawyers have similar jobs, an idea which the student found intriguing. Both scientists and lawyers have to assimilate and collect evidence to produce a convincing argument, whether it is to prove or disprove a legal case or a scientific theory.
I highly recommend this event to young scientists who are keen to reach out and inspire a younger generation. Just be sure to clear your schedule as it is a very demanding two weeks!