Last year, the IOP South West Branch asked me to take my research on tour.
On tour, like a rock band – only less drugs and rock and roll, more dodgy cafeteria food and schoolchildren. The idea was to spend 13 days in total over three trips travelling the south -west of the UK (including the Channel Islands) giving a one-hour lecture about my research and what it’s like to be a scientist. The opportunity arose because I had given a public lecture previously for the IOP and apparently someone liked it.
The aim was to reach as many schoolchildren as possible, highlighting the exciting research I’m doing, while showing girls that they can be scientists just like the boys, and encouraging everyone to consider a future as a scientist. In my talk I highlighted that I’m a normal human being with various interests, I got them to complete a small demonstration, and I spoke about the travel that I’ve been able to do for the sake of science.
Over the 13 days I estimate that I travelled to 20 different locations, giving 30 or more school talks with class sizes between 12 and 300 at a time. It was exhausting, exciting, fascinating and eye-opening all at the same time. (Side note: There is such a huge difference between the quality of science education across the south west and it doesn’t come down to whether it’s a public or private school. It is all about the enthusiasm of the teachers.)
I was also lucky enough to give two public lectures and one radio interview for BBC Radio Guernsey. I’ve never been on the radio before, and it was scary to talk about a subject that I think I know little about! The interviewer was really nice, and let me talk about things I knew, and moved on from questions I didn’t – overall, a fantastic experience.
I learned a few things about myself, education and science on this tour. First, it gave some awful flashbacks of secondary school. Second, I was really impressed by the young people in the classes. Some of them were so engaged by the subject, and really interacted with and questioned what I was talking about – the future scientists. It was really empowering to be able to share what I have learned during my PhD with an honest audience – much nicer than at conferences. Finally, it showed me the importance of outreach, and how we all have a responsibility as researchers to inspire the next generation of scientists.