Posted by Dr Jennifer Rogers.
At the start of January I was extremely honoured to be appointed the Royal Statistical Society Guy Lecturer. I was asked to write a presentation suitable for GCSE and sixth form students that would talk about statistics in an accessible and entertaining way. No easy task!
I decided to talk about what I know best, clinical trials, and came up with the title “Making life saving decisions in clinical trials: how much evidence do we need?” I wanted to give the students an insight into the world of clinical trials and hopefully leave them with an appreciation of all the things that need to be thought about and questions that need to be answered as part of the treatment development process. I talk about a whole range of topics from randomisation, blinding, and choosing a primary endpoint, to uncertainty, statistical significance and absolute versus relative risks.
The ideas that I present are not trivial and an hour is a long time to hold the attention of a room full of 50 teenagers, so it’s really important to have interactive elements to the presentation. I invite students from the audience to talk about sampling from populations and uncertainty, and I play “stand up-sit down: do you think this dice is fair or biased?” to try to convey the ideas around uncertainty and statistical significance further. Real-life scenarios and examples of trials where I have actually been involved all encourage the students to identify more with what it is to be a working statistician. I don’t just limit my talk to medicine though (although as my area of expertise, it is where I concentrate most of my talk). I also give examples of evidence-based decision-making in sports, the environment, and government, and talk about advertising claims in the media and the evidence upon which they are based.
I’ve given my Guy Lecture four times now and think I’ve got something that works really well. I’ve been amazed at the response that I received from students and the questions that they asked. In fairness, the first question I was asked was how long I’d been a doctor, but in my last lecture we discussed topics such as privacy issues surrounding big data, and whether the public believe any statistics that are reported in the press.
I’ve enjoyed my Guy Lectureship so much that I have now signed up to be a STEM Ambassador with STEMNET, and would definitely encourage others to do the same. Seeing students interested in what you do for a living and getting excited by real world applications of statistics is a great feeling. In addition to that, being able to talk about complex scientific concepts in a way that people beyond your work colleagues will understand is a really important skill to have. There’s nothing like presenting statistics to a group of teenagers to really get you thinking about your communication skills!
For more information about volunteering in schools, please contact Vickie Bazalgette, Public Engagement Coordinator, at
Photo: Dr Jennifer Rogers. Credit: Royal Statistical Society