By Carmen Denman and Rachel Currier.
What do you get when you take five research scientists out of the lab to spend a day at a secondary school to try to persuade an entire Year 11 class that science A-levels are worth the effort? Well, to answer that question, on 2 October we microbiologists – Alexandra Faulds-Pain, Alexandra Shaw, Carmen Denman, Michelle Cairns, and Rachel Currier from the Department of Pathogen Molecular Biology – went to Tolworth Girls’ School to participate in a science careers day. Our travel and props for the visit were supported by winnings from the I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here competition, funded by the Wellcome Trust.
This annual women in science careers event, organised for several years by the Tolworth Girls’ School Head of Science Grace Cobb, was a real success. It was basically like ‘speed dating’ (without the alcohol!). Women working in science jobs sat around a table with groups of a dozen or so Year 11s (15-16 year olds). The aim of the event was to get more students interested in signing up for science A-levels and to acquaint them with the variety of jobs in science.
We microbiologists, each specialising in a different area of infectious disease research and clinical microbiology, brought some props with us in the form of School ‘bugbites’ sweeties, information about the School, Giant Microbes, and even a bottle of homemade beer to broach the discussion of ‘good bugs’ and ‘bad bugs’. In addition to the Year 11s, we also met groups of A-level students already taking science A-levels. These students were extremely keen to learn more about the huge range of research topics ongoing at the School and around the world. We’re hoping the student prospectuses we handed out might bring some of these keen students to study here at the School someday in the future!
The most challenging part of the day overall was starting off the interactions with students, following our introductions and talking about our jobs and research. However, once begun, conversations flowed and covered a range of topics, including ‘Are there different types of vaccines?’ or ‘Why do only female mosquitoes transmit malaria?’, and ‘Do you have to be extremely good at maths to be in science’? There were an impressive number of questions revolving around current events, like the Ebola outbreak, antibiotics resistance, and the HPV vaccine regime.
We are already looking forward to doing more visits in the future at other schools. The next outreach event, in November, will be at a primary school in Taunton, Somerset, where hopefully the primary school students will be a bit more interested in the assorted Giant Microbes and Petri dishes!
‘I’m a Scientist/Engineer, get me out of here’ is an online live blogging competition connecting students and teachers in their classrooms with real live scientists! Visit their website to learn more about how to get involved with this fun and flexible science communication competition.
Photo: L-R: Some of the ‘bugs’ we study: Alexandra Shaw holding a ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ giant microbe; Carmen Denman holding ‘Helicobacter pylori’ giant microbe; Michelle Cairns with a Streptococcus pneumoniae giant microbe; Rachel Currier with a Borrelia borgdorferi giant microbe, and Alexandra Faulds-Pain with the Neisseria meningitisis giant microbe.