Talking PhDs and poster judging at St Michaels CoE School Science Fair

Talking PhDs and poster judging at St Michaels CoE School Science Fair

Guest post by Natalie Koch, PhD student in the Centre for Proteome Research

On Friday 15th March, Rosie Maher and I attended St Michaels Church of England High School for their yearly science fair. The morning session began with both of us giving presentations explaining our personal journeys towards a PhD to a group of year 9 female students. Rosie presented first and began by explaining what a PhD is as many of the students hadn’t heard of a PhD. Rosie followed by talking about her journey from leaving school to starting her PhD. Rosie also highlighted extracurricular activities and work experience that helped her obtain her PhD position and that this is something the students could start thinking about now for their future.  Rosie went on to talk about her current research as a PhD student and explained how she is helping to develop a diagnostic test for people with reflux aspiration using proteomics and mass spectrometry.

I presented next, describing my own journey from school to becoming a PhD student, including my time spent volunteering abroad. I explained what my PhD entails and how I am using a new technique to extract information from faeces to help with population monitoring of small mammals. I also highlighted what else we do as PhD students away from the lab including publishing papers, presenting posters and talks, attending conferences and developing new skills. I then went on to explain what potential careers paths other than academic research are available after studying a STEM degree, in particular studying biology. The students were then able to ask us questions. I believe they were particularly encouraged to know they did not have to excel in every scientific topic they covered in class to be able to pursue a career in science. They were also reassured that Rosie and I had experienced setbacks on our journeys towards a PhD. We emphasised that we did not know everything about our particular field of research before starting our respective PhDs. We explained that we are still constantly learning, and that this is the main theme of a PhD to learn new skills and techniques! We explained that both of us have followed our passions and that has taken us to where we are now and we would encourage them to do the same.

During the afternoon session, Rosie and I took part in judging poster presentations at the science fair along with the help of a previous winner. Around 20 students from year 8 to year 11 volunteered to present a poster on a scientific topic of their choosing. The posters were displayed around the school hall, as you would see at a scientific conference. The students’ parents also attended and were able to walk around the hall viewing the posters and asking the students questions about their chosen topic. As judges, we were asked to mark each student out of five on their presentation skills, knowledge of their topic and poster creativity. We viewed the posters separately, approaching each student who then presented their poster and answered any questions we had.

After all of the posters had been marked we collectively chose three winning students for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. The winners were those who showed a high level of passion and knowledge for their respective topics. The winner’s topics included the effect of mobile phones on our brain and eyes, current advancements in biotechnology and how artificial intelligence works.

Natalie and Rosie with the poster winner

Overall, it was a very successful day and Rosie and I very much enjoyed encouraging and engaging with the next generation of scientists.                 

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Inspiring the next generation of NMR scientists during British Science Week

On Friday 15th March 10 chemistry A-Level students from Range High School visited the Institute for the annual Analytics Day held in the NMR Centre for Structural Biology organised by Dr Jill Madine and Dr Marie Phelan. This visit has been an annual event for the past several years which the students look forward to in order to gain enhanced understanding of NMR to help with their A-level courses and also provide an opportunity to chat with PhD students about what is involved in University life and academic research.  The students were given lectures on the basic applications of mass spectrometry and NMR from Stephen Moss (School of Physical Sciences) and Dr Marie Phelan. This was the followed by practical workshops where the students carried out chromatography and learnt to prepare and run NMR samples along with how to interpret the data.  Prior to their visit, as part of a school practical, they have made salicylic acid – a precursor for aspirin. We obtained these samples and collected NMR spectra of their products ready for analysis on the day.  This enabled them to establish how successful their synthesis had been and compare their results across the class, with previous years’ students (and to the teacher!). The pupils response at the end of the day was that they had learnt a lot and they can now ‘do’ NMR. Watch out for future budding NMR Nobel Prize Winners inspired during British Science Week in IIB!

Pupils were assisted on the day by Michelle Tan, Adika Sen (visiting interns in the NMR Centre), Zain Ghanameh (IACD), Jeremy Chazot (IACD) and James Torpey (IIB).

British Science Week at Eureka Science Museum

British Science Week at Eureka Science Museum

Guest post by Emma Cartledge, PhD student in the Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group at the Institute of Integrative Biology

Earlier in the year, I attended a public engagement training session at Eureka children’s science museum in Halifax. The training was focused on interacting with young children and families. It highlighted the importance of creating an interesting narrative for your work, as well as understanding its relevance to the target audience. Educational memories are lasting when the activity is unusual and fun – if you think of a time when you were little and learning about science, chances are you are thinking of an occasion where you were not simply sitting in class and filling out worksheets!

As part of British Science Week 2019, I had the opportunity to return to Eureka and put this training into practice. Volunteering alongside the British Ecological Society to run a selection of activities, we were mostly visited by pre-school aged children and their families. We had a stall where the children could view fossils, including a huge dinosaur footprint. They then thoroughly enjoyed making footprints in playdough with toy dinosaurs! Another area was about insects. This was where children spent a lot of their time and drew their favourite animal.

My attention was focused on a stall about small mammal tracks and signs. Here, the children (and parents!) could match up poo to their perpetrator, identify the animals based on camera trap images and then draw their own pawprint.

I really enjoyed the day and was particularly thrilled with the parents’ interest in my footprint tunnels. I have recently started using these to monitor small mammals, as part of my PhD project on dormouse conservation. Some even decided that they would try it at home with their kids! Overall, it was a fun and informative day for all involved.

British Science Week – Starting Young

During British Science Week Jill Madine went into Orchard Day Nursery in Huyton to inspire budding young scientists with exciting experiments. Following a discussion on what a real researcher does and looking at models of the heart, brain and circulatory system the children were asked to think like a real researcher and predict and draw what they thought would happen. The scientific question was what will happen when skittles sweets are placed on a plate of water. The children cam up with 3 hypotheses: they would go soggy, the colours would run or they would go bang! The children then watched with awe as the skittles made a rainbow pattern and went white. This was then followed by much discussion as to whether this was what happening in their tummies when they ate skittles!  The second experiment was to make a lava lamp and watch the coloured bubbles float around in the oil to much amazement. Now that the children were real researchers the afternoon ended with them dressing up in a lab coat and safety goggles for photographs which was enjoyed by all. Whilst it was definitely a challenge to come up with experiments for 3-5 year olds it was a fun and rewarding afternoon which hopefully inspired some future scientists.