During November 2020, the BSI supported the online engagement activity ‘I’m a Scientist’ to connect school students across the UK with immunology scientists. As part of our ongoing public engagement work on advocating the importance of vaccines and vaccine research, we funded the Health Zone, which focused on human health. Here, our Public Engagement Manager, Erika Aquino, discusses the benefits of this type of activity, showcases examples of great engagement from our members and shares feedback from the wonderful immunologists who took part.
Facilitating conversations with scientists
The online platform allowed students to ask scientists questions through real-time text-based chats, with over 5,200 lines of chatting throughout the month. Students could also post questions outside the live chats and scientists provided 201 answers!
Through our sponsorship, 16 BSI members were able to participate, sparking interest in and strengthening understanding of immunology and vaccines. Members from a broad range of areas and career stages were involved, including PhD students, senior lecturers and immunologists working in the public sector and in industry, showing students the wide range of immunology-related careers. Our members were among the most active scientists in the live chats and posting answers.
At a difficult time for teachers and schools, the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on overall engagement as some classes had to isolate and some schools had reduced access to IT facilities. However, the Health Zone chats interacted with almost 500 students from 23 schools, with 42% of students from Widening Participation and underserved schools. Our members who took part commented on how vital it is to give all students an opportunity to engage with scientists.
It allowed students who may not have had the chance otherwise to interact with scientists, which in my opinion is extremely important to allow them to realise that they can have a career in science.
A spotlight on vaccines
In the Health Zone, 30 live chats took place during the month and two evening chats were dedicated to talking about vaccines, which the entire family could join. As a demonstration of the enthusiastic engagement of our immunologists, the most popular topic of conversation in the live chats was vaccines.
Our members felt strongly that the audience reached through I’m a Scientist was suitable, interested and receptive to talking about vaccines and immunology.
"Very timely [topic] because of COVID-19 pandemic."
"Many students were interested in what vaccines are and how they are made."
A great example of engagement with one of our members, Louise Topping, showcases how a class at Al-Ashraf Primary School were interested in vaccines. Louise was able to explain how vaccines work and recommend a virtual activity the class could investigate to further their understanding.
Building transferable skills
The feedback from our members who took part has been overwhelmingly positive, with the majority feeling that I’m a Scientist was enjoyable and a valuable use of their time and many commenting on how flexible the activity was. On a scale of 1 to 10, members rated I’m a Scientist an 8 on how likely they are to recommend taking part to a fellow scientist.
"Most of the students were really engaged with it and seemed very appreciative for the opportunity so I felt it was really worthwhile."
"I loved the format so much. Gave a lot of flexibility about when you could participate and fitting it around work etc. I also found the students were very interactive."
Importantly, members felt it was a perfect opportunity to develop their own communication and public engagement skills. Five of our members were additionally enrolled in the I’m a Scientist Academy, a crash course in public engagement fundamentals and principles and a space for scientists to swap tips for taking on the students’ questions. Dr Stephanie Longet shares her personal experience in our blog, where she reflects on what she has gained from taking part.
"Made me think about ways of explaining complex issues to school kids."
We would like to give a huge thank you to all our members who took part!
Public Engagement Manager, BSI