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The University of Southampton
Public Engagement with Research

Meet the scientist

Meet the Scientist is a component activity of LifeLab, an innovative educational intervention being piloted in Southampton, aiming to improve young people's health and inspire an interest in science. The Meet the Scientist initiative attempts to bridge the gap between students carrying out their secondary education at institutions in the UK and (often early stage) researchers at higher education institutions (HEIs).

secondary level pupils meet a Southampton researcher
Talking about life as a researcher

A Meet the Scientist session provides secondary-level students with opportunities to talk with research scientists on an informal basis, and in so doing to explore or challenge their views of science and scientists. This session takes place during a LifeLab day, which also includes hands-on practical activities to embed messages about maternal and childhood nutritional influences and provides opportunities for students to experience modern science and to inspire and excite them about research and future career possibilities. Importantly, this visit is not an isolated event, but is undertaken in conjunction with stimulating curriculum-linked school-based lessons, both pre and post the activity day.

Although there is a definitive positive impact on the students involved in a Meet the Scientist session, the effect, if any, on the researchers has been poorly understood.

This case-study, funded as part of the Public Engagement with Research Project, uses data collected from a series of one-to-one interviews with researchers who had recently participated in Meet the Scientist, to:

Overview of findings:

During the sessions, students were able to discuss and learn about current, innovative and world leading scientific research happening at their local University which was considerably different from the school science they experience daily. Consequently the students were genuinely interested in the scientists’ work, which resulted in their questions focusing predominantly on its conceptual and practical aspects. This unexpected engagement and motivation was highlighted by the scientists when commenting on the value of these sessions: 

‘the genuine interest shown by the majority surprised me'

'I thought the students would be more interested in the career path to becoming a scientist and less so in the actual science.  I think they were just as interested in science and in giving them that information it may spur them into scientific careers'

Researchers seem to be motivated to engage with ‘Meet the scientists' through a sense of social responsibility and pure enjoyment, with less altruistic motives such as personal development and linking research to funding still of relevance but of secondary importance. The researchers interviewed all enjoyed communicating their research and hoped that some of their enthusiasm would inspire and educate the students they interacted with.

Every researcher interviewed cited that the main benefit (to themselves) was an improvement in their communication skills, especially to a lay audience. This was identified to have the further benefit of causing some of the interviewees to consider their own research from a new perspective. Secondary themes were the pure enjoyment of the sessions and a perceived increase in self-confidence when faced with new situations.

The key recommendation (to other researchers) is the bringing of physical props to showcase the research or science behind the research, since attempts to present (in a general academic style) were perceived to disengage the students, whereas when the students could physically interact with the items being presented, it sparked their curiosity and promoted discussion. Further suggestions were to practice explaining your research to a lay audience and have something exciting as a back-up.

To read the full Report, please download the pdf from the right-hand menu.

gaining real-life insights
Meet the Scientist

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“I was surprised with some of the questions they asked, I think some of the questions were meant to be a bit jokey but they were actually quite valid questions in the end and I had a good answer for them so that surprised them”

“Its always fun talking to people about my research and I guess as scientists we are all in ivory towers and we are usually quite nervous and quiet people so it is nice to be forced to go out and talk to people in these kind of things, I think it helps and it also helps for me to think how can I explain it to a different audience rather than just students or to, you know, my peers, like (at) conferences and things like that.”

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