INTERVIEW: Three of Scotland's PhD students chosen as experts for I'm a Scientist/ Engineer, Get me Out of here 2017

Issued: Thu, 30 Mar 2017 16:31:00 BST

With only five experts chosen from each zone for the I'm a Scientist/Engineer, Get Me Out of Here event this year, Science Connects is proud to say that two of them were West of Scotland STEM Ambassadors. To celebrate this achievement we got in contact with PhD candidates Wilhelmiina Toivo, Alejandra Aranceta and Hannah Grist and asked them a few questions about this year's event and how they felt pupils and students engaged with it.


You were all chosen as experts for this year’s I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here/ I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here. How did you enjoy the experience?

Wilhelmiina: I really enjoyed it! It was a lot of fun and made me think about my work from perspectives I had never considered before. The students were asking challenging and surprising questions. I have got really interested in science communication during the first year of my PhD, and I thought this was definitely one of the best and most rewarding ways to do it!

Alejandra: I found this experience interesting and definitely an eye opener. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of questioning of some students (very complex questions), at the same time, I was a bit disappointed with the questioning of some others, almost as if they were not taking the activity seriously.

Hannah (pictured): I’m a Scientist is great fun, if very intense. The number and diversity of questions you get from the students is staggering and many of them are very quick and funny, so it’s a real challenge to keep up. Some really make you think. One student asked me “what colour is a mirror?”. I had to ask someone myself, so I’m learning all the time too!

There were only five experts chosen from each zone so it’s a big deal to be picked! What did the position entail?

Hannah: It involved being available for live chats during the two week period, so typing questions and responses to a full class of students over a period of twenty minutes. It’s quick fire and a lot of fun, but I find my fingers ache at the end! There are also questions posed after the chats that you can answer online in more detail and at your leisure.

Alejandra: For me, it involved explaining how research and engineering work in the area of artificial body, such as prosthetics. There were plenty of students that had a vague understanding of what prosthetic devices were (and very much Sci-Fi!), so I did a bit of explaining and education around the topic. I talked about current advances and we discussed what we think prosthetics would look like in the future (I think all the students wanted to be cyborgs).

Wilhelmiina: I was one of the decision zone psychologists. The other four experts were much further in their career, so it was great to be given the chance to work with them and practice science communication. We got to take part in online chats with schools - the students could ask any questions they had about psychology/science in general and send you questions afterwards on the website. I was really surprised (and quite proud!) that I got third in the evictions.

What is your background in science/engineering?

Wilhelmiina: I have completed a BA and an MSc in Psychology at the University of Glasgow. I am currently in the first year of my PhD in Psychology. So, as I said above, it was a really great opportunity to work on science communication during the very early stages of my career.

Hannah: I’m a marine ecologist, currently working at the Scottish Association for Marine Science. I did my undergraduate degree at Oxford, a Masters at York and a PhD in Aberdeen. I’m interested in population and behavioural ecology, and in how we can engage people directly with science.

Alejandra: I am a Biomedical Engineer and did my PhD in the area of Neurorehabilitation, specifically neuroprosthetics.

How did young people engage with their chosen subject this year?

Wilhelmiina: I think they were all very engaged, and the online chat format really worked well. I was quite amazed at how good and thoughtful the questions the students asked were. 

Hannah: This year was really good: a lot of the classes had obviously thought about what they wanted to do and know beforehand. It always works really well when the teacher works with the students before and afterwards to get the most out of the experience, and it really shows in how deeply they have thought about the questions.

If there was one piece of information you could instill in all young people in education right now regarding your discipline, what would it be?

Wilhelmiina: Psychology is everywhere - keep your eyes open and be curious about the others around you!

Hannah: That’s a big question! I would probably say not to ever let people stop you from being curious and questioning. I think we tend to stop people asking the daft questions as they grow up, for fear of being wrong or looking stupid. But science is all about asking why: and sometimes those mad questions turn out to be not so daft after all.

June 2017 zones are now open for applications. Sign up here for I'm a Scientist, I'm an Engineer  and new I'm a Medic, Get Me Out of Here

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