Hi Everyone! Last week I was given the amazing opportunity to talk to school students about my research as part of the youth STEMM awards. I wanted to dedicate this post to the award, and also talk about what I have learnt about presenting to school students. Enjoy!

What is the Youth STEMM award?

The Youth STEMM award is an achievement based award for students from years 9-13, to encourage more students to pursue a career in STEMM subjects. It was only launched in 2015, but has already been a massive success.

The Youth STEMM award was developed by John Innes Centre scientist Samantha Fox, and Dr Simon Fox (Principal of Flegg High school) to encourage young people from Norfolk to explore STEMM (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine) subjects.

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Samantha Fox, and Dr Simon Fox (Image credit: John Innes Centre)

When the scheme was first launched in 2015, 22 state schools in Norfolk participated- with all female participants. Now, the award has expanded into schools from outside of Norfolk, and is available for both female and male students.

The award is similar in structure to the Duke of Edinburgh, in that there are 3 seperate stages: bronze, silver and gold. The students are encouraged to independently arrange activities and get relevent experiences in order to complete the award- learning to engage with the general public, inspire the next generation, develop skills and knowledge, and also look at different careers available in STEMM.

Along with the tasks students undertake to acheive their awards, they also get to attend conferences held mid-year and at the end of the year.

Mid-Term Conference

At this conference, students were able to talk to scientists and current PhD students from the John Innes Centre, University of East Anglia and Quadrum Institute, about their work via a poster session and stall activities.

One of the best things (in my opinion) about this type of award, and conference, is the opportunity for students to talk to scientists, and find out what they are actually doing. It is something I would have loved to be able to do when I was younger!

School science lessons are very often focussed on curriculum areas, and about learning specific facts, data, and concepts- you find out very little about what it is actually like to be a scientist working in a lab on a day to day basis. Hopefully, through these type of events, students are able to leave with a greater insight into life as a scientist, and the huge variety of careers available within STEMM.

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Students talking to some John Innes Scientists (photo credit: John Innes Centre)

After finishing with the posters and stall activities, it was time for the students to hear some science talks. For this years mid-year conference myself, and volcanologist Dr Jenni Barclay from the University of East Anglia- who also gave a impressive volcanic eruption demonstration- gave talks about our work and careers.

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Presenting to a room full of school students was a daunting task- but I loved every minute of it, and when I started my talk, the nerves quickly went away!

Here are some of the things I learnt through presenting my work at the Youth STEMM award, which I hope you will find useful!

Tips for Presenting science research to school students:

  • Spend time thinking about the terminology you use. Try to think of alternative words to your common scientific jargon, and if there is no alternative word remember to do a brief explanation of the term you use. Analogies are also really good for this- especially if explaining a complicated method.
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    Photo credit: John Innes Centre

  • Make your content relatable- I actually got this idea from my Dad who used to be a science teacher. He said one of the best ways to interest kids in your work is to show them how your work is directly relatable to something they use everyday/ or do everyday. For me, my project looks at the use of plant compounds for skin health- so I included a slide which talked about some of the available products on the market which boast about using plant extracts for specific health benefits.
  • Make sure you answer the big question– why is your work important? Why are you looking at “x”. Again, this helps to create the bigger picture.
  • Remember your audience! Yes, your audience are school students so you need to simplify the terminology you use, and not put in all the scientific data and stats- but school kids are not stupid! Don’t dumb down what you are working on, approach it from a different angle. Think about the big TV science personalities such as Prof Brian Cox, Dr Alice Roberts, and Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock- they still talk about complicated science, but in a way that members of the general public, no matter there background, will understand
  • Speak about yourself, not just your work. This I think is especially important when communicating to school students about STEMM. Its good to know a bit about your background, and the route which led you to where you are today.
  • Use props! I didn’t use props- but Dr Jenni Barclay did, in order to show a specific concept related to volcanoes and Lava. This can be a much more effective way of talking about a concept which doesn’t relate into words so well.
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    Photo credit: John Innes Centre

    And lastly, enjoy yourself and remember you know more about your research than the audience!

Thank you so much to Samantha Fox for inviting me to speak at the Youth STEMM awards, it was an amazing opportunity, and a great experience!

If you are interested in more about the Youth STEMM award check out their website: https://ysawards.co.uk/ and twitter feed: Follow YSA on twitter: @YouthSTEMM

Photo Credit: all photos courtesy of John Innes Centre Photography

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