UCL Earth Sciences


Rehemat Bhatia- Skype a Scientist

30 January 2018

A voluntary scheme to match scientists with school and adult learning classes worldwide.

During January 2018 I took part in an outreach scheme called Skype a Scientist. This scheme was set up in late 2017 by Sarah McNulty, a graduate student in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Connecticut (supported by David Jenkins, graduate student at Boston University) with the aim of matching scientists with school and adult learning classes worldwide. The scheme is unfunded and scientists sign up on a voluntary basis. Scientists are matched with classrooms who require expertise from particular fields, and Skype session content is devised between the scientist and the teacher. 

I spoke with classes at 2 US high schools – Northville Central High School in Northville, New York (13-14 year olds with Ms. Jamie Dickinson) and Daniel C. Oakes High School near Denver, Colorado (with Ms. Nadene Klein). During both presentations (30 mins each) I explained concepts about my PhD research, PhD life and the basics about palaeoclimatology and its relevance to society. With the Northville class I also presented an introduction to the Palaeozoic and how geologists define geological time to support the students with a project they were working on during their science class. Ms. Dickinson sent me a video that her students produced about geological time a few weeks ago – it’s really creative and definitely worth a look! It was really rewarding to see that my presentation helped the students and informed their work.

The presentation for DC Oakes was a little bit different, as DC Oakes is an alternative high school for students aged 16-21 who are at risk for graduation for various reasons e.g. health, personal tragedy, crime. Ms. Klein also asked if I could mention if I had had to overcome any hardships during my career journey so far, both at school and at university, but I was under no obligation to if I didn’t feel comfortable. I accepted her request to incorporate this, because when I got the request from DC Oakes, it reminded me why public engagement is such an important component of being a scientist (even if you are just in training as a PhD student). In order to widen participation and increase diversity in higher education it’s important to engage students who, for example, perhaps haven’t interacted with those within this sector, don’t see themselves represented (e.g. female, ethnic minority) and/or who think they will never be able to reach a high level of education because they’ve had a rough start in life. If we interact with these groups, they might be more likely pursue higher education, especially if we make ourselves relatable and provide information in an accessible format they are familiar with. Whilst it felt somewhat strange discussing problems and obstacles I’ve had to overcome with strangers, I believe it was helpful and had a positive impact on many of the students and I’m very glad I did it.

I’m still on the mailing list for Skype a Scientist and can’t wait to be matched with another classroom. It’s a great scheme for anyone who wants to do outreach with a flexible time commitment, or can’t find the funds to travel to schools to talk with classes. I’d highly recommend taking part to other PhDs and academics within the department - it’s loads of fun!

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