I'm an idiot, but an excited one!

A first post

I'm a Scientist - Get me out of here

What on Earth am I letting myself in for?
A few weeks ago I was rash enough to respond to an email and apply to take part in “I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here”, (IAS2010) later this month (June 14th - 25th 2010).

What is it?
Simply put, a brilliant way of getting around 8,000 secondary school pupils (Yrs 9-13) to interact with ‘real’ scientists in a two way conversation, over two weeks, in the middle of June. Around 100 scientists have been selected/volunteered and allocated to particular ‘Zones’ depending on their expertise; each zone is home to a maximum of 5 victims……..sorry, scientists (I’m in the ‘Clean Zone’). The students converse with scientists by posting questions and taking part in live web chats. After just over a week of pleasantries the evictions begin, each day the votes are counted and the scientist with the least number is asked to leave, ‘Get Me Out of Talent Factor’ style, but more nicely I hope. This ‘culling’ continues until there’s only one quaking lab coat left, the winner collecting £500 to be used in communicating their science. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it, not that I think I'm going to walk away with the wad, I just have to answer a question in my profile stating an intention. Any suggestions?

Why am I taking part?
The trite answer is that I want to communicate with young people about science. The real answer is "I haven’t got a clue, I must be insane." I like talking about science and sciencey related topics and, to be honest, am happy to talk about anything to anyone, often being known to talk utter gibberish on a subject I know nothing about. However, talking to young people in an attempt to ‘impress’ them scares me rigid, I can’t even impress my two-year-old daughter, let alone a bunch of switched on adolescents. As a generation they have easy access to pretty much all the same information as me, if I get it wrong I’ll be out on my ear in very short order. Having read some questions posted during the March event, I’m up to my neck in great steaming piles of excrement. Yes, there are the simple ones, like ‘Do you have children?’ easy, but then there’s ‘Do you think that nuclear power is better or worse than renewable energy? Why?’ or ‘Why do cows burp so much? Because they are killing our planet! I know we need them but can’t we contain the methane?’ answer those with a snippy one liner if you can!? On top of this, for the final week I’ll be staying in a hotel in London! No exciting things to convey from the lab, missing out on answering questions quickly and very busy for the whole week. Hope the iPhone battery holds out or I’m lost.

Are the scientists any good?
The talent and age range of the scientists taking part is impressive. I’ve read a few of their profiles (their jokes and snappy one line answers) and am honoured to be in their company. The breadth of expertise and scope of some of their work is inspiring, go and have a look! There are four of us taking part from York (Joanna Buckley, Tom Hartley, Louise Dash and me), all in different zones, a good thing as we’ve already met up for a coffee and mutual support, any Zone tension wouldn’t be nice. I guess we’ll be on the harder stuff by the end of the first week.....or day!

How do I think I’ll fare?
I share the Clean Zone with four good scientists and start at the back of the grid, my profile is the most long-winded, self-valedictory pile of tripe. My zone colleagues are Sarah, who's work in The Gambia seems far more worthy, Panos, who I met at a couple of conferences when he was in Oxford, an excellent scientist and now Prof Panos at Nottingham, Michael, a lecturer at Nottingham Trent, gets paid to communicate so knows what he’s doing, and finally, another Mark, at Manchester, who'll get the ‘Aww’ vote as he married his childhood sweetheart!? I’m completely screwed! I might have a secret lifeline up my sleeve, to get me through one eviction, but it’s a bit of a desperate option. On the other hand I've a competitive streak and a desire to win and be liked, however vicariously ;-)

What do I want to get out of it?
If a come through this mauling by a phalanx of bright, intelligent and enthusiastic teenagers, having not turned any away from Science and maybe, just maybe, had the privilege of encouraging one of their number to pursue a career in science (preferably not Physics…sorry David/Brian et al. way too much LHC and star gazing around at the moment) then I’ll be a happy Scientist.

Am I looking forward to it?
You Betcha!

I’ll Twitter (@DrMarkJFogg) about the experience, however it turns out. Event feed found at #IAS2010

I’d like to wish the very best of luck to all the scientists taking part in IAS2010, particularly the rest of the Yorkie contingent and my colleagues in the Clean Zone.

Just one request to make of the students taking part, be gentle with us.


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