Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Let's talk science!

Nothing in science has any value to society if it is not communicated’ 
– Anne Roe, The Making of a Scientist (1953).

As relayed in the quote above, communicating scientific research to the general public is immensely valuable and something we particularly strive to do at SITraN. Since starting my PhD in 2013 I have been inspired by the amount of outreach carried out in the department and personally I have been lucky enough to get involved in several outreach projects to communicate areas of my own research, including neuroscience, motor neurone disease (MND) and zebrafish research.

Talking about my zebrafish and MND research to A-level students.

A particular highlight over the past couple of years has been organising a workshop for the Discover STEM programme at the University in conjunction with the University’s aquarium, based at the Bateson Centre. As part of the programme, students from the region visit the University during their sixth form to take part in subject specific workshops in the Science and Engineering faculties. Students who take part in the scheme will be the first in their family to attend University and are from schools and/or postcodes where there is generally a low progression rate to higher education. Postgraduate students like me help to develop and deliver these sessions. It is a great opportunity for the students to experience research carried out at the University and hopefully inspire them to consider a scientific career in the future. 

The zebrafish embryos are transparent and ideal to investigate
early development of the nervous system.

The session I developed focussed on zebrafish and MND research at the University, which is the focus of my own PhD. The first half of the session consisted of a ‘mini-lecture’ where I discussed how I got into doing a PhD and background into the research I do. The second half of the session involved rotating the students round different lab-based practical stations – training them to be future zebrafish researchers. To name but a few things, they had tours around our aquariums, learned how to collect new born zebrafish embryos and used the microscopes to look at zebrafish at different stages of development.

A tour around the zebrafish aquariums at the Bateson Centre.

By the end of the session the students had a taste of what it is like to be a researcher working with zebrafish, an understanding of MND and information on the MND Association who fund my research. I was exceptionally pleased with the feedback I received from all the students, with 76% scoring the workshop 8/10 or more. 

Looking at zebrafish under the microscope.

Not only has being involved in outreach allowed me to teach the general public about research at the university, it has also enabled me to develop a deeper understanding of my own work. After all ‘you don’t really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother’ (quote, attributed to Albert Einstein) – or a class full of A-level students!

By Natalie Rounding

Natalie is an MND Association funded PhD student in Andy Grierson’s team, working on a new zebrafish model for MND. You can follow her on Twitter @natalierounding.

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