Science Insights: the pupils’ perspective

Sixty fifth year pupils from schools all over Scotland spent a week online in July on the Science Insights Online work experience programme. Students usually join us on campus but life is a little different this year. Gracie Taylor from Firrhill High School and Evie Tynan who attends James Gillespies High School tell us how they got on with the first foray into work experience delivered online.

 

Gracie Taylor 

Pupil Gracie Taylor taking part in a Zoom sessionI first came across the Science Insights programme around a year ago when I was frantically searching for biomedical work experience. I applied in February when the week was still set to happen in person, on campus at various research institutes across the university. Then, obviously due to the pandemic, the programme was moved online. Even though I knew that I wouldn’t get the hands-on lab experience I had hoped for, I was still super-excited to get stuck in.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole week but for me the highlights were the MS clinical trials ethics workshop and the Meet the Scientists sessions that we took part in at the end of every day. As someone who is hoping to be involved in medical research, understanding some of the ethical dilemmas around clinical trials was very interesting and a side of my future career that I hadn’t ever thought about before. The sessions were nerve-wracking at first but as we went through the week, I became more confident in asking questions. It’s not very often that you have the opportunity to interact with that many scientists who are all incredibly passionate about their work so I fully embraced this opportunity. I knew that science was broad and multi-disciplinary but I had no idea of just how much potential and flexibility there was. It has made me excited more than anything just to get stuck into my scientific career.

Another highlight of my week was Dr Katie Baines’ talk about her research into equality, diversity and inclusion in STEM. I’m a young leader at my local Brownies, so empowering young girls and women so that they feel capable in STEM careers is really important to me. Katie really inspired me because she came from a scientific research background but then used her experience to drive more of a social change, something that I had no idea you could do with a science degree. Our generation more than ever is likely to completely change career paths multiple times – this is something that used to scare me but now I’ve realised how exciting this is. I honestly couldn’t tell you where I’ll end up but Science Insights has shown me that there’s a world of opportunity that is waiting for me.

I feel like not only have I gained so much insight through the programme, I’ve also grown in confidence. I’ve found that meeting like-minded people has really helped me as I now know people who are passionate about similar things and we can bounce ideas off each other. My one piece of advice to any prospective Science Insights applicants is just apply! I got so much out of the week and I know that anyone who gets a place, even if it’s online next year, won’t be disappointed.

 

Evie Tynan

Pupil Evie Tynan taking part in a Zoom sessionI was introduced to the Science Insights online programme when my biology teacher showed it to me at the start of lockdown. I knew after a little research that it would be beneficial to a keen biology student like myself who was still unsure of what to study at university so I sent in my application. I was super-excited upon receiving my acceptance email, especially having spent lockdown doing lots of uni-related research. I knew this was going to be a great opportunity for me.

I had doubts knowing that it was going to be online and thought it was a shame that we wouldn’t get the practical or social aspect as other years did, but after the first day I was pleasantly surprised. After the initial introductory session where we met the organisers and our sub-groups, we took part in a webinar about where biology can take you and why science is for everyone. I loved hearing from Generation Scotland about their work and the TeenCovidLife survey where they shared the results and how they compared with adults. It showed that lockdown impacted teenagers just as much despite being excluded from many studies outwith this one.

During the week, I enjoyed speaking to different scientists about their various research projects and learning all about life as a scientist through talks and as part of ‘meet the scientist’ sessions at the end of the day.  We heard from scientists working in developmental biology, cancer research, science communication, bioethics and much more and spoke about their careers and current work. I had no idea that a career in scientific research had so many travelling opportunities. It makes me very excited about my future.

We also listened to a few talks about animal research, its importance and the ethics involved, which sparked some very interesting questions and discussions over how you measure an animal’s sentience and why one animal is preferred for research over another. I loved hearing from Cameron Wyatt about the use of zebrafish as a model organism and the process of keeping and looking after these as well as the benefits of using them over other animals.

We also took part in other ethics discussions about multiple sclerosis and the stakeholders in a clinical trial. In small groups, we talked about informed consent and the risks involved at the different stages of a trial. It was very thought provoking but difficult to put yourself in the shoes of a patient.

On one day we managed to get hands-on from home with some practice suturing using string and plastic bands. I think I speak on behalf of all participants when I say it was very difficult! I managed to complete mine after a little trial and error.

On the final day, we took part in a webinar about the current pandemic that spoke in depth about the science behind this virus and its relatives as well as simple epidemic modeling and the use of phylogenetic trees to track how the virus has spread. I loved being able to see how my knowledge from school applied to this area and others. We also heard from Martin Reijns about testing for the virus and how they get from sample collection to results. Hearing about the pandemic from experts in the field was incredible, especially how the technologies have developed in the few months since the pandemic began. It was also brilliant hearing their professional opinions on future predictions of the virus, potential for second waves and overall how we have handled it. I felt much better hearing it directly from scientists rather than rumours circulating the media.

I loved my week with Science insights and it really highlighted to me the diversity of options both in degrees and further down the line. Having previously been concerned I wouldn’t get the same opportunities to meet new people online, the platforms we used allowed us to connect with other participants and I’ve come out with many new friends, some of which I’ve already gotten the chance to meet and I hope to be able to meet the rest in the near future. I was heavily encouraged throughout the week to keep asking questions and I’m glad I did. I learnt so much because of it and I would ask more if I could do it again. I’m so inspired by all of the scientists I was lucky enough to meet and the week has sparked many new interests I previously knew little about.

Overall, Science Insights Online was completely worth it and I’d urge any S5 pupils considering a science career to apply in coming years. The discussions that arose from all the talks I took part in were truly eye-opening and showed me a whole new side to science. I learned so much, not just about different scientific areas but also navigating a science career, which you don’t often get at school. It was a truly amazing experience and I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to take part.

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