Imagine a talent show where contestants get voted off depending on their skills in their area of choice. Then imagine that this talent show is populated by geoscientists with school students voting them off based on the scientist’s ability to communicate their research well. This is the basis of an educational initiative called I’m a Geoscientist, a spinoff of UK’s I’m a Scientist. I’m a Geoscientist is funded by the EGU and, as such, it’s open to Union members, as well as all teachers who have participated in EGU’s Geoscience Information For Teachers (GIFT) workshops.
The first event of the programme ran in the summer of 2014 and following its success, was repeated in March of this year. A total of 200 students, from across 13 international schools, were able to engage with and learn from five European geoscientists. Students connected with the scientists by talking to them directly during hour-long live chats, by posting questions to them (ASK) or by reading the scientists on-line profile. The participating students enjoyed the event, with 99% (!) of registered students actively taking part by putting questions to the scientists and/or voting for them to remain in the competition.
Over the two week event, the scientists were faced with in excess of 250 ASK questions! The students were particularly interested in aspects of the geoscientists’ research, meaning they came up with well-thought-out questions covering a number of fields: the geoscience of other planets, extreme events and super volcanoes. “Oceans are very big and vast, can they really be threatened by human action?” It wasn’t just geosciences the students wanted to know about. The scientists also had to field questions about the practical aspects of their, such as: “What was your biggest challenge while working in the field?”, and share study and career tips.
The on-line chats where lively too. The scientists proved to be good at communicating the essence of what geoscience is, allowing students to start making connections between the geosciences and wider culture such as referencing books and sci-fi. Students were enthused by the discussions and often wanted to know more, asking ‘what if?’ style questions. Faced with some challenging queries the scientists did a great job of making even the most complex science accessible to the inquisitive students.
“How long could we survive without the atmosphere?” (student)
“We wouldn’t survive very long at all without the atmosphere! We need air to breath, but also the atmosphere keeps us safe from the sun! Without the atmosphere the heat from the sun would boil away all the oceans :s” (Rhian Meara, scientist).
After a hectic two weeks of questioning, probing and voting, Andi Rudersdorf, a PhD candidate in seismology at Aachen University, Germany, was crowned the winner of the 2015 event. Of his time in the competition Andi says “I learned a lot! I learned from the other contestants, from finding answers to challenging questions, and also from the students!” Being voted for by the students as the event champion, Andi wins €500 to communicate his work with the wider public. “With the money I would prepare a day out for many, many interested students to understand what earthquakes and natural hazards mean to all of us in real life.” It’s not just about the scientists! In recognition of great engagement and questions during the event, one of the participating students will also receive a certificate.
If you would like to get in contact with the EGU about I’m a Geoscientist or any of our other education initiatives, please contact Bárbara Ferreira at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read the full report on the event here.