Stephanie Mann, an Innovation Manager in the Catapult’s Research & Innovation team, was one of six winners in the March 2018 run of the X Factor-style online STEM engagement initiative I’m a Scientist, Get me Out of Here.
“It sounds a bit like a jungle-based insect endurance test for researchers,” says Stephanie, “but I’m a Scientist is an amazing outreach event that engages school pupils and scientists from across the UK. I applied to join in a few years ago, during my studies, and this was the first year I was invited to be involved.”
The two-week-long programme gets scientists talking to schoolchildren via an online forum, where kids can pose questions and chat live with the professionals who are invited to take part. Students then vote for their favourite scientist in their zone, and during the second week of the event one scientist is evicted from each zone every day.
Stephanie was part of the programme’s “Climate” zone, and fielded questions on topics ranging from climate change to turbine technology. “Though a little chaotic at times, the live chat sessions were really fun,” she says, “and it’s great to see how informed and engaged some of the pupils are.
“I have answered so many questions – from the likes of ‘do you like unicorns,’ to ‘if climate change was largely attributed to natural processes in the past, how do we know that human activity is the biggest contributor to climate change today?’
“I’ve also loved having the chance to answer questions outside the live chat, when you can go into a bit more depth. The other scientists in the Climate zone have been great – we’ve been bouncing off each other and I feel like I’ve made some new friends.”
After romping through several tense rounds of public voting, Stephanie was crowned the winner of her zone. “I can’t believe I won – I was just thankful to be selected to be involved,” she says.
“I was lucky enough to make it right through to the end and win the £500 prize for my section, which is to be spent on STEM activities – I hope to spend it with a local school.
“This has been such a fantastic opportunity and a highly worthwhile experience. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!
“I really enjoyed talking to the students and engaging with them on an equal level. I feel I have learned so much – especially when trying to communicate complex problems into easy-to-understand language.
“I also learned a lot about what engages kids – maybe not things like how computers process large amounts of data, but more the idea of what the results mean in real life and how they might affect us in the here and now.
“I’d like to extend a massive ‘thanks’ to the I’m a Scientist team: the moderators and organisers have been very open, reliable and helpful at every stage of the process. And the Catapult has been really supportive, giving me the time to engage in STEM activities like this.
“The best thing about it though,” Stephanie grins, “is the feeling that I’ve hopefully helped to inspire the next generation of scientists. I have loved getting to know the school kids and their teachers – overall, I’m a Scientist is something I would highly recommend to schools and my fellow scientists alike.”