Dr Yvonne Grunder, University Research Fellow, tells us how she came to be involved in an ambitious outreach project and gives her advice for anyone hoping to do something similar, in one of a series that shares public engagement experiences and advice from our Research Fellows.
The XMaS SchoolTrip is a national competition for female A Level Physics students to go to the European Synchrotron Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France. To be in with a chance of joining the trip, entrants each wrote an essay on the legacy of Dorothy Hodgkin, Nobel-prize winning X-ray crystallographer and Royal Society Fellow.
While in Grenoble, the 16 winners became scientists for the day on the Synchrotron@School programme; touring the laboratory, conducting experiments, analysing data, presenting the results and generally experiencing life as an on-site scientist.
How did you get involved?
I was involved in judging these competition entries and in organising and accompanying the trip to Grenoble. The competition is organised by the UK beamline group at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), run in turn by the Universities of Liverpool and Warwick. I got involved when invited by the directors of the beamline, Professor Chris Lucas from Liverpool and Dr Tom Hase at Warwick.
Why was this project important to you?
I was already a STEM Ambassador and thought this was a brilliant opportunity to meet some inspiring young women considering a career in science. In addition, having done my PhD at the European Synchrotron and being a frequent user of the XMaS beamline, it was great to show the girls where a large part of my scientific work is based.
How did it go?
Being involved in an activity for four full days was hard work, but I enjoyed every single minute! Spending time with girls from different backgrounds gave me new insights into how science can be communicated and I was positively surprised by how well they girls engaged in the activities. Taking the girls away from their day-to-day environment really opened them up to new experiences; seeing some of them stand up and present their results, after parents warned that their daughter was too shy to talk in front of a group, was a very positive and rewarding surprise.
Although the trip was mainly intended to be a scientific experience, being together for several days also made it personal. Aside from discussing science, we talked about the life of a scientist, speaking different languages and living in different countries, which opened my eyes to the impact role models could have. It is important to show young students not only their career opportunities, but also what their life could look like in the future.
What did the young scientists think of the project?
We got very positive feedback from the girls, who kept in touch through a shared Facebook group.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time in France on the XMaS trip. It was an enlightening and eye opening experience. Thank you to all the mentors who took care of and guided us. The visits to ESRF have opened my eyes to the world of Engineering much more than they were before. ”
How did you widen the impact of this project?
The girls’ parents and families loved following the trip through Twitter, an interest that began with keeping up with their daughters, but eventually drew them into bigger project and the work of the research facility.
Involving people from different professional backgrounds in the project also got us in contact with the ESRF communication group who published a news article, also picked up by the local Grenoble newspaper during our visit, which promoted our project and delighted the girls.
What advice would you give to other scientists?
This being the second year of the project, we were able to learn from previous expertise. It was essential to have the right people involved in its organisation. We were four adults accompanying the trip: Ally Caldecote, Ogden Physics Teacher Fellow at the University of Warwick; Ben Wright, future physics teacher; and Stephanie Glover, PhD student from the University of Warwick; in addition to myself. We also got help from Laurence Bouchenoire, one of the scientists based in Grenoble, and Yannick Lacaze, who is in charge of the synchrotron@school programme. In addition, we had administrative support through the XMaS project coordinator and funding from the EPSRC midrange facility grant and the Warwick University Widening Participation grant
Organising the trip, through discussion, planning and information evenings, as well as accompanying the trip, was a rather huge commitment and it affected the time I could commit to research. However, organising such a big outreach project was a great experience, and the activities being so different to my day-to-day work meant it never felt like additional work. I recommend anybody take the opportunity to be involved in such an activity, but to make sure they get the right support.