Tuesday, 3 October 2017

I'm a Researcher: Thoughts, reflections, and more questions

On Friday I became a runner-up in the Curiosity Carnival's "I'm a Researcher; Get me out of here" event (check out my profile page for this here). I'm a Researcher was a collection of interactions between Researchers from a range of areas and backgrounds and secondary school students in the Oxfordshire area. There were three kinds of interactions between the researchers, and the students. ASK questions, in which students were able to ask questions directly to one or more of the 22 researchers that were involved over a three week period. There were fast-paced live chats, where a small group of the researchers would be involved in a live chat with a full class of students. These 30 minute chats passed by in what felt like seconds with the speed that questions were posted and the wide scope of questions asked to each of us. Finally, on Friday we had the live final. I was super excited to have been voted in to the final, where five of the researchers got to speak a little about themselves and their work, and answer questions from the live audience. Congratulations to Priyanka Dhopade who took the win, and donated the winnings to a charity that works to get girls into STEM subjects. It was a well deserved win, and I love the charity of choice. I also love my lego runner-up prize!

My runner-up prize. I've named him gReg the R jester. He judges me on my R scripts. Look at that smug face, mocking me.

The range of questions (in each of the formats) was inspiring, ranging from simple "how long have you been a researcher?" or "what's your thesis about?", to the more difficult "What part of your research can improve mental health to make people happier?" or "what do you hope to achieve with your research?". The latter questions took some time for me to consider, and I do feel like some required a much more in-depth response. Sadly, in a chat room, writing a long post to fully address all angles of a question is somewhat challenging.

The whole event was an eye-opening experience, and now that I have had some time to process what started as 'just' a public engagement exercise for me. Now, I am fully convinced in the importance of these events as an additional avenue to interact with the next generation of researchers. They deserve to know more about what research and being a researcher entails. Also, for those of them considering university and research more broadly, they should know what they might be getting themselves in for.

"Umm, my name is Sam and I, er, try to do science..."

An example; "what is the best thing about being a researcher?". The answers cover so many aspects that make working in research an awesome thing to have as a career. But, by the nature of the question itself, it completely misses what are the bad things about being a researcher. 

So, are we giving potential future researchers an accurate picture of research life? I don't think so.

What I am planning to do therefore, is to take a selection of the questions that I have recorded and spend some more time answering them from my current perspective. These are questions from teenagers interested at the very least in a direct answer. But, at the most, these questions might come from someone who is interested in pursuing a career in psychological research. I'm not coming from any privileged perspective on what things are like for everyone, but I can give an honest account of my experiences.

Watch this space for blog posts and maybe a podcast or two (if I can figure out recording one and don't hate my voice too much). Feel free to comment with questions you wish you had an answer to before heading into research or University. Also, post them to my twitter so we can discuss them more broadly!


  1. Thanks for the feedback. Much appreciated.

    Interesting idea about the accuracy of the picture portrayed. Throws up questions for me: Do young people expect only the upsides? Surely that's all they are given by any career advisor? Would encouraging researchers to talk about the downsides give an impression that research is worse than it is because you're the only ones talking about the downside? Would we get accused of doing down science?

    I'll raise the idea of including a profile question "Worst part of my job?" in our November I'm a Scientist event...


  2. Thanks for the comment Shane! definitely food for thought.

    I'm not sure if the upsides are all that are expected, there were a few questions about difficulties, but the majority were on the positive side. I think that we should be encouraging an honest picture as much as possible. I'm a Researcher helps with this in the first instance with the live chats and live final, it helps the researchers come across as people doing research, rather than an idealised characture of a perfect researcher.

    We can talk about the down sides without being overly negative. For instance, rather than "what is the worst part of my job?", how about, "what things about science or research can be improved?" or "what is one thing that you find difficult about the job?". These questions still promote a more complete and honest picture of research life, but without being too negative.

    Definitely food for thought, I'll keep this in mind for my next blog / podcast :)