Science isn’t something that exists outside of culture, says Dr Suzi Gage, so let’s take it out of the classroom and into the community.
Happy British Science Week everyone! This is a week (well, actually 10 days but who’s counting?) where science, engineering and technology events are happening all over the country, under the banner of the British Science Association, for whom I’m a trustee.
Last year’s British Science Week saw more than 5,000 events taking place, ranging from small grassroots activities put on by enthusiastic parents and teachers, to debates and larger events like science fairs.
One of my earliest memories involves attending an event like this – while my family were visiting friends in Edinburgh. The details are hazy, but I remember taking part in some demos, and whatever the activity was, I did it well enough to win some issues of a science magazine, which became a prized possession for a few years.
I was a curious child already, always keen to understand how things worked, always asking ‘why?’ I even wrote to Jim’ll Fix It because I wanted to learn how neon lights were made, though – probably for the best – I didn’t hear back. I was also quite a show-off, and being encouraged at a public event like this would certainly have given me a proud glow and a feeling that science was a thing I could do.
“Even if I had never become an active scientist, studying science made sense to me. The skills I learned – critical thinking, weighing up evidence – would be useful in all sorts of careers.”
I wouldn’t say, though, that I planned from a young age to be a scientist. I really enjoyed playing music, and studying English at school as well. But this is no bad thing. To me, science isn’t something that exists outside of culture – it’s another way of seeing, examining and understanding the world around you, in the same way that art, literature and music can be.
Even when studying psychology at UCL as an undergraduate, I didn’t really realise that ‘academic scientist’ was a career in a way other than becoming a lecturer at a university. I had no idea research careers like the one I’m now pursuing (I’m currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bristol, studying drug use and mental health) even existed. But even if I had never become an active scientist, studying science made sense to me. The skills I learned – critical thinking, weighing up evidence – would be useful in all sorts of careers.
This year, as part of British Science Week, the BSA has organised for a variety of locations around the country to open their doors to the public as part of an initiative called Behind the Scenes. The idea is a kind of open-door day, showcasing the science, technology and engineering that is happening in peoples’ communities.
It sounds amazing. There are three Royal Mail centres involved, and engineers will be on hand to talk about automated postal systems and to discuss potential science and engineering careers in the field.
Even Bletchley Park, the Victorian mansion in Buckinghamshire where the Allied Forces’ code-breaking efforts were based, will be hosting workshops. L’Oréal, Stansted Airport and Cancer Research UK are among other organisations taking part. As a kid I would have LOVED this (in fact, I would love to sneak in to some of these events even now, if I’m honest).
British Science Week is a fantastic way for kids with enquiring minds to learn about science, technology and engineering on their doorstep. Taking science out of the classroom and embedding it in communities and culture is of huge importance to showcase its relevance in society and the wealth and breadth of opportunities that are associated with it. Now, I’m off to check out British Science Week’s website more thoroughly, as I’ve just noticed you can become a citizen science Bat Detective.1607 Views
Suzi Gage is a postdoctoral researcher at the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit in Bristol and a science blogger for the Guardian. In her spare time she has a mild obsession with synthesisers. Author photo: The Post.