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Graduate project develops a school science workshop

Public outreach and engagement are a significant part of a scientist’s role, and many researchers enjoy hosting activities to share their research and knowledge with students.

Bingjie Sun, a student from China and a recent graduate of the Biological Science (Development and Regeneration of Stem Cells) Programme, worked with the Edinburgh BioQuarter Community Engagement Team to develop an outreach activity for primary pupils in the local community.

We asked to Bingjie share this experience and tells us what inspired her to pursue public engagement and outreach as part of her final year project.

Why did you choose to get involved with community engagement at Edinburgh BioQuarter?
I aspire to become a teacher and valued this opportunity to work with young people in an educational setting.

For my graduating project, I chose to develop an outreach and engagement activity with the Castlebrae Superlab, which also allowed me to develop my communication skills in both English and teaching.

Please describe your community engagement project?
I designed a workshop based on cutting edge science for school pupils. For a topic, I chose stem cells and aimed to make the workshop interesting and engaging for pupils in the 10 to 12 age group.

My hope was that after the workshop, pupils would have a greater understanding of stem cells and be inspired to engage with science again in the future.

From personal experience and interviewing other non-native English-speaking scientists, there appeared to be a lack of confidence in delivering workshops that are interesting and engaging for students – this may be caused by a language or cultural barrier.

Therefore, I created the workshop with non-native English-speaking scientists in mind and developed a workshop that focussed more on interactive elements such as videos, games, and experiments, than on speech.

From concept through to delivery, how did your project develop?
I spent several weeks volunteering with the mentoring programme and the science club at Castlebrae Superlab and gained an understanding of the interests of the young people, and a better perspective of learning.

I also had the opportunity to observe workshops taught in the local primary school, which developed an understanding of teaching across different age ranges.

Young people were involved in the development process and this helped shape the design, content and structure of the workshop. I also worked closely with Dr Cathy Southworth and Dr Dom Cairns-Gibson, of the Edinburgh BioQuarter Community Engagement Team, to develop my ideas further and they provided helpful advice to make the workshop easier to understand and more interesting for young people.

The workshop was hosted in one of Edinburgh BioQuarter’s neighbouring primary schools, with the help of the class teacher and two science communication volunteers, and was very well received.

Following this, I prepared delivery instructions with clear and simple content for future use by other scientists who also want to share their stem cell research in a similar, engaging way.

What was a challenge that you faced, and how did you overcome it?
For me, the biggest challenge was English as this is not my mother tongue. I had concerns that I would not be able to communicate well with pupils and spark interest in class.

With the help of Cathy and Dom, I took part in as many opportunities as possible to develop my communication skills and learn about teaching. They also assisted with the rehearsals and revisions of the workshop before successfully delivering this to pupils.

What were the benefits for you in participating in  community engagement with Edinburgh BioQuarter?
The activities I participated in provided me with invaluable skills that I will take forward and apply to my future career and plan to be a teacher.

In preparing for the workshop, I participated in many activities held by other educators and observed experiments and workshops related to physics, chemistry, and biology. I also learned a lot from the interaction with many great educators.

Completing this project has greatly improved my oral expression skills and made me more confident in communicating my ideas. I loved working with the young people to design the workshop, especially the pupils from the primary school with their enthusiasm at discovery.

Every child was a pleasure to work with and actively responded to my questions in class and participated in the activities.

I will remember my time in the Edinburgh BioQuarter for the rest of my life.