STEM Insights teacher placements: Ensuring impact for science
Our week at the Babraham Institute included a session with the Public Engagement Team, who coordinated our STEM Insights placement. They are also responsible for developing visits and resources for schools and public events such as the Cambridge Science Festival and Lifelab.
The Communications Team are responsible for all of the media, social media and corporate publications for the Institute. They stressed the importance of being transparent in the research carried out at the institute and showed us some of the publications they have had to date. This includes the Annual Research Report which outlines all of the work published by Babraham Institute scientists. It would be interesting to direct students to these publications and use them as unbiased viewpoints for several topics.
As teachers, we can try to present balanced views, but it is often more effective for the pupils to discover a debate for themselves, as long as the sources they use are reliable. The Communications team helped point us in the direction of some fantastic resources to use for this.
Next was the Knowledge Exchange & Commercialisation team, who promote collaborations between Institute researchers and other research institutions and with commercial companies. It is easy to see how a research organisation that is further ‘downstream’ in biological research can produce spin-offs, but it was interesting to hear that even pure science institutes can do similar things. The Bioinformatics team was a good example of balancing knowledge exchange and commercialisation. In terms of advising pupils, it was clear that although a researcher might make a choice between industry and academia, there are opportunities to blur the distinction between them, or to transfer between them.
Our final session was with the Grants team, who were responsible for helping the researchers to apply for funding. The Institute cost over £30million to run last year and the BBRSC supplies about 65% of that cost, so the rest comes from other public and research council funding. I look forward to telling students at school about the funding and the importance of the work the scientists do.
I really think the students assume the funding just ‘comes from the government’ so it will be interesting to discuss this and address misconceptions. While it might be too early in their scientific careers to explore this issue, I can see the possibility of designing a resource to test pupils’ scientific understanding around the concept of grant application writing.