A day with a difference: Schools’ Day 2023

A day with a difference: Schools’ Day 2023

A day with a difference: Schools’ Day 2023

One chilly spring morning, just before 7am, I began cycling to the bus stop. In many ways, this was a typical commute to work. But it felt different. One factor might have been that I was leaving rather earlier than usual. Another was what my workday had in store – the return of Schools’ Day, and the culmination of six months of preparation.

Schools’ Day is the Institute’s flagship school engagement event, running since 1994. For many people at the Institute the day, or rather the engagement the day supports, is the highlight of their public engagement calendar. At Schools’ Day, students from local (and not-so-local) secondary schools and sixth-forms visit the Institute and gain experience of bioscience research through hands-on projects. The practical focus is key, with many students using new techniques and equipment not available to them in schools, from micropipettes to microscopes.

This year’s event was the first Schools’ Day since 2020, and as such my first Schools’ Day – despite working as the Institute’s Schools Public Engagement Officer for two and a half years! As I arrived at work and put together the final preparations with the rest of the Public Engagement team, my excitement mingled with nerves. What if a school didn’t show up? What if there was a fire alarm, or a power cut? Mentally running through these ‘what ifs’ is a useful exercise when managing any complex event, but there comes a point where you have to trust your past self to have planned effectively and get on with things. Thankfully, visitors soon started to arrive to distract me.

After a welcome from Dr Simon Cook, Babraham Institute Director, and a brief introduction to the Institute, students were split into groups and escorted by Institute researchers to the labs to begin one of twenty practical projects. The investigations covered the breadth of Institute research, from monitoring cancer-killing T cells to identifying genetic mutations in yeast. Meanwhile, teachers were given a tour of one of our science facilities, followed by an in-depth discussion of the ways we engage public audiences with our research and the educational resources we have available on our website. Once the project sessions were over, students and teachers reconvened for a talk on science career and education pathways from PhD student Marian Jones Evans.

Once school groups had departed, there was just about time to grab a quick lunch before the afternoon cohort began to arrive and we started over again! Such is the popularity of Schools’ Day, that we run morning and afternoon sessions to accommodate all the schools wanting to take part. Even then, places are restricted with only a handful of students per school able to attend. This year, we welcomed around 170 students from 28 schools and colleges.

As with previous years, the feedback we received on the event was overwhelmingly positive. On average, students rated their enjoyment of the event 4.4 stars out of 5, while over 80% were able to name a new technique, process, or piece of equipment they had used at Schools’ Day for the first time. Teachers were similarly enthusiastic, with 88% saying they were “extremely likely” to recommend Schools’ Day to a friend or colleague. When asked to elaborate, one remarked:

“The morning’s activities were well thought through and organised and pupils were really engaged in the project work. It is a fantastic opportunity for pupils to have a taste of what it is like to work in a research lab.”

Another commented simply that it was an “incredibly inspiring day from start to finish”.

It’s fantastic that Schools’ Day has helped so many students – over 3,000 at the last count – learn more about bioscience research, and perhaps be inspired to continue studying science. The event is a real team effort, involving many staff from across the entire Institute, but I’m delighted to have played my part in continuing the tradition. Time to start planning for next year!

You can see more photos from Schools' Day 2023 in our event gallery.