“Science in Health”
Clarity of purpose
We aim to inspire and inform secondary school students seeking career opportunities in biomedical science and medicine via a coordinated and evolving set of programmes and resources (www.cardiff.ac.uk/medicine/push).
A “Science in Health-Live (SIH-Live)” event held over one day during “National Science and Engineering Week”, has become a regular fixture in the Cardiff University School of Medicine (CUSOM) calendar and now attracts over 500 Yr12 pupils from across Wales. To our knowledge, there is no equivalent event in the UK of comparable scope and scale. The event involves more than 150 members of staff, from postgraduates to Professors, who provide a diverse range of short talks, science theatre, stand-up comedy (CUSOM has claim to perhaps the UK’s only stand-up comedy neuroscientist in Dr Dean Burnett!), a science quiz and interactive exhibits and laboratory tours.
Upon arrival at SIH-Live, a DVD provides an account (through a series of interviews with Cardiff University scientists) of scientific breakthroughs in both medical research and clinical practice that have occurred in Cardiff in recent years. The closing event of the day has variously included a “Question Time”-style session in which topical science/health related questions are posed by students to a panel of experts or a session profiling the careers of leading clinical and non-clinical investigators from within CUSOM in which each investigator briefly explains how their science, education and personal interests have led them down distinct career paths.
The overall aim of SIH-Live is to excite students about science by allowing them direct access to Cardiff University research that is having a real impact on medical and clinical practice worldwide. The students gain an overview of the diverse basic science undertaken at the University and are given an appreciation of how this ongoing work is leading to new insights that can both prevent and cure disease.
A distinctive feature of SIH-Live is the number of laboratory tours. SIH-Live2012 (8th March) provided 20 different tours and 1140 student placements involving principal investigators, research fellows/staff and Ph.D. students. Each one-hour tour is designed to introduce and expose the students to a research laboratory environment, describe experimental approaches at first-hand, be as interactive as possible and provide an opportunity for students to discuss potential career options. All visiting students have the opportunity to participate in two tours; the chance to spend time in actual laboratories is greatly appreciated by the students and the popularity of the tours is reflected in our evaluation processes.
To further expand upon these activities, we piloted a novel work experience scheme in Summer 2011. Over three weeks, 30 very enthusiastic Yr 12 students who had discovered our scheme through SIH-Live were given a further taste of the research environment within CUSOM. The pupils came from schools in Cardiff and the South Wales valleys. On the first morning, the students received a general introduction to the week ahead including an outline of the nature of work undertaken in research laboratories and a discussion on the role animal experimentation plays in both basic biomedical research and the development of new medical treatments and an exploration of the relevant animal husbandry regulations and legislation. For the remainder of the week, the students had a range of “hands-on” laboratory experiences working in trios with several different investigators and their research groups. The students had opportunities to experience at first hand, cutting edge-technologies such as flow cytometry, cellular immunology, mass spectrometry, recombinant DNA manipulation and sequencing. On the final afternoon, the students came together to discuss what they had enjoyed/disliked about the week and whether their attitudes to animal experimentation had changed. Future objectives are to expand the work experience opportunities within SOM.
A monthly “Science in Health Public Lecture Series” whereby local six form students have the opportunity to meet with the speaker (academic/journalist) prior to the lecture further augments our range of activities. Recent hot topics for the lectures have included transplantation, autism, Human Papilloma Virus vaccination, the health effects of climate change, vitamin D and sunshine, alcohol and liver disease, stem cells for tissue repair, depression and obesity. The remit of these lectures is to open up areas of concern in healthcare and to present new research on contemporary health issues from within and without Cardiff University. The lectures have proven to be tremendously popular with students perhaps because before the lecture the students have the chance to quiz the speaker about their work, chosen career path and influences.
We are very aware of the importance of evaluating each of our various initiatives. Hence, for our SIH events we have a register and students and teachers are provided with evaluation forms that collect data on whether the event has been beneficial and whether it has influenced the career/higher education decision of students. An incentive to compete the survey is provided by a prize quiz competition. We are also running a ‘Bristol Online Survey’ to evaluate whether Yr 13 students, who have previously attended our events, have had their higher education choices influenced. “Google Analytics” software allows us to monitor the traffic on our web pages including total numbers of visitors, new visitors and duration of time spent on each web page. Incidentally, since the generation of our web site in November 2010 we have received approximately 6000 hits.
The diverse range of SIH activities is financed by an annual ring-fenced award from CUSOM and maintained by a long-standing commitment from large numbers of enthusiastic permanent staff and post-graduate/doctoral students working in an institutional environment where engagement activity has become highly valued. We think it vital that secondary school students living further afield should also have an opportunity of accessing our resources. Thus the Public Lectures and aspects of SIH-Live are video-recorded and posted on the CUSOM website. We hope that through our combined initiatives we can engage with the next generation of potential doctors and life scientists and, in so doing, help secure the future health and economic well-being of our community.