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Finding out what scientists do at Junior Inspire talk

Published on 18/12/16

Tuesday afternoon’s Junior Inspire Event really lived up to its billing, with a truly inspirational talk entitled, ‘What do scientists really do in their work?’ by Dr Emily Camm from the Department of Physiology, Development & Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, who is also the parent of one of our Pre-prep pupils.

Dr Camm gave her Year 6 audience a unique insight into the daily tasks carried out by a research scientist, looking at her varied weekly schedule of activities. This includes practical tasks like collecting tissues for research studies and preparing chemicals for experiments, using computers for data analysis and statistics, administrative tasks like reviewing PhD applications and progressing her own career, and teaching responsibilities like lecturing, supervising undergraduate practical classes and marking essays.

It was really helpful for the girls to gain more of an insight into the links between what they learn in Science at school and what happens in the real world of research. For example, Year 6 have recently been learning about dissolving, something which Dr Camm puts to good use in making up solutions in the lab, and they get lots of practice at recording and presenting results from practical activities in the form of data tables and graphs, which Dr Camm uses on a regular basis in processing her results for publication in scientific journals.

Dr Camm brought along a life-sized model of a foetus to help bring her field of research into factors affecting development more vividly to life for her young audience. A lively discussion ensued around the model, with the girls asking lots of thoughtful and searching questions about foetal development and its effects on later life and also about the working lives of research scientists.

What came across clearly was Dr Camm’s enjoyment of what she does, with benefits like opportunities for overseas travel, working with people from a wide range of backgrounds and flexible working hours which help with childcare. She also discussed the growing presence of women and people from a range of backgrounds in scientific research, challenging the traditional stereotype of the middle-aged male ‘boffin’. It was encouraging at the end of the session to see that, when asked, a number of the girls expressed an interest in pursuing a scientific career.

We are extremely grateful to Dr Camm for taking the time to come and speak to our students and coping admirably with an audience somewhat younger than what she is used to! We are now looking forward to rounding off an inspirational week with the second of our speakers, Mr John Daniel, another member of our parent body, who will be sharing with us his rich experience of working as a geologist in the oil industry, in a lunchtime talk entitled ‘The Age of Hydrocarbon Man’.