Monday, 21 April 2014

Heckles, Dolphins and Quizzes - The NeuroGirls venture into community schools

I’ll admit it, of all the things I thought might happen during my illustrious and highly glamorous career as a neuroscience PhD student, being heckled by a thirteen year old shouting “GABA”, was not on my list.
It all began when bright eyed and bushy tailed in my first year, I turned to the other girls in my office. “Hey! They want speakers for schools, maybe we should do a brain talk together?” The other girls agreed and the NeuroGirls were born.

Our first talk that first year was dreadful in a feeling-sick, scared-of-thousands-of-tiny-possibly-mean-children kind of way. We narrowly escaped the teachers ditching us with the children and skiving off for a cup of tea and a natter with the librarian! Although we’d had some training and were covered by STEM ambassador insurance, we explained that as we were not trained teachers we therefore should not be left alone with the many many (ok probably about 30) kiddies… 

Credit: Robert Harding Picture Library / SuperStock 
That first moment before you launch into your talk is scary no matter what you are speaking about and who you are speaking to. We had a sea of bright young faces, mostly looking interested and ready to be entertained! I gulped, wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans and launched forth about the mysteries of the wonderful cerebellum and why exactly it enabled David Beckham to score all his goals and allowed dolphins to jump through hoops of burning fire.

The kiddies were entranced. Ok, the squirrel video might have helped. But having enthusiasm for your subject helps bucket loads too. This year, we set ourselves a tougher goal. Seven talks instead of four. Year 9-11s instead of lovely year 7s. Gulp.

So, we decided to provide a little incentive for our audience. We made a quiz! A lovely brain quiz with, and this is important to those teenage blighters, prizes. We each talked for about 10 minutes, then did 5 questions on what we’d spoken about. It worked like a charm, even the sulkiest of adolencents perked up! However, one of my questions was “Name a neurotransmitter”. And so, back to the heckling! And, dear reader, it didn’t just happen the once. I was heckled with GABA on multiple occasions. After the first time, I could hear the other two girls cracking up behind me. Charming…

I must say though, the heckling hasn’t put me off the talks at all. All three of us are keener than ever to go back again next year. Maybe we’ll do nine schools this year, who knows?? Because engaging with kids, telling them about what you do and why you love it  is one of the favourite parts of my job. And if I help even one of those students            NeuroGirls at Birley Community College          with a decision about what to study in the future, it’s worth it. 

Being positive female role models in science doesn’t hurt either. 

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