Promoting public engagement with contemporary science plays an important part in ensuring that today’s scientific research has a healthy future. We encourage and support students and scientists in their outreach work, both with schools and the wider public.
Science and Plants for Schools (SAPS), the education programme funded by Gatsby, plays a key role in promoting outreach and engagement activities within the plant science community. Members of the SAPS team attend the main plant science conferences throughout the year, presenting to organisations such as the Society for Experimental Biology, UK Plant Science Federation, GARNet, and the Gatsby Plant Science Network. As a result, plant scientists from a number of institutions have enthusiastically volunteered to lecture to secondary biology teachers to help keep their science knowledge current, and to work with learners of all ages.
Gatsby-funded plant science students take part in outreach training during their Gatsby Training weekends, designed to get them thinking about how they communicate the importance of their subject. Many of them have since taken part in outreach activities at their universities, ranging from visits to school classrooms to hosting an activity at a science festival.
The Sainsbury Laboratory - Norwich has run a public engagement programme for many years, largely in conjunction with the John Innes Centre. Activities have included regular public lectures, together with lively events targeted at young scientists thinking of studying biology at University.
With help from the SAPS team, researchers at the Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge University have worked with the Sutton Trust Summer School to plan and run a successful event for 30 gifted but disadvantaged teenagers. Feedback from the teenagers and staff was excellent, with pupils reporting that it had really changed their attitudes to plant science: some are now considering studying plant science at university. The scientists enjoyed themselves just as much, having the chance to share their enthusiasm for the subject with a generation whose scientific curiosity often goes unrecognised. Indeed, both the Sainsbury Laboratories have welcomed young scientists studying A-level biology for a summer’s challenging work experience as part of the prestigious Nuffield Foundation Science Bursary scheme.
Gatsby hopes that the wide range of activities in which members of the Plant Science Network and beyond engage will create a better understanding of plant science research in the UK, and will grow tomorrow’s generation of committed scientists.