Saturday 29 April 2017

SciFest 2017 - rules of engagement

Like the calendar of the saints, things come round again each year in their season: Christmas and Easter, the first cuckoo, the first swallow, shearing, lambing. Those good events happen mostly at home but The Institute has its calendar as well and the end of April is SciFest time when youngsters get to present their investigations at the frontiers of science. There are prizes to award but I find that a distraction because the best part of the day is talking to the kids about what they have discovered and how they found out what they now know.  I've done this every year since I started at The Institute in 2013 - 2014 - 2015 - 2016 and now it's 2017. I must have had a sensible adult-to-adult conversation with about 100 teenagers over the last 5 years and know a bit about what works with/for me and what doesn't work so well. It's evolving as I get more, and different, experience but it is beginning to gel into a <aaargh noooo! too much in the listiverse already> list.
  • DO have a clearly stated hypothesis
    • DO test it - that's science
  • DO make a poster
    • DO make sure the print can be read by an old chap at about 2m distance
    • DO print: hand-writing, even in colour, looks like kindergarten
    • DON'T make it too slick: 2A0 or A0 laminated [that will be €60 please] makes it look your Dad runs a print shop
    • DO include your names . . . maybe even mug-shots
    • DO include your teacher's name
      • DO acknowledge, by name, others who helped
    • DO include the name of your school
    • DO include pictures / charts: they beat words 1000:1
    • DON'T have block of text with more than 50 words: they will not be read
  • DO make a booklet or report
    • DO include the primary data
    • DO take all the wordy stuff off the poster and pop it in here
    • DO put names and affiliations on the outside of the booklet
  • Some scientists make an A5 or A4 version of the poster as a handout.That's good because
    • it includes your names and affiliation
    • is in the possession of the judge later at the judging
    • ensures that the big poster is readable at 2m
  • DO bring something other than paper-work: a model, a sample, a bit of kit
  • DON'T make bar-charts where the contrasting colours are excel-blue and excel-green they looks too similar: shocking-pink vs excel-blue will do nicely - especially if you are comparing responses/opinions of girls and boys [as you so often are]. Sometimes a line-graph is better than a bar-chart.
    • bar-charts without error bars invite skepticism about lack of replication
  • DO stand up when the old buffer comes to your table
  • DO speak clearly and DON'T read the bloody poster - judge isn't interested in the back of your head . . . no matter how sharp your hair-cut
  • DON'T leave all the talking to Ms Gabby: makes the rest look like passengers
  • DON'T be intimidated: DO push back: DO believe in your own integrity and the quality of your work
  • DO say "thanks for stopping by" at the end of the interview
  • DO offer a hand to shake: it implies two scientists of equal standing; demands respect
  • DO make time to see the competition: it's your day out and you may learn something new or make a new friend <shock> in a different school.
  • DO ignore all these instructions - make your own rules!

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