What kind of questions will I get?
It can be absolutely anything – moderators will take out clearly nonsensical, or gratuitously rude questions, but that leaves a big field. Most we expect will be on the theme of communication and your own work, but we also put through questions about you as a person.
NOTE: You are not obligated to answer every question. If, for any reason, you don’t want to answer a question, that’s fine. Most will be directed to more than one person so nearly all users will get an answer from an expert in the end.
DO NOT feel you need to be up all night on Google to answer questions way out of your area. Although remember, you’ll know more than most of the students. Answer what you feel you can, but it’s fine to say you don’t know. You can suggest who they should ask, or how they could try to find out. It’s also fine to say if you had a look for the answer – “I was interested by this too, so I had a quick look. Wikipedia tells me that x” etc.
A cautionary tale. Two scientists ignored our advice to say ‘I don’t know’, Googled the answer to one question, found the same spoof site, didn’t realise the information was nonsense and repeated it in their answers. I think they must have been rushing, because it was pretty obviously nonsense if you thought about it. I hope I don’t have to say this, but use your critical faculties if you’re going outside your area and want to avoid looking silly.
There’s some examples below, with our advice, but if in doubt ask us, it’s what we’re here for!
‘Are you gay?’
This can be quite a common question. Sometimes, understandably, the student is just trying to be cheeky. But they could be a young person struggling with their identity and trying to start a conversation with a non-threatening adult about it. Because we’ve no way of knowing the difference, we will always approve this question at least once.
We recommend you’re as honest as you feel comfortable with in your answer. And bear in mind that whatever the motivation of the original questioner, there will certainly be gay teens who read your answer.
Questions about sex and relationships
If the question is relatively scientific, then answer as you would on any other topic – sex isn’t something to be ashamed of.
We won’t approve personal question which are inappropriately intrusive, but you may get things like, ‘Do you remember your first kiss?’, or, ‘Do you believe in love at first sight?’
It’s possible, but extremely unlikely, you’ll get more personal questions where students are asking for your advice about their own lives. If you do, answer in a friendly, reassuring way, but remember you are not a trained sex and relationships educator. It’s probably a good idea to refer them to accessible but reliable information (Bish’s website is a good source) and if appropriate, suggest they speak to a trusted adult or their doctor.
It’s very rare, but we occasionally get questions about bullying. Refer students to accessible but reliable information (we recommend Bullying UK) and suggest they speak to a trusted adult, if appropriate. If there seems reason for concern we will alert the teacher.
All questions are moderated before they are sent to you, in order to strike a balance between making your lives easier as expert participants and giving students the chance to ask real questions.
Merge (deduplicate) very similar questions, but allow some questions which might appear similar, but make slightly different points.
Remove rude or offensive questions, but allow challenging and irreverent questions.
Allow questions which may be unclear – you can start dialogues with students to clarify them.
Will not correct the spelling, grammar or punctuation of any students questions.
During the event experts typically spend about 1-2 hours a day participating, for the week they are live on the site. This will vary according to how busy your zone is and how much detail you go into with your answers. Some people have been known to spend a lot more (up to six hours a day), but that’s not compulsory!
Don’t worry if work is taking you abroad during the event, you can easily take part from there, as long as you have access to the internet and some free time. In fact several of our experts are permanently based outside the UK.
You can answer the questions on the site whenever is convenient for you, the only time you need to be aware of are live chats; which run through the UK school day (8.30am – 4pm). There may be a couple of after school STEM clubs which run until 5pm.
A few minutes before the chat booking you should go to the CHAT page in your zone and the chatroom will open.
Live chats are text only, a bit like Whatsapp or Facebook. You don’t need any special software or anything, just your computer and access to the internet.
Schools will sometimes take a few minutes to turn up, as the teacher is briefing the students, handing out cards, etc. Occasionally the school will not show up at all. Usually this is an IT issue. We’ll try not to make you wait around, if it looks like a class are going to be a no show, we’ll let you get on.
Chats are are booked by the teacher, to coincide with their lesson, so the time is fixed, but we don’t expect all the experts to make each one as we know you all have other commitments. We do explain this to teachers and students. As long as at least a couple of experts attend each chat the students will get a lot out of it.
It has been tested on all major browsers (even, shudder, IE6) and should be fine on machines running Windows, MacOS or Linux.
If you can access the site, edit your profile and answer questions then everything is working fine.
If you can, come to one of the drop in chat sessions to say hi, and just check that you can use the live chat. Rarely a corporate firewall or similar may block the live chats. This is more common with school firewalls, and far less common since we got better live chat technology. But best to find out in advance of the first chat booking!
Great news, you can! If this is your first I’m a Scientist experience you can apply to take part in the competitive school focused version of the event. Find more details and the application form at imascientist.org.uk/scientists
During an event – the best way to contact us is in the staffroom. There will always be a moderator or two in there chatting about sandwiches and updating teachers and experts about system problems or live chat changes.
We strongly recommend Twitter as a way to keep in touch with us, and with your fellow contestants. There is always a lot of online camaraderie with experts giving each other tips, sharing fears and joking around. The I’m a Scientist team will also be passing on the latest event news and so on.
Do bear in mind though that Twitter is a public medium and students taking part in the event may read what you say.
Please get in touch if you’ve got any questions not covered here, or you need help with anything. You can do this on twitter, to @imascientist, by email on firstname.lastname@example.org, or on +44 1225 326 892. We’re here to help!