Opportunities to learn from real scientists with ScotSci

This guest blog was written by Ellie Wood, PhD student at the University of Edinburgh and ScotSci committee member.

ScotSci is a science communication organisation based in Edinburgh, Scotland. We aim to give people the chance to learn from real scientists and encourage discussion about STEM subjects. ScotSci was established in 2019 by volunteers who believe that everyone can benefit from learning more about research, how science works and how it applies to our lives. We run (mostly free) events that enable adults and young people to engage with professional scientists.

When we started, all of ScotSci’s events happened in person. We hosted our flagship event, a monthly SciScreen, at a venue in Edinburgh where a scientist would give a ~20 minute talk about their research followed by a Q&A and a screening of a film on a related topic. For example, once we had a palaeontologist talk about her research on pterosaurs (sometimes called “flying dinosaurs” but they weren’t actually dinosaurs!) and watched Jurassic Park. Sometimes, researchers have lots to say (good and bad) about the depiction of science in the film (is it really possible to reconstruct dinosaur DNA extracted from fossilised mosquitoes? Sadly not!).

Currently, of course, we run our events online and it can feel a shame not to meet the amazing scientists involved in real life. But hosting events online means that in some ways they are now accessible to a much wider audience, which is wonderful. Scientists and non-scientists from all over the world can join. One of our speakers last year kindly told us all about his research on exoplanets and machine learning well past his bedtime in Japan! We still run SciScreens online but usually recommend watching a film (which you can choose to watch or not) that’s readily available on streaming platforms rather than showing it.

We also hold debates (like one on veganism last year) and have participated in festivals like Being Human, where last year we held an event on super smelling! Recently, we hosted our first AskAScientist – a Q&A with a panel of experts – on COVID-19 vaccines. It was very successful because the audience asked brilliant questions and the panel of medics and researchers could explain current knowledge in clear and simple terms directly to the public. This style of event really gets to the heart of what we do: putting people in touch with real scientists so that they can ask direct questions about their work.

Events like AskAScientist are a good place for young people considering working in science to ask scientists questions and hear about the kinds of topics they grapple with day to day. We are planning lots more AskAScientists and similar events on different topics throughout the year, and are also always open to suggestions for events or collaborations (e.g. with schools). We would be happy to hear what kind of topics you want to learn more about.

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If you want to get in touch with us you can email us directly at ScotSciEdinburgh@gmail.com, find us at our website or on Twitter. You can sign up to our monthly newsletter (click on “Contact” on our website) to hear about upcoming events and for other science news. We recently started to record our events and put videos up on YouTube too, if you want to catch up on some previous events.