JIC Undergraduate Summer School

Every summer since 2010 the John Innes Centre (JIC) and The Sainsbury Lab (TSL) have hosted a group of undergraduates for 8 weeks. The students get to work on their own research project in labs during the week, and then get the opportunity to present their work at a retreat at the end of the two months. It’s a great opportunity to get practical experience, especially before embarking on their final year projects, or beyond (many future PhD students, we hope!). On Friday afternoons they attend training sessions run by the PhD students, which we hope are a fun way to enhance their experience here at JIC and broaden their skill set. I have helped at the summer school every year since I joined JIC and this year I was heading up a team of PhD students in charge of introducing the Undergrads to Science Communication. In my team I had Richard Payne, Annis Richardson and Izzy Web and I felt confident we could deliver an exciting activity that would be a good introduction.

After some discussions between ourselves and with Dr Tristan McLean from BBSRC a plan started to form. The students arrived from all over the world and started to settle in at the start of July, and the science communication task was the first of the Friday sessions – so they had no idea what to expect. They had an introduction to the world of science communication from Tristan and Dr Phil Smith of the Teacher-Scientist Network before being introduced to their task – the Sci-Comms Challenge!

The task was to create a 3 to 5 minute video, on one of a selection of plants/plant groups – all of which are worked on at JIC/TSL- to be suitable for a general public audience. The requirements were that it had to be creative, suitable for the target audience, effectively conveyed a message, engaging, displayed teamwork and was factually accurate. They were then split into 4 teams of 4, after only having known each other for a week. They were provided with a camera, tripod and microphone and given a deadline of the following Friday session. To demonstrate what could be achieved, we showed them a video produced the previous year and a set of videos made by a class of twelve year old children (if twelve year olds can do it, undergraduates should certainly be able to). We also told them that we, the PhD students, would be available to help should they need it. The students were actively encouraged to seek out the experts we have on-site and ask them about the plants that they chose to present on.

The following Friday came around and we were all eagerly awaiting the results.The room was set up for a screening, with a panel of judges sat at a table to the side. The judges were Phil, Tristan and Chris Wilson, a digital channels specialist. We were all extremely pleased with how the groups had done, especially considering their short time in which to do it. Each team had interpreted the challenge differently which made for interesting viewing – varying from stop-motion animation, a courtroom drama, a kids TV show and a ‘day in the life’ documentary. The teams were given scores by the judges based on how well they had met the criteria set and it was a closely fought contest. However, there had to be a winner: “Wheat are the Future” with their ‘Day in the Life’ documentary. You can watch the video below:

Or link http://youtu.be/wi2C08ivgJM

By Kirsty Jackson- a fourth year PhD student in the lab of Dr Jeremy Murray

The deadline for the 2014 Summer School is this Sunday (12/01/14). If you know any enthusiastic undergraduates (not in their first or final year) looking for some invaluable experience, send them to http://opportunities.jic.ac.uk/summerprogramme/


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