This summer I applied, successfully, and took part in I’m a Scientist: Get Me Out of Here! Billed as an “X Factor-style competition between scientists, where students are the judges” it was, at its heart, a public engagement event. One I was excited to take part in. The event took place entirely online in chat-room style events, with students from several secondary schools taking part, and five ‘scientists’ per zone.
I took part in the BPS backed Mental Health Zone, along with four other psychologists. Around sixteen A Level psychology classes took part in this zone, so many students already had a strong interest and understanding in the subject. This meant that many of the live chats were incredibly focused with informed questions about our research, what it takes to get into university courses, a day in the life of, and just about psychology in general.
I really liked the fact that the activity was online, as it meant I could take part from anywhere, while also juggling my dissertation work at the time. The fact that it was online also made it widely accessible for the students taking part. The chats took place during school hours, and usually during a particular class, so all students had access to a PC and also had time to look through the scientist profiles, and ask questions that could be answered by us at a later date, which meant that students who may not have access at home could also be involved.
A lot of questions and language used very much revolved around the biomedical model of mental health, clustering, and ‘extremes’ of conditions. Although there was not near enough time to go into this facet of A level psychology teaching within the chats, I did shed some light on survivor networks, lived experience, and different ways of framing poor mental health, especially in the context of UK austerity. A lot of the students were very interested in this, and were surprised this wasn’t really covered in their course. I’d like to think that the students went away from these chats more intrigued by the wider perspectives psychology has to offer, and data from the team certainly backs this up.
Ultimately, I came in second, but I had a great time taking part, and it really helped me understand the importance of public engagement – especially in psychology. It made me think over my work much more in depth, and trying to sum it up for a group of impatient teenagers certainly helped that!
You can read the full Mental Health Zone report HERE