I’m a scientist! Why talk to young people?
Paddy Sudhakar tells us why public engagement is important after his recent participation in I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!
We’re very fond of public engagement and science communication at Earlham Institute, and many of our scientists are committed to communicating the breadth and depth of scientific research and how it affects the everyday lives of every one of us. It’s an important process: sometimes it can be hard to fathom how fundamental research has a role to play in our day to day lives, especially from the outside.
Paddy Sudhakar of the Tamas Korcsmaros Group fills us in on his recent experience disseminating his work to the young people of Great Britain as a participant in the I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here! programme.
What is the “I’m a Scientist” programme about?
I’m a Scientist promotes semi-formal engagement between scientists and school students. The programme gives students the opportunity to interact with scientists and ask questions about the importance of science and the pros/cons of taking up a career in science. The engagement also provides the students with a quick peep into the day-to-day activities of being a scientist.
Why is it important to engage young people as a scientist?
In this era where there is a strong need for building opinions based on scientific facts, I am strongly convinced that the upcoming generation must be made aware of the central and indispensable role of science in politics, policy and society. We need to nurture the well tested habits of the scientific method and rational thinking among the younger generation. Such engagements are a step in the right direction and their importance cannot be emphasized enough. Furthermore, as a scientific community, we bear the responsibility to build the foundations for the next generation of scientists.
What have you learned during this engagement?
It was amazing to just experience the kind of enthusiasm among the students by and large. In the process of answering their questions, I also learnt how open they are. This open-mindedness can be a double-edged sword since opinions can be shaped easily; hence the need to provide the appropriate environment and information exchange. I was also intrigued by the way the students could relate the role of science in dealing with global challenges like antibiotic resistance and climate change.
Public engagement is not a one-way street where the information provider does all the talking.
How has the experience made you reflect on engaging with the public?
Public engagement is not a one-way street where the information provider does all the talking. It needs to be a conversation between two or more affected stakeholders albeit with different roles and responsibilities. Participation in this engagement programme has only reinforced my thoughts about public engagement being a more democratic process in which multiple stakeholders get to learn quite a lot.
What kind of scientific research is your group engaged in?
I work in the Korcsmaros Group where we focus on the connection between the human host and the microbes that live on and within us, and monitor the changes in host autophagy (cellular self-degradation) affected by the microbiota (pathogens, commensals or probiotics).
I recently published a paper describing how multiple pathogens can modulate autophagy and as a self-defence how autophagy strikes back. We are particularly interested in these effects in the context of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), especially Ulcerative colitis. Investigating such interactions requires a combination of experimental and computational techniques.
Therefore, we have an experimental arm of the lab developing in vitro methodologies like organoids to model and study the effect of microbes as well as a computational arm providing the support in terms of developing software resources to integrate big-datasets. For example, one of our PhD students is doing her research on examining and understanding the beneficial effects of a particular species of gut bacteria called Bifidobacteria using a combination of different methods.