For the past 3 and a half months, researchers from King’s have partnered with School 21, a state school based in East London, to contribute to their Real World Learning Project. The Real World Learning Project is a work experience scheme designed to be more beneficial than the conventional school work experience week, and forms part of the school’s ethos that students should leave school equipped for the 21st century. The 11 students, aged 16-17, visited us every Thursday afternoon for 14 weeks and took ownership of small portions of research. At the end of their time with us we had a presentation day to share their results and experiences.
The students chose one of four available projects that had at least one of our researchers who acted as supervisors. The projects varied: my students were trying to improve the resolution of ultrasound, other projects included simulating cardiac rhythm disorders; understanding Down’s Syndrome; and modelling cardiovascular systems; and. The amount of work they managed to achieve indicated the effort and enthusiasm they brought to the projects. Some highlights included: Aditi and James’s group 3D printing a model of the heart extracted from MRI data; Ana’s group making contributions to the databank of histological analysis of brain tissue; Sam, Jorge and Pete’s group unravelling factors that cause high blood pressure; and my group producing an ultrasound phantom that simulates microvasculature. None of these projects were created to occupy school students, they were genuine pieces of research and the outcomes will be incorporated into our future work.
From my perspective, this was also a really exciting opportunity for us to do some public engagement with the future generation of scientists. Postdocs, lecturers and PhD students all contributed to the projects as we aimed to help the students get an understanding of what research at universities is like and inform their aspirations of futures in STEM subjects. We were particularly interested in doing an outreach project where students were active participants in the research. We were keen to follow this approach because research shows that young people have high aspirations regardless of socio-economic status, so interventions that can begin to raise attainment of students are of more value. The fact that the Real World Learning Project gave students the opportunity to do research with us over a longer period of time meant that they could develop new skills such as following laboratory protocols, and learn topics above what they would in school, like physiology, programming, and advanced mathematics.
On the 25th of January we had our final presentation event. It was clear that the projects had been useful and fun for both students and supervisors. We hope to continue building our relationship with School 21 and use the experience to guide future outreach!
Supervisors taking part in School21 were:
- Jemma Brown
- Peter Gawne
- Aditi Roy
- James Bland
- Ana Baburamani
- Peter Charlton
- Jorge Mariscal Harana
- Samuel Vennin