Sharing insights to inspire the next generation

 

From 25 – 29 March 2019, the 9th edition of Chercheurs à l’école took part in schools across Luxembourg, involving more than 100 researchers and science communicators. The FNR spoke to a handful of the researchers who took part about why they took part and why it is important to inspire the next generation.

Ben Thuy, Paleontologist at National Museum of Natural History (MNHN)

Ben Thuy is a Paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN)

Why did you take part in Chercheurs à l’école?

“I decided to take part because I consider public outreach a core part of my tasks as a scientist, especially when it comes to young people. Another reason for my participation was that I already took part in Chercheurs à l’école many years ago as a high school student. Back then, the molecular biologist who came to present his profession helped cement my decision to study palaeontology, albeit unknowingly: he strongly advised against my plans and thereby only kindled them!”

What was the focus of your session and how was it?

“My session focused on providing insights into palaeontological research and, on a more general note, into extraordinary studies that tend to deviate from the more classical, straightforward professional careers. In order to spark fascination irrespective of the student’s individual professional intentions, I used a variety of fossil samples for hands-on demonstrations to show the diversity and scope of palaeontological research.

“I always enjoy science communication with young people and my Chercheurs à l’école session was no exception. The feedback I got from both students and teachers was very encouraging and led to an inspiring exchange of viewpoints and ideas.”

Why do you think it is important for researchers to engage with students, in this case high school students?

“To me, science and communication are intrinsically connected. Why would you do research if you do not share your insights? Scientific papers are only one of the means to communicate science. Public outreach is just as important, not only for visibility but also for public acceptance and credibility.

“High school students are a particular group because they represent the next generation of potential university students. Furthermore, it can be surprisingly eye-opening and refreshing to present research to high school students, because they tend to be well informed but less biased than professional colleagues are.”

Do you have any advice for researchers who have not yet taken part, or may be nervous about taking part?

“To me, there is no reason not to take part in Chercheurs à l’école as a scientist, unless you have nothing to share. We are all busy, but reaching out to young people in such a well-organized program should always have a slot in our schedule. There is no need to be nervous to speak out.

“My experience is that the students are more than happy to attend the sessions. Many are genuinely interested, and for all the others the visiting scientist is a most welcome deviation from their regular classes!

“To all peer scientists: if you want to have an impact on society with your research, leave the ivory tower and go back to school!”

MORE ABOUT BEN THUY

Anna Golebiewska, Staff Scientist at  Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH)

Why did you decide to participate in Chercheurs à l’école?

“I have participated in the ‘Chercheurs à l’école’ for the second time this year. For several years already, I found the FNR’s program very interesting but I hesitated to participate, as I did not feel fully confident to present my work in French before.

“I believe it is a great opportunity to exchange with the young audience that may not necessarily be interested in joining the classical research events such as the ‘Relais pour la vie’ or the ‘Science Festival’.

“This exchange encourages researchers to think about the real motivations behind their work and forces them to go ‘out of the box’ when talking to a teenage audience, in contrary to the classical research presentations prepared regularly for the academic colleagues.”

What was the focus of your session?

“During my session I introduced the general ‘lifespan’ of researchers, including the education background needed to join different job positions in the laboratories, my own training experience, as well as every day work in the research lab with its advantages and pitfalls.

“To make the session more interesting to students I also included a small exercise, where they could look at the in vitro cell cultures and tissues by microscope. I also shared with them a commix prepared by my laboratory, explaining cancer research in general (‘La cellule qui voulait devenir immortelle’).”

How was your session – was there anything your audience was particularly interested in?

“The exchange with students was very enriching. Both students and teachers found researchers’ work very interesting but also challenging at the same time. While some groups appeared to be more shy in asking the questions, others were very eager to learn about the basic science (e.g. what are the causes of tumor development), but also about details of every day lab work and interactions with other researchers all over the word.

“They were astonished to learn that nowadays research requires regular collaborations with many laboratories and creation of international consortia, and not only classical competitions between the laboratories. Teachers were interested to learn about the long education path researchers have to undergo before becoming fully independent and the length of the projects that could last for several years if not decades.”

Why do you think it’s important for researchers to engage with high school students?

“From my own experience, most of the high schools focus on the classical education indispensable to prepare students for the successful results in their final exams. Although high school students may be already well aware of the academic courses available for them at universities, for most the reality of different job positions later on is still very wage. They are mostly familiar with the professions of their parents, family and friends only.

“As research positions are relatively rare, this could be the only opportunity for them to meet ‘a real’ scientist and understand their profession. Moreover, students that will decide to follow their education at universities will regularly interact with different researchers during lectures and practicals, thus it may be important if they appreciate the work context of the academic teachers behind every day courses given to students.”

Do you have any advice for researchers who might be nervous about taking part in the activity?

“Do you have any advice for researchers / scientists who are not participating, or might be nervous about taking part in the activity?

“If you do not know how to prepare your presentation, use the excellent information provided by the FNR before. Train with your family and friends (non-academic ones), they will definitely give you great feedback.

“And don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ to the students’ questions!”

Anna Golebiewska is a Staff Scientist at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH)

Franz Clément, Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) 

You have taken part in Chercheurs à l’école several times: Why do you chose to participate in this outreach activity?

“I have participated in every edition of “Chercheurs à l’école” since it began – I consider it a real pleasure to take part to in this activity. I really like to have exchange with pupils in the schools in Luxembourg. It is very interesting, because the most of these students don’t know the world of research and science in general. It is always a pleasure to provide information on these topics.”

What is the general focus of the sessions you give to the students?

“I try to explain that there are several types of sciences: social sciences, exact sciences, environmental sciences… I explain after that there are no real walls between all these kinds of sciences and that it is always useful to observe the links between these sciences. In the society in general, sciences are not isolated areas.”

How was your session?

“In general I always receive very constructive feedback from the students. Young people always imagine that a scientist is an old man with a long white beard in a laboratory full of chemical products. Students in general can realize that they had false views on the world of scientists.

“Thanks to “Chercheurs à l’école” they have the opportunity to have another look at the framework of science.”

Why do you think it’s important for researchers/scientists such as yourselves to engage with high school students?

“The world of research cannot stay out of society. It has an obligation to open up to civil society. Scientists have a real duty to learn and to communicate with society and to the younger ones that they share a useful job for the service of the whole society.”

Do you have any advice for researchers who are not participating, or might be nervous about taking part in the activity?

“Yes, I can say to them: please don’t stay in your universities and your research centres. Please, go speak to young people because they will become the adults of tomorrow and they have the right to know about how useful science is in and to society. Don’t be afraid to deliver the results of your research – science must be at the disposal of the whole society.”

Franz Clément PhD works at the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) with a focus on Labour Market

Paula Hild, PhD candidate at the University of Luxembourg

Why did you decide to participate in Chercheurs à l’école?

“There are many reasons why I participate every year in ‘Chercheurs à l’école’. First, I love doing a PhD at the University of Luxembourg and, thus talking about my daily work. Second, I think it is important to show to others that research does not only take place in laboratories but features other workplace preferences too.

“Finally, yet importantly, it is simply fun to be in front of a class and discuss future professional plans with students!”

What was the focus of your session – were there any areas that the students were particularly interested in?

“The focus of my session was on the career development of my colleague and me. I presented my school and study pathways, described my workplaces before joining the University of Luxembourg, and what I am doing now.

“I introduced the research topic of my PhD project and shared how I am approaching the research questions in practice. I ended with study and working opportunities in Luxembourg for civil engineers, my study background, and geographers, my actual research discipline.”

How was your session – did you get any questions and/or have interesting discussions?

“After the presentations, the students had some interesting questions, more related to the work tasks of researchers. The teachers told us that the questions from the students would come a bit later, somehow after a thinking process. The teacher’s feedback was very positive, and we discussed after our interventions all together about the difficulties of the school system in Luxembourg.”

Why do you think it’s important for researchers to engage with high school students?

“To me, it is important to show that working in research is a normal job, and not a privilege. We researchers are all normal people that simply have a different job compared to white-collar workers.”

Do you have any advice for researchers who might be nervous about taking part in the activity?

“‘Chercheurs à l’école’ gives the opportunity to speak positively about ones job. That is very inspiring! This experience somehow links the often-theoretical approaches in research with questions from civil society.”

Paula Hild is a PhD candidate at the University of Luxembourg

Arno Gutleb, Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST)

“I have participated in nearly all editions of Chercheurs à l’école. One year I had to travel, so my wife went in my place and she has since then also participated several times!

“In my session, I spoke to the students about why I made certain choices in my career and what my daily work looks like today. I always like these sessions. In my case, the researcher I was meant to share the session with could not make it, so I had even more time with the students. The pupils were keen to discuss – they are our youngest colleagues!

“For any researchers considering taking part, there is nothing to be nervous about. Keep it simple from the science and honest from the personal part.“

Dr Arno Gutleb is a Group Leader at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST)

More 2019 impressions

Researchers Alex Salsmann (University of Luxembourg) and Aurélie Poli (Luxembourg Institute of Health) delivered a session to students at École et Lycée Français Villa Vauban

Want to hear from more researchers about their impressions of Chercheurs à l’école? 

Read our highlight from 2018, where you can read five scientists take on why they take part and why it is important.

About Chercheurs à l’école

Over the past 15 years, the Luxembourg Government has invested heavily in research. However, the research tradition in Luxembourg is still young and not everyone is familiar with this area. It is important to the FNR to provide transparent information and support measures that bring researchers together with society. ‘Chercheurs à l’école’ helps to draw attention to the profession of the researcher and to present it realistically. Not least because exciting fields of work are developing in this growing research sector, for which up-and-coming talents are needed.

To this end, the FNR each year organises Chercheurs à l’école as part of its Science in Society activities. High schools across the country can sign up for the activity, indicating their preference in domain, language and date/time. Based on the registrations of the teachers, researchers choose a corresponding session.

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