The Unconference

So...the Royal Institute of Great Britain has held its first ever unconference, and I was there. According to the article linked, I'm apparently one of "the UK's top science students". Fat chance, but who passes up free compliments?

Anyway, it was absolutely amazing - in a very geeky kind of way, of course! Speakers were pretty good - first half was a bit slow, though - and breakout sessions were OK. We ended up having to condense it down to about 12 points, though, so I didn't really get all the details. Reading through the #riunconference tweets I gathered that while my talk (I was the spokesperson for the science and education breakout session) was well received by Alom Shaha (and certainly by whoever told me to run for president - I thank you, but I don't think I'll do it), other people were complaining that either 1) something was wrong with the proposals or 2) I wasn't saying anything they told me to say. Without getting huffy about this, because you can't really please everyone, I'll try and respond:

1) You may be right that something is wrong with the proposals. I only reported what people came up with based on my notes.

2) What I said was me expanding on the notes that I took based on what you said. Apologies for any failures in communication - comment below and maybe one of us can send corrections out. I am not a lying bastard - I am a fallible human being who would like to report accurately and sometimes fails.

The proposals which most stick in my head were:

  • Making GCSEs more challenging, surprisingly enough - this would be to differentiate between future scientists and people who didn't really want to live and breathe it (also consider grade inflation and the fact that GCSE marking standards are...well a bit lenient to say the least)
  • Differentiation of sciences from year 7 onwards, if not before
  • Sciences compulsory up to GCSE level
  • A focus on scientific literacy for single scientists, a focus on the skills and understanding needed for science for triple scientists, and a mix of the two for double scientists
  • Scientists to come in and speak to students to tell them how science really works - something you don't learn about much at GCSE and which can be a shock to the system
  • A balance between theory and practical work slightly shifted towards the theoretical side
  • Practicals to only be done if they're relevant and illustrate the scientific method
  • Teachers to decide how many practicals should be done
  • More inspiration needed for teachers
  • Apprenticeships for trainee teachers to give them a practical feel for what they're doing
  • The best teacher has a kind of "focused passion"
  • A tax on beef
  • Carbon tax
  • A female Brian Cox needed to inspire women to science
...and these findings are going to be given to the government. I dread to think what the papers will say, especially about the beef tax!

Geoffrey Carr of The Economist and Liz Else of New Scientists had a little mini-debate as well...Carr suggested that the reason scientists were thought of as "stale, male and pale" was autism, based on his experience with physicists. (For the record: autism is still a bit of a judgement call, and being good at maths and having terrible social skills is not the same as autism/Asperger's.) Liz Else called him out on it, accompanied by the applause of everyone in the room. I mean, I respect the guy's experience, but...he's plainly wrong. At best, he's over-generalising, and he should remember that the plural of anecdote is not data. Tsk tsk.


  1. You smashed it at the Unconference - well done!

  2. You were awesome!

    What did u think of the other student speakers?

  3. Thanks!

    I think that the other student speakers generally had some good ideas and some nice spider diagrams, graphics etc. Some of the careers speakers - particularly the girls discussing why scientists were seen as "stale, male and pale" - made some good points and caught my attention, but on the whole they needed to engage more with the audience (I noticed some were mumbling and/or looking down at the floor a bit).

    I also found it difficult to concentrate on the speeches because of the Twitter feed...maybe not such a good idea to include it!


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