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5 posts categorized "Internship"

09 February 2016

PhD placement in Science in Society at the British Library

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Applications now open

The British Library is currently running a series of 3-month (or PT equivalent) PhD Placements, to be hosted by specialist curatorial teams and other Library experts.  Of the 17 placements on offer, this opportunity will be of particular interest to PhD students with interests in science, science policy and the social perception of scientific issues.

Science in Society

Working within the Research Engagement Team, the placement student will have the opportunity to organise and deliver a TalkScience event on a topic relevant to scientific policy.  TalkScience is well-established, highly successful series of public debates organised by and held at the British Library. Previous topics have ranged from the use of personalised genomics to science education in schools.

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A previous TalkScience event

The placement student will also have the opportunity to use the Library’s collections in relation to science and its social perceptions, for example by working with the Web Archive Team to produce a special online collection related to science and science policy.  Additionally, placement students can also get involved with a number of activities across the Research Engagement Team, such as contributing to research reports or social media activity. 

We have hosted Science in Society interns in previous years. You can read more about their projects here:

Stuart smith talkscienceStuart Smith (BBSRC intern, 2012)

Adam levyAdam Levy (NERC intern, 2014)

Rachel huddartRachel Huddart (BBSRC intern, 2014)

Further information

The application deadline for all of the PhD placements is Friday 19 February 2016.

Further information, including eligibility criteria and details on the application process, can be found here:

http://www.bl.uk/aboutus/highered/phd-placement-scheme 

All applications must be supported by the applicant’s PhD supervisor and their department’s Graduate Tutor (or equivalent). Please forward any questions to: Research.Development@bl.uk

 

Eleanor Sherwood

Research Engagement PhD Placement Student

22 September 2015

‘Impossibly bold and Utopian’: H.G. Wells on education

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Alice Kirke investigates HG Wells’ views on science education ahead of our upcoming TalkScience event.

Although he is better known as ‘the Shakespeare of science fiction,’[1] H.G. Wells began his career as a school science teacher. Science education today needs to cater for the budding professional scientist in order to tackle global challenges such as population growth, climate change, and food security. But it also needs to nurture a greater public understanding of science. In light of these challenges, the anniversary of Wells’ birth, on 21st September 1866, prompted me to revisit his educational ideas.

H. G WellsBorn into a lower-middle class family, Wells immersed himself in books from the library at the Sussex mansion of Uppark, where his mother worked as a lady's maid. He continued to educate himself while he trained as a pupil-teacher,[2] and was eventually awarded a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in South Kensington in London, now Imperial College.

 

Whilst there, he was taught by the eminent advocate of Darwin’s theory of evolution, T.H. Huxley. Wells founded the Science Schools Journal, which provided a forum for the development of his views on science and society. Darwinian notions of progress and degeneration came to inform his understanding of history, the future of mankind, and the importance of education.

In 1937, during his presidential address to the Educational Science section of the British Association, he outlined his concerns over ‘the contents of the minds our schools are turning out.’[3] His address was judged by Nature to be of such historical significance that they published it on the centenary of his birth in 1966. So, what did he have say about education?

In his address, Wells insisted that he was speaking not as a scientist, educator or author but as a ‘citizen’. Ignorance, he argued, led to tyranny, and was a consequence of the failure of elementary education to ‘properly inform’ citizens. He posed the question:

‘What are we telling young people directly about the world in which they are to live?’

Wells advocated a child-centred approach to learning which stimulated curiosity, rather than the old-fashioned rote learning which he believed still characterised schooling in the 1930s. He suggested that instead ‘the weather and the mud pie’ should introduce children to biology and that ‘we ought to build up simple and clear ideas from natural experience.’ Further, he argued that ‘natural experience’ should be the foundation not only of scientific instruction but of education more generally. Geography should give children:

‘a real picture in their minds of the Amazon forest, the pampas, the various phases in the course of the Nile… and the sort of human life that is led in these regions.’

Wells believed that telling children about the physical environment of different areas, and the lives of the people who lived there, would teach them to respect and appreciate the world as ‘one community.’ He described himself as a democratic socialist, and saw education as fundamental to peace; in his Outline of History he claimed that ‘human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.’ He argued that History should be the ‘main subject of instruction’ in schools, and that to avoid the ‘crazy combative patriotism that plainly threatens to destroy civilisation’, it should be based on the recent discoveries of archaeologists, not the squabbles and affairs of past kings and queens.

The education system Wells envisaged would lay down a ‘foundation of knowledge’, enabling people to continue learning throughout their lives, and to engage with issues which were of public concern, including those related to science and technology. In the world conjured up by his A Modern Utopia engineers and scientists have figured out how to meet all human needs, and are part of the elite ruling group known as the ‘Samurai’. But in the real world, Wells believed that science education was not only for scientists.

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Frontispiece, H. G Wells, A Modern Utopia (Chapman and Hall, 1905) Shelfmark: 012631.aa.9

Education meant more than the pursuit of reason and intellect, and was not oriented towards purely instrumental economic goals. It was about discovery, questioning and knowledge, and was part of the whole education of the citizen. He concluded his address by reflecting that his educational vision seemed ‘impossibly bold and Utopian’. But he maintained that a reinvigorated education system which would enable people to engage with political, social and scientific challenges was an achievable aim, and a vital one for anyone concerned about the future of civilisation.

Wells’ reflections on education raise important questions for science education today; how should it be taught, and to what end? To debate these issues with an expert panel, come along to our next TalkScience event on 27th October.



[1] Brian Aldiss and Sam J. Lundwall (eds), The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction: an anthology (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986) p.133 Shelfmark: YC.1987.a.3902

[2] A senior pupil who acted as a teacher to younger children

[3] Supplement to Nature, September 3, 1966

 

05 August 2015

Policy into practice

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Applications are now open for RCUK Policy Internships at the British Library at 2016. We are offering up to three NERC/MRC funded PhD students the chance to join us in team ScienceBL and help deliver a TalkScience event. In this blog post former intern Stuart Smith reflects on his Policy Internship placement at the British Library.

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Stuart (red hat and trousers) in the Falkland islands (Photo: Marju Karlsson)

After finishing my BBSRC policy placement at the British Library in July 2013 and wrapping up my PhD thesis, I went in search of a job. Wishing to find a job that balanced both ecological research and public engagement, I was finally offered a 2-year position leading a Darwin Initiative funded project that aims to build capacity to enhance habitat restoration in the Falklands Islands. Despite only being a small island in sub-Antarctica, with a total population of around 3,000 people, there has consistently been a need to communicate scientific and environmental issues effectively. Working for Falklands Conservation, I have established an island-wide re-vegetation trial using native seeds and I regularly talk about my work to people with a range of backgrounds: farmers, landowners, policymakers, researchers, members of the public and military personnel. And while I might not have the opportunity to get a BBC presenter to pop down to lead a panel debate, like I did my when organising a TalkScience event at the British Library, I find myself involved in outreach activity on a weekly basis, whether writing an article for the Penguin News, the local newspaper, or giving a lesson on seeds or habitat restoration in a school. 

 

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Bill Turnbull chairing the TalkScience that Stuart developed and delivered as part of his Policy Internship at the British Library

Following on from work on the Falkland Islands, I am about to start a post-doctoral position at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway as part of AfricanBioServices, an EU funded project, and will be working in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in Tanzania/Kenya. My involvement in the project is to investigate the effect of different land-uses (both wild grazing versus domestic pastoral grazing) on grassland productivity and ecosystem functioning. Again, this role is likely to require excellent communication skills to a wide range of audiences from scientists involved in the international consortium to farmers and landowners on the ground. Even though I am still actively involved in ecological research, the essential skills of effective science communication and outreach are highly valued. The British Library has an incredibly supportive and friendly team and were happy to take on an ecologist, who particularly struggled to wear a tie. I would recommend that every postgraduate should take the opportunity to learn an increasingly important set of skills involved in outreach and public engagement and apply for a science policy placement.

Stuart Smith, BBSRC Science Policy Intern 2013

16 May 2014

Extreme Weather: Climate Change in Action?

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Climate scientist and NERC Policy Intern, Adam Levy, explores extreme weather in advance of our upcoming TalkScience event on 17th June (doors open 6pm).

From the winter storms in the UK, to the drought currently devastating California, extreme weather is constantly in the news.  As our lives become increasingly removed from the natural world, catastrophic weather events remind us of our vulnerability and call into question how we protect ourselves from the elements.  Recently, though, headlines have begun to challenge not only our preparedness, but also whether our actions are contributing to these events.  Are we, by emitting greenhouse gases, putting ourselves at greater risk of extreme weather?

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Understanding the climate

In 1990, when the first major international report on climate change was published, we were still unable to detect whether greenhouse gases were already causing the earth’s temperature to rise.  Now, not only do we know that this is extremely likely, but we can begin to unpick how the earth’s rising temperatures affects the climate of different parts of the world in different ways.

The properties of the climate that are easiest to study, though, are often far removed from the weather we experience day to day.  To those of us that don’t work in agriculture, knowing how much rainfall there will be in the average 2040s summer is of limited use.  Even when this information relates directly to our own region, it fails to resonate with our experience of the world around us.  The damages caused by extreme weather, on the other hand, are far more tangible.  In contrast to the facts and statistics that are normally presented on global warming, extreme weather is something we are naturally inquisitive about.  So can scientists tell us anything about the influence of global warming on these weather events?

Insights into our weather

In some cases, scientists have been able to use physical understanding of the climate to evaluate how rises in the earth’s temperature could affect extreme weather.  Heat waves, for example, are very likely to become both longer and more frequent, as a hotter world is biased toward more extremely hot days.  We can also expect more extreme rainfall, as hotter air holds more moisture, and so when it rains, it pours.  These findings are invaluable, but when extreme weather hits, we understandably want to know the role of climate change in that specific event, not general physical patterns.

There has always been extreme weather, so it’s not possible to claim that a particular event never could have taken place without climate change.  We can ask, however, whether emissions have changed its intensity or likelihood.  To investigate such changes, scientists use physics-based computer simulations of the climate to compare what actually happened to what might have happened had there been no manmade emissions.

Scientists in the University of Oxford recently utilised this technique to investigate the record breaking rainfall experienced by the UK this winter.  Using a computer model designed by the UK’s Met Office, they ran almost 40,000 simulations on volunteers’ home computers.  They found that the recent storms - which forced thousands from their homes and cost the UK more than £1 billion – has gone from being a one in a hundred year event to a one in eighty year event.  The implication of this amazing result is that one fifth of the storms’ costs – both human and financial – can be ascribed to manmade climate change.

Findings like these empower people to engage with the consequences of our changing climate.  Continued warnings of the future dangers of greenhouse gases have patently failed to motivate meaningful action: emissions continue to rise relentlessly year on year.  Linking extreme weather to global warming, however, enables us to see the damages our emissions are already causing.  The challenge now – not just for climate scientists, but for all of us – is to communicate this powerful science in a way that motivates us to action. 

25th TalkScience Event - Extreme Weather: Climate Change in Action

To explore both scientific and policy perspectives on this issue, come along to the British Library on the evening of 17th June and join James Randerson (Assistant National News Editor, The Guardian), with Professor Stephen Belcher (Head of the Met Office Hadley Centre), Laura Sandys MP (Conservative Environment Network) and George Marshall (Founder of Climate Outreach & Information Network).

More information and tickets available here.

19 July 2013

BBSRC intern and potential ‘poster-boy’ buzzes-off…

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From organising a public debate to writing-up science conferences and festivals, my time as part of the science team at the British Library is at an end. My placement followed on from first BBSRC intern, Catriona Manville who became the ‘poster-girl’ for the BBSRC placement programme in 2012. Even though it was never really a competition, after three months at the British Library could I be the next BBSRC ‘poster-boy’?

Stu.BeinnEigheflipped.Photo_by.Kyle_MunroStuart [me], surveying a grazing exclosure on the Beinn Eighe nature reserve in Scotland. Photo by Kyle Munro.

Before my internship I was writing-up my PhD thesis in Biological Science at the University of Aberdeen, but I wanted some experience in science policy. A placement at the British Library was appealing as an intermediary between interacting with policy makers and the general public. To that effect, I have attended as many meetings, workshops, conferences as possible; from the British Science Association Science Communication conference to a day talking to MPs at the House of Commons with the Society of Biology. For many of the events I attended, I wrote articles or blog posts to share what I learned. For example, I attended my first ever festival (and kept my wristband to prove it!) - the Cheltenham Science Festival - and helped write an article in their newspaper, Litmus paper.

DSC_6836Spot Stuart during TalkScience@BL ‘Pollinators and pesticides: is there a plan bee?’ Photo: Peter Warner.

The pinnacle of the placement has been organising TalkScience. This is a quarterly evening event, similar in format to a café scientifique. After reading the news, policy briefings, publications and reports, we decided our next TalkScience topic would be on issues surrounding the potentially harmful effect of pesticides on insect pollinators. “Pollinators and pesticides: is there a plan bee?”  was chaired by Bill Turnbull, BBC presenter and beekeeper in discussion with the panel comprising Dr David Aston (British Beekeepers Association), Dr Peter Campbell (Syngenta) and Dr Lynn Dicks (University of Cambridge). Even greater public outreach was gained via Bill hosting a BBC Horizon programme about demystifying the bees - leading to the event being filmed by the BBC. Keep your eyes peeled on BBC2 on 2 August at 21.00 and you might see a few shots of the event!

Being part of the British Library science team was a large learning curve and has increased my awareness of activities supporting, using and extending scientific research. For example, I gained new insights into Open Access and how recent policy changes are influencing libraries, funders, publishers and researchers. Even on a day-to-day basis, the transition from PhD student to science outreach is a change in mind-set and routine.

•    Preparing for a monthly supervisor meeting to participating in daily meetings with a wide range of people
•    Preparing for a single yearly conference to attending a conference every few weeks
•    Focusing on a single specific area of science to following multiple disciplines
•    Expanding sources of information from primarily research articles to journal and society news, policy briefings and blogs/Twitter!

DSCF0847A typical internship job at the British Library; fixing the life support system in the office to stop rising CO2 concentration killing the team! This was a team away day at the Leicester Space Centre.

Should I become the next ‘poster-boy’? To be honest, as a PhD student, I feel lucky to have experienced my fair share of media engagement with BBC Horizon. There are many scientists, societies and government advisors completely immersed in outreach and policy that deserve more recognition. Undertaking a placement at the British Library has been a rewarding experience in itself and I would encourage future PhD students to consider the opportunity.

Stuart Smith is a PhD student studing the effect of livestock grazing on the carbon cycle at the University of Aberdeen and has finished his internship as part of the BBSRC policy placement scheme.