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Running the In2ScienceUK scheme in a pandemic

In2scienceUK supports young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds to get into STEM through mentoring, work placements, guidance and support – including at UCLH and UCL through a partnership with the BRC. In 2020 the programme was for the first time run fully online. Here CEO Dr Rebecca McKelvey reflects on the challenges this created, the ultimate success of the scheme, and offers advice for running online engagement activities.

While COVID-19 has impacted us all, we now know that inequalities in education and careers support have had the largest impact on those from low income backgrounds. Education is a vehicle for social mobility and an essential route for those from the poorest backgrounds to progress into well paid jobs, and associated economic security. Those who live in the poorest regions have lost invaluable educational opportunities. With variable home-learning environments, alterations in assessment in addition to the confusion with university application, the year of 2020 will have long term implications on the future employment prospects of young people but particularly those from poor backgrounds. 

To address this, in response to the pandemic, our charity In2scienceUK, which promotes social mobility and diversity in STEM partnered up with the BRC at UCLH. For the project BRC researchers provided 50 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with the chance to be a ‘BRC Scholar’ over the summer and take part in an inspiring educational programme. Throughout the summer, each BRC Scholar had the opportunity to meet some of the BRC’s leading researchers and learn about cutting edge research in the fields of neurological diseases, and cancer to dementia, obesity and mental health. The BRC Scholars also participated in workshops aimed at boosting their knowledge, skills and confidence to progress to biomedical degrees and careers. 

The In2scienceUK Virtual Placement Programme was hosted on a bespoke platform and included:

  • Research focussed modules with live lectures, reading and a home-based research task.
  • Online mentoring in small groups from STEM researchers and professionals
  • Careers, employability skills and university or apprenticeship access workshops
  • Public engagement competitions to develop writing and communication skills

It was a hugely successful programme and the impact report can be read here. For any organisation considering online delivery we would give the following tips:

  1. Think about engagement and creating a community

More thought needs to be given to engagement when it is done online compared with face to face activities. Ideas include always having a fun ice breaker at the start of online workshops to set the energy high as well as using live polls, Q&A in chats, quizzes and discussion boards. Higher engagement and participation also will enable you to develop a community among participants online.

  1. Online etiquette

Young people are digitally savvy and being online is second nature to them, right? Maybe, but not necessarily in a professional setting. We found that some of our participants were unsure what to do online during mentoring sessions. Preparing young people for mentoring or workshops is just as important online as it would be face to face so do give your participants guidelines and support. Should they have their mic and videos on? What questions should they ask mentors? 

  1. Volunteers 

Provide training for your volunteers on how to engage participants online. Pitching activities is essential so give them guidance. Support them to create engaging quizzes, Q&As etc. 

Following the successful transformation to virtual delivery, we have realised the potential benefits of virtual delivery and we are excited to improve and develop the programme for 2021. If you are interested in hearing more about the In2scienceUK programme, feel free to get in touch via in2scienceuk.org. 

About the author

Dr Rebecca McKelvey is the CEO of In2scienceUK – r.mckelvey@in2scienceuk.org