Madi focusses on biology outreach events for 11 to 16 years old with her PIPS

Camille-Madeleine Szymansky, a student based at TSL, was hoping to gain and improve a wide range of transferable skills through her PIPS placement and so used a contact she had to set up her PIPS with Dr Carl Harrington and the outreach team at UEA.

Madi undertook her placement in the summer of 2022 during her second year and found this timing to work very well. “The timing of my placement was perfect as I had finished generating most of the biological material that I will use for my final experiments. I now have the third year of my PhD to hopefully start gathering some interesting data to put into my thesis” reflects Madi.

Madi’s placement was working on the Widening Participation Initiatives at the UEA and included designing and delivering interactive and inspirational science outreach activities mainly to young minds from under-represented backgrounds. This work was highly targeted and Madi worked with local schools in Norfolk and North Suffolk at a pre-16 level, mainly focused on developing and running biology workshops.

Madi felt she gradually gained responsibilities during the placement. “I first started by shadowing outreach activities to observe the dynamics of a class. I helped running workshops by supporting activity leaders in delivering their sessions and by answering pupil’s questions. I was then the leader of a workshop designed by previous students and had to coach the members of my team who helped me deliver it. Finally, I had to design and write new interactive sessions of 45-50 minutes long and a full day one before leading them”, says Madi.

Madi was also involved in all the preparation steps that were happening behind the scenes, including planning and organising events, collecting material needed for the workshops, setting up classrooms and preparing emails to send to the pupils with their experimental results. Madi also had the opportunity to see other non-Biology outreach work.

Throughout the placement Madi got to interact with a wide range of pupils from Year 6 (10-11 years old) through to Year 10 (14-15 years old). She took part in on-campus events where schools bring their pupils on site to show them a university setting, as well as those off-campus where the team reach out to pupils and visit schools.

Madi enjoyed finding ways to explain complex concepts to a young audience which forced her to think outside of the box involving a lot of creativity and imagination. “I was surprised by how much time it takes and how much energy it entails to design and run a successful workshop” reflects Madi. “I really liked interacting with the pupils, they have such great ideas and ask very good questions! Overall, it has been a very rewarding and positive experience. I had amazing feedback from pupils who really enjoyed our work and were inspired to potentially pursue a future career in science” Madi adds.

Madi gained many transferable skills, including communication skills, the ability to work with a diverse group of people, teamwork, resilience, flexibility, adaptability, problem solving, creativity and time management skills. “I was not sure how comfortable I would feel leading a class of pupils, but after giving them a few interactive presentations and leading activities with them, I quickly felt confident. It definitely improved my leadership skills”, says Madi.

Madi feels this has influenced her career aspirations – “I always thought about going into teaching at some point in my career. This first experience with pupils confirms to me that I would enjoy being a teacher, which could be an option that I will decide to take at the end of my PhD” says Madi.

Madi’s PIPS supervisor Dr Carl Harrington commented “Late spring and summer are the busiest seasons for the Access element of the University’s Access and Participation Plan work. Madi was a real asset to have supporting us during those times in 2022. It was incredibly rewarding for me to see how quickly she developed her confidence and expertise in planning, organising, developing, running and leading outreach focussed activities for young people”.

Madi advises future PIPS students to try something new, completely different from what you have tried before and not to be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. “This is such a great opportunity we have in our doctoral program, so make the most of it” concludes Madi.