Help, there's an alien in my park! - my internship with the SAW Trust
I am a PhD student from Professor Matt Hutchings’ group at the John Innes Centre, researching the relationship between wheat and the soil bacteria, Streptomyces. As part of my PhD I am able to take part in a three month internship, where I can learn new skills and gain experiences that I may not have had the chance to otherwise.
I was so excited when I found out I was going to be able to join The SAW Trust in creating their first summer activity book aimed at school children. Not only is this something that I have always wanted to do, but with the recent pandemic, it gave me a chance to do something to help combat some of the negative impacts of school closures.
The book is based on the story of an alien called Fizz, who has crash-landed in a local park. We worked with scientists from across the Norwich Research Park, to create 6 different science activity sections that contain lots of fun activities and experiments that the reader needs to complete in order to help Fizz return home.
It was really important to me that this book would be accessible and inclusive, removing barriers to learning where possible. Disadvantaged households have been disproportionately affected by the loss of learning that came with the school closures, widening the attainment gap and leaving many students in need of extra support. The fact that this book was donated for free to 4800 children at schools across Norfolk and North Suffolk, has activities that require little parental input and only uses items that can be found around the home, meant that any child could enjoy the book, no matter their background. We also donated 300 books to the Norwich Foodbank to use in their summer activity clubs.
We hope this book will spark an enthusiasm for science amongst the readers and raise aspirations for future careers related to their favourite topics. Ideally, they will also build on their confidence and independent learning skills, ready for when they go back to school in September.
The book is on sale now for £10 from the Bookhive in Norwich with 100% of the proceeds going to fund next years book!
As a PhD student, this PIPS internship has been invaluable and also incredibly rewarding.
I have had the opportunity to design experiments and then write them up in a format suitable for the book, learning about different writing styles and considerations, such as writing for dyslexic readers. I was also given an insight into illustration and graphic design by making drafts and briefs to send over to the professionals.
I think overall, my communication and organisational skills have improved the most. When we were sending the same document back and forth between multiple people, each time coming back with more edits, it was important to stay on track with which version you had and to know where it needed to go next!
Jenni and Sami from The SAW Trust have been amazing, they have helped and taught me so much along the way. Although the whole placement has been held remotely, we all managed to stay in touch and had regular meetings, so I never felt out of the loop.
It has also been a fantastic opportunity to be able to work with CBeebies screenwriter, Emily Dodd. She has also written both fiction and non-fiction children’s books too, so had a lot of experience to share throughout the project. The thought that goes behind every single word and sentence was something I had never considered before.
Illustrator, Daryl Blyth, impressed me with how fast he could produce the images needed for the book, we did give him some odd requests, but they always came back above expectations! e has also written both fiction and non-fiction children’s books too, so had a lot of experience to share throughout the project. The thought that goes behind every single word and sentence was something I had never considered before.
I chose to take on my PIPS placement early, in the first year of my PhD, due to the pandemic. This placement meant that I would be able to work constructively at home for three months. I was hesitant to leave the lab so early on, but I have learnt much more than I expected. Not only have my communication and writing skills improved, but so have my critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These skills will all be of great importance as I progress through my PhD and working remotely was not an issue at all, so I am glad that I chose to do the internship when I did.
I am excited to hear back from the teachers in September to see how the students responded to the book. I have had fun reading it and completing the activities, so I think that the students will too. I’m sure we will have inspired some new future scientists!
See the book covered in local news story here.
We would like to thank the partners on Norwich Research Park, the Anguish's Educational Foundation, the John Innes Foundation and The Bedford Memorial Trust for funding the book project.