Researchers’ frequently asked questions

What kind of questions will I get?

It can be absolutely anything – moderators will take out clearly nonsensical, or gratuitously rude questions, but that leaves a big field!

DO NOT feel you need to be up all night on Google to answer questions way out of your area. Although remember, you’ll know more than most of the students. Answer what you feel you can, but it’s fine to say you don’t know. You can suggest who they should ask, or how they could try to find out. It’s also fine to say if you had a look for the answer – “I was interested by this too, so I had a quick look. Wikipedia tells me that x” etc.

A cautionary tale. A few years ago in our sister project, I’m a Scientist, two scientists ignored our advice to say ‘I don’t know’, Googled the answer to one question, found the same spoof site, didn’t realise the information was nonsense and repeated it in their answers. We think they must have been rushing, because it was pretty obviously nonsense if you thought about it. We hope we don’t have to say this, but use your critical faculties if you’re going outside your area and want to avoid looking silly.

Do you have any advice for filling out the application form?

Yes! The most important part of the registration form is the one sentence summary description of your work.

We ask teachers and students to rate this one sentence description of your work, then use this to help select the participants to take part in each event. It’s therefore really important that your one sentence description explains what you do in a simple, interesting and accessible way that appeals to 13-14 year olds.

Top tips for writing your one sentence description:

  1. The 13/14 year old students are from all across the ability range, and prefer it if you use language they understand: deadly not pathogenic, find not identify, use not utilise.
  2. Use imaginative language to describe your work, to grab the students’ attention by giving a real sense of what your work involves.
  3. Show your one sentence description to someone else – not someone working in your field!

And obviously, a couple of good examples from the long running I’m a Scientist project (all made it through to the competition… Some even won):

  • “Making plastics from plants!”
  • “I am making a new way of sending secret messages so that not even the best hackers could figure them out!”
  • “I’m making colourful inks that can conduct electricity, then printing them on plastic to make flexible solar panels, bendy mobile phones and roll-up TV screens.”
  • “I want to see if dogs are right handed or left handed and if left handed dogs are unhappier than right handed dogs”
  • “I work on parasites that grow inside insects and make them glow in the dark to stop mice eating them!!”

What do I do about problem questions, or ones I’m worried about?

There’s some examples below, with our advice, but if in doubt ask us, it’s what we’re here for!

‘Are you gay?’

This is quite a common question. Sometimes, understandably, the student is just trying to be cheeky. But they could be a young person struggling with their identity and trying to start a conversation with a non-threatening adult about it. Because we’ve no way of knowing the difference, we will always approve this question at least once.

We recommend you’re as honest as you feel comfortable with in your answer. And bear in mind that whatever the motivation of the original questioner, there will certainly be gay teens who read your answer.

Questions about sex and relationships

If the question is relatively scientific, then answer as you would on any other topic – sex isn’t something to be ashamed of.

We won’t approve personal question which are inappropriately intrusive, but you may get things like, ‘Do you remember your first kiss?’, or, ‘Do you believe in love at first sight?’

It’s possible, but extremely unlikely, you’ll get more personal questions where students are asking for your advice about their own lives. If you do, answer in a friendly, reassuring way, but remember you are not a trained sex and relationships educator. It’s probably a good idea to refer them to accessible but reliable information (Bish’s website is a good source) and if appropriate, suggest they speak to a trusted adult or their own doctor.


It’s very rare, but we occasionally get questions about bullying. Refer students to accessible but reliable information (we recommend Bullying UK) and suggest they speak to a trusted adult, if appropriate. If there seems reason for concern we will alert the teacher.

What’s your moderation policy for questions?

All questions are moderated before they are sent to you, in order to strike a balance between making your lives easier as researcher participants and giving students the chance to ask real questions.


Merge (deduplicate) very similar questions, but allow some questions which might appear similar, but make slightly different points.

Remove rude or offensive questions, but allow challenging and irreverent questions.

Allow questions which may be unclear – you can start dialogues with students to clarify them.

Will not correct the spelling, grammar or punctuation of any students questions.

Time commitment

Most participants say they spend around 1 hour a day answering the ASK questions, which can be during the evening outside of work hours, and do 1 or 2 live chats a day during school hours. This will vary according to how busy your zone is and how much detail you go into with your answers. Some people have been known  to spend a lot more, but that’s certainly not compulsory!

Don’t worry if work is taking you abroad during the event, you can easily take part from there, as long as you have access to the internet and some free time.

You can answer the ASK questions on the site whenever is convenient for you, the only time you need to be aware of are live chats; which run through the UK school day (8.30am – 4pm). There may be a couple of after school STEM clubs which run until 5pm.

Live chats

The live chat calendar is here.

A few minutes before the chat booking you should go to the CHAT page in your zone and the chatroom will open.

Live chats are text only, a bit like Whatsapp or Facebook group messages. You don’t need any special software, just your computer and access to the internet.

Schools will sometimes take a few minutes to turn up, as the teacher is briefing the students, handing out log in cards, etc. Occasionally the school will not show up at all. Usually this is an IT issue. We’ll try not to make you wait around, if it looks like a class are going to be a no show, we’ll let you get on.

Chats are are booked by the teacher, to coincide with their lesson, so the time is fixed, but we don’t expect all the participants to make each one as we know you all have other commitments. We do explain this to teachers and students. As long as a couple of people attend each chat the students will get a lot out of it, especially if their subject lesson is related to your research.

Although, be warned, students are most likely to vote for people they have chatted to. It’s our semi-scientific opinion that this is the biggest factor in determining who students vote for (based on student survey responses and ethnographic observation in classrooms). Maybe you think it’s the taking part and not the winning that counts, but you might change your mind as the competition heats up :-).

How do I embed videos from YouTube in my profile?

To embed a video from YouTube, or individual photos from a Flikr account, you’ll need to use the embed shortcode around the link URL:

  1. Paste in the URL of the video;
  2. Make sure the URL is not a link. It should not be underlined. If it is, click the link once to make it active then click the break link icon in the toolbar (it looks like a broken chain);
  3. Put (embed) before the link and (/embed) after it but use [square brackets] in place of the brackets.

What do I need to know about the £500 prize money?

What is the money for?
The £500 is to be spent on a communication project. You should use it to engage school students or the general public with research.

There is a vast range of projects you could use the money to fund: visiting schools, arranging class visits to a laboratory, creating a website, taking an exhibit to a festival, making videos or podcasts, putting on a show… The possibilities are endless; use it for any form of science communication you can imagine.

Some previous examples include:

  1. Buying equipment to allow a research oceanography vessel to communicate with school students
  2. Funding a community open day for mothers and children involved in a research project to find out about the research
  3. Funding researcher visits to schools, or school visits to labs

Check out how past winners from our sister event, I’m a Scientist, have spent the money at:

Please don’t use the money to purchase equipment for your lab, or fund travel to an academic conference; it must be spent communicating research to the public, not to other researchers.

There is also a distinction to be made between engagement and education. For example, the money should not be donated to a school to purchase equipment. If you’d like to give the money to a local school, you could go into the school to run a workshop showing the students how to use the new equipment, and how what they’re doing relates to research and the world around them. The aim of your project should be to engage with students or the public, not simply educate them.

How do I tell I’m a Researcher how I’ve spent the money?

Every year, we give out tens of thousands of pounds in these small publengagement grants; we need to be able to account for the money, and tell our funders where it’s going.

Keep in touch, let us know how your plans for the money are coming!

Once you’ve spent it, write us a brief report for us to post on our blog to update the students on how you’ve spent your winnings. A good report might include an idea of how and why you chose your project, how the money helped or made it possible, and what the outcome was. Did you learn anything? Who was your audience? Do you think the project was a success? Has it inspired ideas for future public engagement?

Please also include a basic breakdown of how you spent the money, such as:

£200 Buying video equipment
£50 Travel expenses
£250 Editing the video

When do I have to spend the money?

You should aim to spend the money within a year of winning. After 6 months we’d like to have a firm plan of how you’ll be spending it.

Do I need to do any IT checks?

No, not really. The site’s very simple. It uses HTML and some JavaScript. We may use Java to run the chat page, but no Flash and no plug ins.

It uses cookies.

It has been tested on all major browsers (even, shudder, IE6) and should be fine on machines running Windows, MacOS or Linux.

If you can access the site, edit your profile and answer questions then everything is working fine.

If you can, come to one of the drop in chat sessions to say hi, and just check that you can use the live chat. Rarely a corporate firewall or similar may block the live chats. This is more common with school firewalls, and far less common since we got better live chat technology. But best to find out in advance of the first chat booking!

How do I keep in contact/Get in touch?

During an event – the best way to contact us is in the staffroom. There will always be a moderator or two in there chatting and updating teachers and participants about system issues or live chat changes.

Obviously email is also good — if you have a bit more to say, or if it is private. Take a look at the contact page.