A week has passed in "I'm A Scientist, Get Me Out of Here" and a LOT has happened.
So far, I've answered about 175 offline questions, everything from "are you married" to "What causes the nuclear strong force?" and just about every conceivable question in between. Some of these questions are really technical which took me by surprise. I was in two minds about whether to answer such technical questions, but made the effort in the end. After being dubious that the answers would even be read, it turns out that the students asking the technical questions are often the most switched on students - who have already told me they want to study particle physics at university! Well, at least they are voting for me.
The chats are not what I expected. I've worked a lot with students in this age group (11-17) and know what they can be like... but I somehow expected them to have a little more respect for the scientists who have given up their time to chat to them. Perhaps a bit more briefing is needed here?
The students seem to think we're all in this for the money, which to them seems a life-changing amount but to me seems like small change compared to my previous outreach projects. There seems to be a lack of understanding as to why we're doing this, despite us answering questions along those lines, and I would be surprised if even half of the students have actually read our profiles!
I asked one student if he had read my profile, and he said "nah, I've got more important things to do". I'm sorry mate, but I've got more important things to do than answer your completely irrelevant question about biology, I'm a physicist! (I know the idea is that the students learn that scientists don't know everything, but I do seem to be one of the only people who have adopted the "I don't google" approach - I answer with what comes to mind. I thought that was the point!)
The chats can be completely random, sometimes I really enjoy them and sometimes I wonder why I bother. I was almost upset the other day when one student just kept asking me the same question which I'd told them I didn't know anything about! But on the other hand, I've had some great questions in the chats about work/life balance and how my research will help people. I'm not sure how much the students get out of the chats, but I hope at least they are inspiring some new questions.
Heading in to week 2 I'm a lot calmer after having a weekend to reflect on the competition. There are a lot of great kids out there asking some truly interesting questions. But I've learned something: I now know for sure that my outreach talents are better used live on stage or on camera than behind a computer. After all, you can't substitute for almost a decade of experience.
And just quietly... I'm really looking forward to having time to do my proper work again!