Transition year students experience life as a scientist with young Conway researchers


Early career researchers from UCD Conway Institute helped deliver a weeklong schedule of hands-on activities with transition year students on a work experience week from 12-16 April 2021. 

Transition year (TY) students (15 – 16-year-olds) from schools in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow joined us on campus for five full days to see what the day-to-day life of a scientist is really like. Eleven PhD students and postdoctoral staff from Systems Biology Ireland (SBI), UCD Conway and UCD Charles Institutes as well as the UCD Diabetes Complications Research Centre organised hands-on activities and seminars for the teenagers to give them an insight into their working life.

Transition year week (Apr 2021)

In the lead up to the TY week, the 11 researchers joined us for training in both public engagement and in running activities for teenagers. After this session, with their newly acquired knowledge and skills, the researchers designed activities based on their own scientific field that they could carry out with the TY students. Ciara Lynch led a coding workshop, Danielle Galvin designed neuroscience experiments, and Sarah Lussoso ran human tissue staining.

Researchers also delivered talks and seminars: James White spoke about microscopy and anatomy with great videos on human body in action; Ciara delivered a talk on the steps to establishing a career as a researcher; and Danny Johnston gave a seminar on vaccine development with a colleague from the University of Oxford who worked on the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine joining via Zoom, which was a fantastic experience for the students.

The TY students loved learning about what it’s like to be a scientist and meeting our researchers. In the A Day in the Life of a Scientist session the team of researchers presented videos, photo diaries, and talks on what a typical day looks like for them.

The TY students gained a better understanding of the many different jobs that being a 'scientist' encapsulates. They also realised the importance of creativity, communication, and collaboration within science, which is not something they had considered before. Another key learning point of the week for the TY students was that research often goes wrong, and that perseverance is key!

At the end of the week, the TY students had to stand up and present a Show and Tell piece on their favourite activity or what they found interesting or surprising during the week. The students and our researchers worked together to come up with ideas for the Show and Tell, and with the help of the researchers the students delved deeper into areas they had found interesting during the week.

Being able to work one-on-one with the early career researchers was a highlight for the transition year students. They told us:
“The buddy system was definitely one of the best parts. We got to personally interact with the researchers and it was so much more enjoyable.”

“Because we all got to learn a lot more from the researchers themselves and their interests and background, which can be motivating to ourselves.”

“During a time like this, getting hands-on learning from incredibly inspiring individuals has been one of the highlights of the year.”

The UCD Conway/ SBI Transition Year Programme is funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Discover and will be delivered again in September and November this year and in January 2022. Researchers will be trained in public engagement and supported with everything they need as they plan and develop their contributions.

This time around, we’ll be able to learn from the experiences of the researchers who went before too. Here’s what some of them had to say about their experience:

Jane Howard, PhD student, UCD Conway Institute: “I would recommend that researchers take part in the TY placement week for so many reasons. I found that explaining my work to students is a really useful tool when writing abstracts and summaries but it reminded me of the end goal of my research too- almost like seeing it through fresh eyes. I also loved chatting to the students and hearing about their interest in science. They asked lots of interesting questions and seemed to genuinely enjoy all of the activities which was very rewarding. I am very excited to see whether they were inspired to pursue a career in science. Overall I had a really fun time working with the group and also enjoyed the activities as much (if not more) than the students.”

James White, PhD student, UCD Diabetes Complications Research Centre: “By taking part in the TY placement week I feel that I became more confident speaking to an audience. I found that explaining my research to teenagers was enjoyable, and it helped me to improve my public engagement skills.”

Ciara Lynch, PhD student, BiOrbic Bioeconomy Research Centre, UCD: “I gained a lot from the outreach week, mainly a very satisfying sense that I was helping in some small way to make a difference to the next generation.”

We are inviting postgraduate students and postdoctoal staff who would like to get involved in delivering the programme in the future to get in touch now.

The next round of training will be delivered by Sile Lane, Elaine Quinn and Anna Wedderburn on Tuesday, 13 July and Tuesday, 24 August. Get in touch with Síle [] with any questions and to register to join.