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Five school teachers joined researchers from the Carlyle, Lakhal-Littleton, Mommersteeg, Srinivas, and Stone groups, based in the Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine (IDRM), Kavli Institute for Nanoscience Discovery, and Sherrington Building, in a project run in collaboration with Jesus College and Trinity College between 19 and 22 June 2023.

Secondary school science teachers (L-R) Catherine Garland, Gladys Kezia Jayaraman Nair, Jill Spencer, Claire Bradford, and Lindsay McDowell

Five DPAG research groups hosted science teachers from state secondary schools in Oxfordshire and Wales as part of a one-week residential to increase teacher awareness and understanding of how and why research is conducted at a research institution. Each teacher undertook their residential at either Jesus or Trinity College, with a practical placement in a DPAG laboratory, to enable them to experience both science research and College life at Oxford first hand. In each lab, the teachers undertook a small research project to gather scientific data, and potentially lesson plans, to inspire their pupils in the classroom to apply to study STEM subjects at university level.

Three teachers joined researchers at the Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine (IDRM). Claire Bradford joined Dr Oliver Stone's group, Lindsay McDowell worked in Professor Shankar Srinivas's group, and Gladys Kezia Jayaraman Nair was attached to Associate Professor Mathilda Mommersteeg's group for activities led by postdoctoral research scientist Dr Gennaro Ruggiero and DPhil student Esra Sengul. Researchers across each of the labs Dr Christophe Ravaud, Dr Shifaan Thowfeequ, Dr Jonathan Godwin, and Dr David Grainger assisted with the laboratory work.

IDRM Teacher Residential

Top Left: Gladys Kezia Jayaraman Nair. Top Right: Claire Bradford. Bottom Left: Lindsay McDowell. Bottom Right: Esra Sengul working with Gladys and Lindsay.

Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Tomoko Watanabe, who led activities in the Srinivas group, said: "I really enjoyed working with Lindsay, Clare and Gladys. They were enthusiastic and gave us insights into how techniques and biological phenomena we study are taught to their students."

Jill Spencer Lakhal-Littleton lab© Jill Spencer in the Lakhal-Littleton lab (photograph by Mayra Vera Aviles)Teacher Jill Spencer undertook her residential project in Associate Professor Samira Lakhal-Littleton's group in the historical Sherrington Building. Postdoctoral research scientist Dr Mayra Vera Aviles, who was her main contact, found a great deal of benefit from the opportunity to develop her public engagement skills through co-creating a project that will have practical application in the classroom.

Dr Aviles said: "The experience of having been with Jill was a win-win exercise. On my part, knowing how a teacher organises their classes, understanding the way that they see things, and how they are always thinking about how to make things comprehensible for others, I would say that I was sharing the bench with an expert in public engagement.

"From Jill’s side, she was fascinated by how the theory is put into practice in a research project, from the experimental design, and going through the methods, to how the results are analysed and discussed how they are in line with the research project hypothesis, I remember she said: 'I could go back now to my student and talk about this experience for weeks and weeks'."

Teacher Catherine Garland was placed in Dr Becky Carlyle's lab within the Wade-Martins group at the Kavli Institute for Nanoscience Discovery (Kavli INsD). She shadowed Laboratory Technician Laura Pearson, who was working on the effect of amyloid-beta-oligomer stress on iPSCs. Pearson agreed with Dr Aviles about the reciprocal benefit of the initiative, and said: "Having Catherine in the lab was a real eye opening experience for both parties. Having finished school not long ago myself, it was amazing to see someone so willing and excited to learn as much as she could to share with her students. Catherine asked some brilliant questions that just further proved her enthusiasm to share as much as she could back in the classroom. I felt extremely lucky to be working alongside someone so knowledgeable and happy to hear about and watch any aspect of the work that we do. It was a fantastic experience for us both."

Catherine Garland said: "​I was warmly welcomed into the laboratory and enjoyed chatting to those working on both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, who were only too happy to tell me about their research. It was amazing to see, first-hand, how much technology has moved on in the 20+ years since I was last in a research lab. 

"I love teaching, and until recent years, all the techniques I have had to teach were ones that I had experience of physically doing (My PhD and Post doc involved electrophysiology and DNA technology). For this I have been extremely grateful, as I didn't ever want to be teaching about something that I had only ever read about in a textbook, but topics such as iPSCs, CRSIPR and immunochemistry have crept into the specification, and I had no practical knowledge of this. The week I spent at Kavli means that I am now confident in saying that, once again, I have some experience of everything I teach, so I am more confident about my delivery and can enrich my lessons with knowledge gained through experiences during my week in Oxford.

"I would thoroughly recommend this week to others. It has had profound impact on me, and I hope, that in turn, it will impact my students. Hopefully it will result in more of them applying to Oxford for their degrees."

At the end of the week, the teachers were able to present a review of their projects and speak to Professor Nicola Smart and DPAG's Academic Lead for Public Engagement Professor Shankar Srinivas, which included receiving guidance for Oxford interviews that they could take away with them to help their students with future applications.

Chair of DPAG's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee and Athena Swan Academic Lead Associate Professor Heidi de Wet, who co-directed departmental activities with Professor Srinivas, said: "This pilot study exceeded all expectations and the teachers had a great time. Not only did the teachers benefit from this experience but the hosting labs all reported that they enjoyed hosting the teachers very much and learned so much themselves. This really is an event which benefited everyone. We hope to take this initiative forward for many years to come and would encourage labs to put themselves forward to host teachers in the future."

The project was co-funded by Trinity College, Jesus College, and DPAG.