Guidance for experts: Planet Earth Zone

These notes will help you find your way through the I’m a Scientist Planet Earth Zone.

Any questions, or issues not covered, please email



I’m a Scientist is an online activity that helps school students connect online with the RI CHRISTMAS LECTURES.

The activity connects young people with lecture contributors, as well as experts working in related areas.

It goes deeper than ‘flash-bang-wow-inspiration!’. Students have fun but also get beyond stereotypes, learn about how science relates to real life, develop their thinking and discussion skills and make connections with professionals.

You also get to find out the students’ opinions on science, research and society and get them thinking about how this affects their daily lives. All you need to take part is a computer with an internet connection.

Ultimately, it’s about helping all students, whoever they are, feel that science can be something ‘for them’.  Read more about the philosophy of I’m a Scientist and Science Capital.

Activity summary

This activity is student-led. You’ll use the site to connect with young people (typically aged 9–18) at schools across the UK. You’ll answer their questions about your day to day work, your career, your hobbies and interests – just about anything the students can think of!

There are three ways the students can connect with you:

  1. You will create a profile which students can read to find out more about you
  2. Students will Ask you questions which you can answer in your own time
  3. You can Chat with students online, answering their questions in real-time, text-only, moderated chatrooms

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How to use the site

Log in and get started

If you take part, we will send you a username. If this is your first time taking part, you will then need to set up a password.

Your profile information

You will have a profile to fill in. This includes a photo, information about you and your work, and a set of “interview” questions. Find your profile by clicking your name at the top of any page in the Zone, or by clicking My Dashboard.Your profile enables the students to find out more about you and your work. It’s really helpful if you fill in your profile as soon as possible.

For some sections you’ll be asked for a one sentence summary, and then a longer version. The short versions are always displayed, with a “read more” option underneath for those wanting to read the longer version. We do this because testing showed it was easier for students with lower literacy skills to access.

You don’t need to write a lot, even for the longer versions. People reading online tend to prefer shorter texts. A short paragraph will be fine to give students an idea of what to ask you.

Note on social media accounts: Please do not add details of your social media accounts or email address to your profile page. This helps keep the school students’ interactions with you in a fully moderated space, i.e. the I’m a Scientist website.

You can embed videos in your profile. However, please be aware that some school systems will block YouTube and many other video sites. This isn’t necessarily a reason not to use video as it can be very effective, but don’t make understanding your profile dependent on viewing a video, as it will leave out some students.

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Ways of interacting:

Answering Ask questions

You will be notified by email of new questions that students have asked you. You can answer them in your own time, but the sooner the better.

  1. Log in
  2. On your Dashboard you will see ‘My Unanswered Questions’
  3. Choose a question and type your answer

You will also be able to view other experts’ answers to the question.

It is up to you what questions to answer and how much detail to go into. Don’t be afraid to write a really long answer, but at the same time, you don’t always need to!

Be honest, straightforward and use ‘plain English’. More advice for writing clearly in I’m a Scientist.

Answering questions on Coronavirus

We expect many questions about coronavirus/COVID-19 like, ‘How does covid infect people?’ and personal ones like, ‘How are you coping?’.

This advice will help you if you have concerns about how to answer: Guidance for questions on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Live chats

Chats are consistently the most popular part of the activity for students, teachers and experts. They take place in our text-only, moderated chatrooms. Chats typically last around 40 minutes.

Live Chats are fun and give immediate contact between experts and students, allowing students to relate to you. Many teachers tell us that the quieter students are more active in live Chats than face to face, providing an interesting change to class dynamics.

Managing chats

View the latest available Chat sessions on your Dashboard. You can accept upcoming Chat bookings, to let students and teachers know you’ll be at their Chat.

  • Chat sessions last 40 minutes and are available each week of the zone.
    • Note: the first 5 minutes is for students to log in, last 10 can be used by teachers to talk directly to their students.
  • Do as many chats as you want to do over the month. Whatever works for your schedule.
  • Teachers may make special requests for specific kinds of experts. If you fit what they’re looking for, please try and make these chats a priority.
  • When enough experts have Accepted a chat, the booking will not be visible for anyone else to Accept – However you can still come to the chat if you’re free then.
  • If a chat is cancelled, it will disappear from your Accepted list
  • Check for new chats regularly. New ones are added each day. You will only see chats booked in the next couple of weeks.

Tips for the chats

  • Sometimes 2 or 3 chats run at once. Choose the chat you accepted or, if you’re dropping in, choose the one with fewer experts present.

  • Chats can be hectic, but also exhilarating. Enjoy the hurly-burly and don’t worry too much about your spelling!

  • To help you prioritise questions, the numbers next to each student’s username are how many times an expert has answered them. If you see a ‘0’ or ‘1’ there, this student may appreciate your next answer most.

  • Use the ‘Message@[your name]’ option at the top right of the chat window to see only the messages directed at you in real-time. This helps to focus on relevant questions during busy chats.

  • Remember that anyone with a mortarboard next to their name is a teacher.

  • Click on a student’s message to address your answer to them. Otherwise they may not realise you’ve answered their question, and keep asking it. If you get behind on a chat, it’s better to skip a few questions and get back to the bottom of the screen, otherwise you keep answering questions after the students have gone!

  • Be patient. Some young people’s turn of phrase and use of language will be different from ‘academic discourse’. It may take you a little while to understand what they are trying to ask. This is especially true when Special Educational Needs (SEN) Schools are involved.

  • Be tolerant. Sometimes young people can be over-exuberant online. Chat with them and they will calm down and engage with you.

  • Don’t take offence. Sometimes you will receive questions which seem quite blunt, but usually students don’t mean to be offensive. The benefit of an online activity is that they feel empowered to ask.

Moderation of questions: Our policy

All questions in Ask are moderated before they are sent to you. The moderators work very hard to strike a balance between making your lives easier as participants, and giving students the chance to ask real questions.

Remember most students are 13 or 14 years old, although there are some Sixth Form classes taking part too, or you may be in a Primary chat. Some classes are from Special Educational Needs Schools or young offender institutions.

Duplicate questions

We know you will get sent some very similar questions (believe us, the moderators wade through and weed out a lot more of them!). Moderators will take out duplicate questions in Ask, but allow through questions which may be similar, but make additional or slightly different points.

Offensive questions

Moderators will remove rude or offensive questions (there are generally very few) and anything which breaks the house rules. They will allow challenging questions. They will allow irreverent, but friendly, questions. There will always be a moderator or teacher logged in to the chatroom to help things along.

However, they are not miracle-workers, and from time to time there will be the odd chat that we cannot get on track. Bear with us, we’re doing our best!

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Four key things you need to know

1. This may take about 2 hours on some days

Depending on your schedule, you might do three half-hour chats on one day, then not be able to do as many on other days. That’s completely fine, there are lots of experts online to share out the load.

The Ask questions can be answered whenever you like, so don’t feel the need to completely clear your list every single night/lunch break. We’ve heard they are particularly useful for passing the time on rainy weekends…

2. It’s not a seminar for super-smart scientists of the future

There will be a wide variation in the students taking part and a big variation in ability. Some will be “gifted and talented” students, some will be lower ability classes, or have special educational needs. The point of the activity is to provide a space that engages all students, not just the ones who might go on to study STEM subjects at university.

Most teenagers won’t grow up to be scientists, researchers or engineers, but they will all grow up to be people. As adults they’ll have to make decisions about science and engineering — as voters, as consumers — and we are trying to help them develop the skills and confidence to do that.

For some, “Where do bogies come from?” or, “Do you like your job?” may be the most pressing question they can think of. Part of the point is that this activity humanises science for young people; they realise that you are “like normal people” who they can relate to.

3. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”.

You will be asked some questions which are not in your area. Answer what you feel you can, but don’t feel you have to Google all evening to answer these questions.

Part of the point of the activity is that students get more realistic ideas about scientists. They can learn that, for example, there’s no reason why a psychologist should know about how much the moon weighs. This makes STEM seem a lot less intimidating. You can be a scientist without being a genius who knows everything! This can be a liberating realisation for students.

Also, of course, many things in science aren’t known. Otherwise there’d be nothing for scientists to do. And even as adults, we can learn new things all the time. This is part of the fun of science! Don’t be afraid to let students in on that secret.

4. Get your boss onside and your colleagues involved!

We’d strongly advise you to tell your boss you are taking part in the activity, and get their support, if you can. Several participants said that this made a big difference. Questions on the website can be answered during the evening, but live chats have to be during the school day, likely during working hours.

Also, many people find themselves discussing some of the more intriguing questions with colleagues. This can be one of the most stimulating things about the activity. Get your colleagues involved in the fun, send them the Application page.

If you need ammunition to persuade your boss of the benefits, we suggest the following points:

  • You’re giving something back at a difficult time for everyone and contributing to science education and the future of science and engineering.
  • Taking part in I’m a Scientist develops your communication skills. This is the most mentioned benefit from taking part.
  • It can re-energise you about your own work and get you thinking differently. Students can ask amazing, insightful questions.
  • It can broaden your relationships with other professionals. It’s easy sometimes to get stuck in your specialism. People in previous zones have learnt, or been reminded of many other parts of science. Some even form collaborations (or friendships) with scientists and engineers in other areas who they met during I’m a Scientist.

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Advice on engagement

Be yourself

Our best advice is to be yourself in your answers. You don’t need to pretend to like Beyoncé/Justin Bieber/Taylor Swift for young people to relate to you, being genuine is what’s important.

Be friendly

When we asked people what they would do differently if they did it again, one answer that summed up many was, “I would be less formal and more personal from the start”.

De-technify your language

Even if you think you are using easy-to-understand language, you likely work in an environment where there is a lot of jargon. Technical words are often used when more accessible ones are available. It’s easy not to realise when your language may be going over the heads of most 13 year olds (and adults).

Don’t “identify”, “find”. Don’t “utilise”, “use”. Don’t “investigate”, “look at”.

Read our full advice for writing clearly in I’m a Scientist.

Here’s a great video from our funders, Wellcome, which might also help:

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Talk to us!

Please communicate with other experts and the moderation team, as well as the students. We’ve occasionally had people finish the activity and say in feedback they were having technical problems, or were worried about particular questions, or similar. We’d much rather hear at the time so we can do something about it.

Let us know if you’re having problems by using the feedback form on the your dashboard page, use the Staffroom Chat page, or email us directly:

We use our Twitter as a way to interact with experts taking part in I’m a Scientist, among other things. It’s a great way to communicate how your zone is going, learn more about you, the people taking part, and ultimately keep in touch with everyone after the activity.

Get on board and follow us at @imascientist and keep an eye on tweets marked #IASUK. (And have you got your exclusive Twitter badge yet?)


If you need any help, please email

Visit the Staffroom at during the activity to say Hi, or if you’ve got a question for the moderators.


The small print page

By accepting your invitation to I’m a Scientist you are agreeing to these listed terms and conditions

We think you’ll agree with it but it’s best to be sure, so please have a read.

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