FAQ for participating scientists

What kind of questions will I get?
Do you have any advice for filling out the scientist registration form?
What do I do about problem questions, or ones I’m worried about?
What’s your moderation policy for questions?
Time commitment
Live chats
Do I need to do any IT checks?
How do I keep in contact/Get in touch?

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! The most common questions last year were:-

1.Variations on, ‘What made you want to be a scientist?’ (this is the most popular question by far)
2.What will you do with the money if you win?
3.Will the world end in 2013?
4.Will X give me cancer?
5.Which came first the chicken or the egg?

Also, quite a lot about zombies and dinosaurs.

But there is a huuuuuuge long tail of questions, and the UK has seen everything from the speed of light to where bogies come from.

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.

A cautionary tale. Last year 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. I think they must have been rushing, because it was pretty obviously nonsense if you thought about it. I hope I don’t have to say this, but use your critical faculties if you’re going outside your area and want to avoid looking silly.

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 do ask, it’s what we’re here for!

‘Are you gay?’
This is quite a common question. Sometimes, doubtless, the student is just trying to be cheeky. But they could be a young person struggling with their sexuality and trying to start a conversation with a non-threatening adult about it. Because we’ve no way of knowing the difference, we will likely approve this question.
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 (the UK recommends Bish’s website) and if appropriate, suggest they speak to a trusted adult or their doctor.

It’s very rare, but we occasionally get questions about bullying. Refer students to accessible but reliable information (the Bullying No Way is a good resource for Australian schools) 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 scientist participants and giving students the chance to ask real questions.

Moderators will take out:

Duplicate questions, but allow through similar questions which make slightly different points.

Rude or offensive questions, but allow challenging and irreverent, but friendly, questions.

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

Time commitment

During the event scientists typically spend about 2 hours a day participating, for the ten weekdays that the event is on. This will vary according to how busy your zone is and how much detail you go into with your answers. Last year some people spent a lot more (up to six hours a day), but that’s 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.

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 MSN or google chat. You don’t need any special software or anything, 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 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. We can text you if they return and it’s easy to pop back if you’re at a computer and not in the middle of something else by then.

Chats are booked by the teacher, to coincide with their science lesson, so the time is fixed, but we don’t expect all the scientists 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 scientists attend each chat the students will get a lot out of it.

Although, be warned, students are most likely to vote for scientists 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 when the first eviction is looming:-).

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 (and I think all but one of you has) 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 chatroom. Rarely a corporate firewall or similar may block the chatroom. This is more common with school firewalls, and far less common since we got better chatroom technology. But best to find out in advance of the first chat booking!
Drop-in sessions are (AEST):

11-11:30am Wednesday 6th March

1-1.30pm Thursday 7th March, and

3-3.30pm Friday 8th March.

How do I keep in contact/Get in touch?

We strongly recommend twitter as a way to keep in touch with us, and with your fellow contestants. Last year there was a lot of online camaraderie with scientists giving each other tips, sharing fears and joking around. The I’m a Scientist team will also be passing on the latest event news and so on.

Twitter is also a useful way to contact us directly. I’m saying this for our benefit, as much as for yours, as it means we hear of any issue immediately. On one occasion last year this was a lifesaver when we’d completely forgotten to open a chatroom. Thanks to our tweeting scientists we opened only a minute or two late.

Do bear in mind though that twitter is a public medium and students taking part in the event may read what you say.

The I’m a Scientist Australia twitter feed
Search for things said about the event recently on twitter, (i.e. with the #IASAus hashtag)

Please get in touch if you’ve got any questions not covered here, or you need help with anything. You can do this on twitter, to @IASAus, by email on, or on +61 (0)410 422 629. We’re here to help!