I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!

I really enjoy my job! Well, who wouldn’t enjoy being a guardian of scientific evidence about our health and healthcare (alright, I know it’s a bit grandiose but all will be explained).

A bit like the original guardians (a team of interstellar misfits proactive in protecting the galaxy), I’m part of a team that proactively looks to protect the health of people on planet Earth; only I’m not green (well most of the time), I don’t have superhuman powers, and my weapons are a laptop, knowledge and (some) skills in evidence-based medicine (EBM) plus an uncontrollable desire to seek out and destroy bad science rather than a huge space laser (although this would be handy in some cases)!

Since joining the team at Oxford as a young(ish) EBM recruit, I’ve worked hard to complete my training under the guidance of Prof Carl Heneghan before being given responsibility to teach new recruits myself. These recruits are keen to learn the mastery of the force: practice that matches their patients values and preferences with the best available scientific evidence. This comes with experience but also knowledge of what is good versus bad science and how the dark side use EBM for sometimes corrupt, certainly skewed, agendas!

I’m also keen to move beyond my own orbit and spread this message as far and wide throughout the scientific galaxy, which is why I applied to I’m a scientist get me out of here! (IAS from here on). I heard about IAS through a random transmission from the mother ship (Oxford Medical Sciences Division) and followed it up out of interest.

It’s basically a free online science engagement activity aimed at engaging (duh!) young science students (and their teachers) in conversation with jobbing scientists across all fields and disciplines. It’s run a bit like the TV show where the students act as judges, only there’s no Ant and Dec (IAS moderators instead) and we don’t have to eat kangaroo private parts to survive! The idea apparently stemmed from a local council youth engagement event in Gallomanor which wanted to engage young people in politics and show them it’s not all ‘boring’ and remote. The project lead thought the format could also work well for science.

To get through to the competition I had to submit a sentence about what I do that had to be interesting enough for students to rate me high enough to get in. So I come came up with this: “I am a guardian of scientific evidence. My job is to help make sure the medicines you take and the advice your doctor gives you is based on good scientific evidence. I also hunt down bad science behind scary health stories and teach others how to do it for themselves”. A bit much I know, but hey, it worked! I got in!

The format is 5 scientists are matched (sort of) to one of 8 zones that cover different areas from basic to applied sciences (and even some maths!). Students ask questions via live, quick fire, text-based ‘chats’ and can post questions online and then vote for their favourite scientist (presumably based on the answers given by us but not a strict rule).

I’ve been put in the ‘Rhenium’ zone. I’ve since learned that Rhenium is one of the rarest metals on Earth – not sure then what to make of my being put here. Are we Guardian’s a rare breed? I don’t think so; but perhaps like other ‘misfits’ what we do tends mostly to go unnoticed (as it should be!). But for two weeks this November (9th – 20th) I’m going to shine a light on what we do and hope to inspire future Guardian’s to use the force for good and help keep the scientific universe in balance.

I’ll try to update this blog during the 2 weeks but there will be updates from me on twitter via @dnunan79 and general updates from the I’m a Scientist team @imascientist.

May the force be with me (apparently the live chats are insane and I’m going to have to be a keyboard Jedi)!

About David Nunan

Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Oxford and BASES accredited Exercise Physiologist.

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