On Wednesday 22nd June we opened our doors to excite and inform about statistics, with the aim of demonstrating to school students and members of the public that statistics is crucial in medical research, and many aspects of our everyday lives.
Our open day formed part of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Festival of Medical Research, the first ever annual MRC Festival celebrating medical research. For one week, MRC units, centres and institutes showcased their research through events and activities around the UK, including open days, public lectures/debates, activity days, workshops, and interactive seminars and quizzes.
The festival was a great opportunity for the Biostatistics Unit (BSU) to reach out to members of the public and secondary school students. The format of our event involved one hour sessions that were repeated five times (between 2 and 7pm). Each session included a ten minute welcome and introduction by Senior Investigator Statistician in the Unit, Dr Paul Kirk. Following the introduction, attendees were split into groups of four, with four statistical hands-on activities that each group were able to experience, including; capture-recapture with ducks, adaptive randomisation – testing reactions, genes and lifestyle – can you become an Olympian, and biased sampling with sweets. All the activities were created in order to communicate a key statistical concept directly relevant to BSU’s research themes, to a lay audience. For example, the biased sampling activity uses the simple challenge of guessing the weight of a bag of mixed sized sweets, to demonstrate the challenges to consider when working with large samples of varied data. Each group spent seven minutes on each activity and rotated so that attendees experienced everything we had on offer. Following completion of all the activities, a closing talk was given by Paul, with information on careers in statistics and how attendees can keep up to date with what we are doing.
During the afternoon event, we welcomed 45 visitors, including four school and sixth form college groups. The numbers in each session were kept small in order to provide intimate, quality engagement with our attendees, with the aim that each individual would come away learning something new about statistical research and to alter any pre-conceived ideas about statistics.
Following the open day, we received brilliant feedback, including these comments from some of the school students:
“The BSU open day showed me that statistics is not boring and it is used in many ways”
“I have learnt that statistics is used in a much larger range of ways than I would have first thought. It is a key part of biology and medical research”
“There are many opportunities within statistics research that I didn’t know about until coming to the open day”
“The BSU open day was engaging, interesting and fun”
Not only was the event enjoyable for our visitors, it was also incredibly valuable and rewarding for BSU staff and students who volunteered their time to get involved. Eleven staff members and students gave up their afternoon to welcome and interact with our visitors and demonstrate our hands-on activities. Communicating scientific research to lay audiences can be challenging for many scientists, however all those involved in our open day did a fantastic job of explaining our statistical activities and their key messages in a style that was easy to understand.
Paul Kirk, who played a vital role in leading the activities, and introducing the event, said: “Our open day was hugely enjoyable to be part of — it was great to have the chance to engage with school groups and members of the public to let them know what we do, through fun and games. The instant feedback and enthusiasm from the participants was amazing and really motivating for all of us at the BSU.”
Harry Gray, PhD student at BSU, who volunteered on the capture-recapture studies activity said: “Since I am at the start of my PhD, the open day was the first experience that I’ve had to raise awareness about the importance of biostatistics research. It was enjoyable to convey the statistical concepts behind what we do, but more importantly the students and members of public who came along also had fun. The most rewarding part for me was receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback; they let us know that we were successful at both teaching and inspiring them.”
Overall the BSU open day was extremely successful for all involved and we look forward to taking part in the MRC Festival 2018.
To learn more about the four hands-on activities we demonstrated at the open day, take a look at the flyers for each:
- How many ducks are there – Capture-Recapture Studies
- Genes & Lifestyle – Can you become an Olympian
- Biased Sampling with sweets
- Adaptive Randomisation – Testing reactions
Watch Dr Paul Kirk being interviewed for Cambridge TV, talking about the open day and demonstrating the biased sampling activity: http://www.cambridge-tv.co.uk/mrc-biostatistics/