Engineer briefing notes

We’ve prepared these notes to help you find your way through I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here

The Activity

I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here is a student-led STEM engagement activity that takes place online.

The activity gets young people talking to engineers online, to learn about real engineering. It goes deeper than ‘flash-bang-wow-inspiration!’. Students have fun but also get beyond stereotypes, learn about how engineering relates to real life, develop their thinking and discussion skills and make connections with real engineers. Ultimately, it’s about helping all students, whoever they are, feel that engineering can be something ‘for them’.

Rationale: The primary objective of the activity is to change students’ attitudes to STEM, and make them feel it’s something they can relate to and discuss. Giving students some say (i.e. voting for their favourite engineer) makes the activity more real for them. Read how I’m a Engineer affects students’ attitudes to engineering.
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What’s involved?

During the activity you will interact online with young people (aged 9 to 18) through live Chats and posted questions. You will answer their questions about your day to day work, your career, your hobbies and interests, and just about anything the students can think of. You also get to find out the students’ opinions on engineering, 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.

There are 4 sections to the site:

  1. Your profile where students can find out about your and your work.
  2. Students can Ask you questions which you answer in your own time.
  3. You Chat with school students in moderated text-only live chats.
  4. Students Vote for their favourite engineer. At the end of the activity, with engineer with the most votes will win £500 for further STEM outreach.

Please think seriously about what you would do with the prize money as the students will ask you about it. Some suggestions include:

  • buying equipment to allow a research oceanography vessel to communicate with school students during expeditions.
  • funding engineer visits to schools, school visits to your workplace, or supporting a local after-school STEM club
  • giving the money to a school in Uganda to pay for science kits and a projector to watch science films on.

See previous uses of prize money here
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My profile

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 an Engineer 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.

Ways of interacting:

Answering Ask questions

You will be notified by email of all new questions. 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’ on the right hand side.
  3. To answer, click the question and type your answer.

You will also be able to view other engineers’ 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 to the point.

 

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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Doing Live Chats

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

How to sign up for 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 typically last 40 minutes and are available each week of the zone.
  • Do as many Chats as you want to during your Zone. Whatever works for your schedule.
  • Teachers may make special requests for specific kinds of engineers. If you fit what they’re looking for, please try and make these chats a priority.
  • When enough engineers have accepted a live 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 by a teacher, it will disappear from your Accepted list
  • Check for new chats regularly. New ones are added each day.

Tips for the chat

  • Sometimes more than 1 Chat can be running at once. Choose the chat you accepted or, if you’re dropping in, choose the one with fewer engineers 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 engineer has answered them. If you see a ‘0’ or ‘1’ there, this student may appreciate your next answer most.

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

  • Click on a student’s message to address your answer to a particular student. Otherwise they may not realise you’ve answered their question, and keep asking it. If you get behind on a chat room, 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!

  • 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.

  • Be patient. Some young people’s turn of phrase and use of language may 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 Schools are involved.

  • Be tolerant. Sometimes young people can be over-exuberant online. Chat with them and they will usually 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 and the chance to ask real questions.

Remember students can be aged 9 to 18. 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, 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 in the chatroom to help things along.

However, the moderators 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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Prize money, rewards and recognition

We know you’re not doing this activity for the glory. However, we still want the time you’re giving to connect with students to be appreciated.

Prize money for your project

The students are voting for the engineer they think should win £500 for their own STEM outreach projects.

This could be school visits, STEM fair exhibits, videos or podcasts, blogs, arranging class visits to your lab or office… as long as it’s involving people outside of STEM, it’s a good idea.

During the activity the engineers with the most Votes are announced every Friday. The overall winner is revealed on the final Friday afternoon.

Check out how past winners in I’m an Engineer have spent their money.

You can take the Vote part of the activity as seriously as you like. There’s no pressure on you to push for votes and no negative consequences for not winning. We never publish the number of votes.

For students and teachers, though, considering who to vote for is an important part of the activity. It gives students a reason to think critically about the work engineers do. Please keep this in mind if you’re asked ‘Why should we vote for you?’.

Mugs

Need extra motivation? The famous I’m an Engineer mug can be yours if you’re particularly active in your Zone.

Participation certificates for all

After your Zone we will send you a certificate as a record of your efforts in engaging students with engineering.

Most of all, whatever time you can give to the activity, you have the thanks of teachers and families across the UK. On their behalf, thank you! 🙌

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Four key things you need to know

1. This may take about 2–3 hours some days.

Depending on your schedule, you might do 3 40-minute live Chats on one day, then not be able to do as many on other days. That’s completely fine, there are other engineers 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. This is not a seminar for the super-smart engineers 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, 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 engineers or researchers, but they will all grow up to be people. As adults they’ll have to make decisions about STEM — 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 STEM 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 engineers. They can learn that, for example, there’s no reason why a software engineer should know about how much the Moon weighs. This makes STEM seem a lot less intimidating. You can be a engineer without being a genius who knows everything! This can be a liberating realisation for students.

Also, of course, many things aren’t known. And even as adults, we can learn new things all the time. Don’t be afraid to let students in on that secret.

4. Get your boss onside.

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 found themselves discussing some of the more intriguing questions with colleagues. This can be one of the most stimulating things about the activity. Get your workplace involved in the fun! If you need ammunition to persuade your boss of the benefits, we suggest the following points:

  • Taking part in I’m a Engineer 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. Teenagers can ask great questions.
  • It can broaden your relationships with other engineers and engineers. It’s easy sometimes to get stuck in your specialism. People in previous activities have learnt, or been reminded of many other areas, and even formed collaborations (or friendships) with engineers and engineers in other areas who they “met” during I’m a Engineer.
  • You’re “giving something back” and contributing to education and the future of engineering.

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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, and 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.

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

Talk to us!

Please communicate with other engineers and the moderation team, as well as the students. We’ve occasionally had people finish the activity and say in feedback that 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 profile 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 Engineer, among other things. It’s a great way to communicate how the activity ‘s going, learn more about you, the people taking part, and ultimately keep in touch with everyone after the activity. So get on board and follow us at @imaengineer and keep an eye on tweets marked #IAEUK.

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Contact

If you need any help, please email support@imanengineer.org.uk or call 01225 326 892.

You can also visit the Staffroom (no students allowed) at imanengineer.org.uk/staffroom 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 an Engineer 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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