QUB & RCUK School-University Partnership Initiative: Inspiring the Next Generation of Researchers

Two female pupils with researcher from CCRCB holding a model of DNA

Queen’s recently welcomed over 150 Year 9 pupils to take part in the Research Council UK (RCUK) funded School-University Partnership Initiative (SUPI). Two days held at the beginning of June saw pupils from Bangor Academy & Sixth Form College, and the Magherafelt Area Learning Community (ALC) engage with researchers from across all three faculties at Queen’s.

Now in its fourth year, SUPI provides opportunities for schools and universities to bring contemporary research to life for young people, and serves as a network for supporting school teachers and staff across the University. As the target audience is Year 9 and 10 pupils, the project provides a tailored introduction to research, and the opportunity to participate in workshops that are designed to complement a broader discussion of research and its uses. It aims to make pupils engage and think logically and creatively about research projects carried out at Queen’s, showing that our research has a real impact on their lives and on society at large. Through the project pupils are encouraged to think more coherently about the subjects they wish to choose at GCSE level and, for those who have not already, to think of university as a legitimate aspiration.

On 9 June, around 70 pupils from Bangor Academy & Sixth Form College participated in ‘Societies in Motion’, an interdisciplinary project developed by researchers in the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, School of Law, and School of Creative Arts. Drawing on the research expertise of the team, ‘Societies in Motion’ aimed to introduce pupils to controversies and debates concerning rapid population change, from new patterns of immigration to developments in the life course, and the resulting consequences for society. Pupils were also given an introduction to the range of research methods used in the social sciences to investigate social change. Workshops included a lively debate on human rights, a decision-making roleplay concerning immigration policy, and focus groups discussing how researchers can engage with young people, and if Northern Ireland is a good place to grow old. A highlight for many pupils was an interactive drama workshop exploring the theme of crossing borders in the 21st century. Accompanying teachers stated that attending the event had been beneficial to them as members of school staff. One teacher noted, “It is always good to network with university staff and discuss future opportunities for co-operation”.

On 13 June it was the turn of the Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC), Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB), and the School of Pharmacy to host 85 pupils from the Magherafelt Area Learning Community. The SARC workshop gave pupils the opportunity to see how research in the creative technologies directly impacts on their interests, by having the chance to create sounds for a computer game, and witness the technology that goes behind creating such games. CCRCB and Pharmacy worked together to design the project ‘From Discovery to Recovery’. The theme combined the expertise of clinicians and pharmacists to take pupils on an interactive journey from patient symptoms to clinical diagnosis, disease biomarker discovery, drug development and back to the patient for treatment. The Pharmacy project aimed to give pupils an appreciation of the role of the pharmacist in the community. This was complemented by the interactive workshop delivered by CCRCB, informing pupils of key facts on cancer as a disease and how research has provided treatments for patients. Researchers behind ‘From Discovery to Recovery’ Maeliosa McCrudden (School of Pharmacy) and Karen McCloskey (CCRCB) said, “We hoped to inspire the pupils to choose core science subjects at senior level and heighten their awareness of the possibility of pursuing medical or scientific careers in the future”. The project appears to have succeeded in this aim with one pupil commenting, “I loved learning about cancer and DNA, and meeting all the people who work in science”.

Researchers involved in SUPI will make a return visit to the school and ALC involved in the Autumn, to further develop the school-university partnerships, and build upon some of the themes explored during the initial visit to Queen’s.

SUPI workshops were also delivered by David Grant (Creative Arts) and Jonathan Cole (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) as part of the Junior Academy Welcome Day in May. Read more: Junior Academy Welcomes the new cohort of Year 9 Participants!