The Department of Investigative Medicine at Imperial College London investigates how the gut and brain communicate to control appetite and bodyweight. This is a hugely topical area of research in light of the current obesity epidemic. Moreover, the subject of appetite control provides an excellent platform in which to introduce the discipline of Neuroendocrinology to school pupils â€“ it is a subject which all can relate. Because of this, we decided to organise and run a Departmental Outreach day, named 'An Appetite for Science?' for year 12 pupils from around the UK who are in the process of deciding what career they may pursue. This interesting area of research provides a perfect foundation on which to design an educational and insightful day into what it's like to work as a scientist in academia.
Details about the Outreach day were advertised via the Imperial College website, www.imperial.ac.uk/outreach, and within the Imperial College Outreach brochure sent out to schools nationwide. We are extremely grateful for funding from The British Society for Neuroendocrinology which made the Outreach day possible, and funding from the Society was highlighted on the Imperial College website and in all talks presented on the day.
The day aimed to illustrate the physiology of appetite control and provided an insight into our lab-based in vitro and in vivo experiments, and also our studies in humans. We provided a mixture of informative lecture style presentations, hands-on activities and a laboratory based experiment. The day was run by a mix of scientists at different stages in their careers: Academics, Postdocs and PhD students with either basic science or medical backgrounds, providing the pupils with a range of perspectives about working in academic research.
We started the day with a couple of presentations on the 'science' behind appetite control and an insight into the current obesity epidemic. We then gave the pupils the opportunity to carry out a laboratory based experiment (an ELISA) in small supervised groups, in which they detect and quantify the levels of the 'hunger hormone ghrelin' in 'plasma' samples, to encourage the pupils to bring together what they have learnt from the lectures into practice in the lab.
The Department is a leading international centre that specialises in translational research- moving from lab-based in vivo studies through to studies in human volunteers. The Outreach Day therefore provides an ideal opportunity to experience research from 'bench to bedside'. As part of this, the pupils undertook an activity to design a 'clinical trial' for a novel gut hormone identified to have a role in appetite control. Finally, the pupils went on a tour of our laboratories, and chatted to PhD students and staff about the research we carry out.
This year we had 25 school pupils attend from around the UK. It was highly successful and we received excellent feedback from the students: 'An excellent day! Very interesting! Gave me insight of what it is like doing research. Have another day!!' wrote one student, 'I enjoyed the day immensely. I learnt many new things, and this has definitely given me new options of careers to consider' wrote another.