Catch Them Early: Engaging Sixth Form Pupils in Social Science Research

dharmi kapadiaDharmi Kapadia, one of our #DataImpactFellows, shares how she engaged with younger potential researchers.




I recently had the pleasure of talking to Sixth Form College pupils as part of an event with the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences that took place from 3rd to 10th November across the UK.

The event, ‘Britain by numbers; the big social sciences data quiz’ was organised by Dr Jen Buckley from the UK Data Service. The idea of the event was to introduce quantitative data to pupils in an interactive way using fun facts and quizzes, based on data available from the UK Data Service, and show them how statistics can be used to understand important social issue in Britain today.

My part in the day was to give the pupils a flavor of what a researcher/ lecturer at the university does and how I use data in my research.

I have to be honest that although I happily agreed to speak at this event, as the date of the event drew closer, I realised that I was more nervous about speaking to Sixth Form pupils than I was about most of the other talks and presentations that I had given in the past! I know how to lecture undergraduate students, present my research findings to the academic research community and I’m even confident in talking to voluntary organisations, government departments and other non-academic agencies about my research, but sixth form college pupils were a new audience for me.

How would I talk to them about my research in a way that was accessible to them? How could I make sure that I didn’t put them off using statistics for life?!

Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time preparing and I decided that I wanted to tell them about my personal background and my journey into academia as well as presenting research findings to them. I thought this was particularly important as an ethnic minority junior female academic; there’s not that many of us around. I also wanted to show pupils that attended on the day that there are an array of ways of forging an academic career. I bit the bullet and admitted to them that I quit both my first and second degrees before finally gaining a degree by studying part time with The Open University whilst working at The University of Manchester. These kind of ‘failures’ are not usually what you expect of university academics nor are they the types of admissions that academics are generally willing to make. But it is important for pupils to hear about how things go wrong sometimes, especially in the current climate where there is an enormous amount of pressure on the young people of today to ‘succeed’.

The talk ended up going very well. The pupils were interested in the two examples of research using quantitative data that I presented to them.

First, I showed a chart from a briefing I wrote on how ethnic minority people are disadvantaged in the labour market with high levels of unemployment, and this inequality, although not as great as it was in 1991, has persisted over time. I made copies of my slides available after the talk, and directed them to a related Youtube video that I appeared in:

Secondly, I presented some findings from my PhD research that showed that Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are the least likely to use outpatient mental health services, using the survey, Ethnic Minority Psychiatric Illness Rates in the Community. One pupil even asked me what confidence intervals were and how they are calculated, such was the level of engagement!

For me, it is important to participate in events like these to take research findings outside the academy, but also to inspire pupils to think about what is possible for them in terms of their future education and careers. I will definitely be looking at more opportunities to engage younger audiences with research findings in the future.


Dharmi Kapadia is one of the UK Data Service Data Impact Fellows. She is a lecturer in Sociology at The University of Manchester.

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