I'm a Scientist, Get me out of here! Verna Dankers

Verna Dankers, student in the Centre for Doctoral Training in Natural Language Processing, took part in I'm a Scientist, Get me out of here! online chat with high school pupils in December 2020.

What it entailed?

The schools could book 40-minute chat sessions via the I'm a Scientist website. Chat sessions appeared in Verna's dashboard and she could accept or decline, dependent on her schedule. When a chat started, she would log in, and students could directly type their questions into an online text-based chat environment.

Usually, there were a few other scientists there, and students could direct their questions at individuals or at all scientists at the same time. Verna was in Orange Zone which meant she was in a chat with people that studied completely different topics, such as volcanoes or forensic science!

A screen shot form a I'm a scientist website showing thumbs of participating scientists photos

Was it fun?

What Verna enjoyed the most was the fact that these chats were often very lively, with lots and lots of questions being asked. Sometimes scientists couldn't keep up with answering and the moderators had to pause the students for a bit. It was not a one-way conversation, but one could start a thread for every question and talk back and forth with the student that asked the question.

Any tricky questions?

We've asked Verna what were the most interesting/challenging questions.

She says: 'I think the most interesting questions were about how I do what I do ("teaching language to computers"), and what inspired me to get into the research field of natural language processing (NLP). I usually explained that we represent words with numbers and that we use math to compute things (e.g. translations) from those numbers. One funny comment that I got was that that sounded interesting and boring at the same time. I guess someone didn't like math. Once I explained that we design models / mathematical functions and then estimate their parameters by training them with lots and lots of examples. One student then asked whether, after designing and training those models, they felt a little bit like babies to me. The weirdest situation was when one school class started to imagine what a robot uprising would be like.'


Related links

I'm a scientist website