How to use the site

This information will help you use the different parts of the Green Zone site. It is adapted from our full Scientist Briefing Notes.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) questions advice

This is a summary. Read our full Guidance on answering questions on coronavirus.

We expect many science questions about coronavirus/COVID-19 like ‘How does covid infect people?’, as well as personal ones ‘How are you coping?’ etc. If a coronavirus science question is not related to your discipline please leave those questions to other experts.

In general, please be very clear about when what you say is an opinion and when what you say is based on current fact from up-to-date sources. Signposting to constantly updated guidance, like NHS site pages, is also a good idea.

While it is important to acknowledge and respond to students ASK and CHAT questions on the topic, it is also fine to say ‘I don’t know’, or even not respond if you’re not confident of your answer.

Remember that you appear to the students as ‘expert scientists’ no matter your background, and this comes with responsibility, which I’m sure you’re aware of.

Correcting answers

Because we host searchable web content, we at IAS have a duty to make sure our users are properly informed, especially about coronavirus.

You can help us if you have the right background and see an ASK answer from another scientist that needs correcting. Please leave a comment with a polite correction, even if you’re not asked directly.

You will also see comments from Moderators on all relevant questions to make future site visitors aware about the potentially out-of-date nature of answers.

If you spot something that is really wrong in an ASK question and should be removed (or you feel uncomfortable correcting it for whatever reason) let or a moderator know.

We can then review, edit or delete the answer. Likewise, if your answer is corrected or deleted, please don’t take it personally, it’s all about keeping people well informed.

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How to use the site

Log in

Enter the username and password that we have emailed to you. Your username will usually be “firstnamelastname” (e.g. jobloggs).’

My profile

You have a profile including a photo, information about you and your work, and a set of “interview” questions. Find your profile from anywhere by clicking on your name at the top of any page in the Zone.

Your profile enables the students to find out more about you what you wanted to engage them with at the fair.

When filling out your profile remember to save regularly, click the Update Profile button at the bottom after filling in each section.

Editing your profile

Log in then click on the My Profile tab.

Click “Edit your profile” at the top of the page. A series of boxes will appear to be filled in. There are four sections to your profile.

For the first sections you’ll be asked for a one sentence summary, and then a longer version. The short versions are all displayed on one page with a “read more” option underneath. Testing showed this makes it much easier for low literacy students, while it’s easy for students who want to read more to access it.

Don’t feel you 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 people ideas of what to ask you. Save regularly using “Update Profile” at the bottom.

  • About meThis lets students find out more about you and your interests so they can see you as a real person!
  • My activity Here the students can read about what your activity at the fair in more detail.

Note on social media accounts: Please don’t add details of your social media accounts (twitter handles, instagram etc) to your profile page. This helps to keep the school students’ interactions with you during the activity in a fully moderated space, this website.

We’ll ask you after the activity if you’d like to to have your contact details shared with schools to keep up the engagement in future.

Update your profile

When you have finished, click “Update Profile” at the bottom. You can come back and edit your profile at any time by clicking on your name at the top of the site.

Adding images and other media

You can put photos or other images (for example, graphs or images that illustrate your research or where you work) into the long answers  “About me” and “my activity”.

You can also embed video. However, do 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 the video as it will leave out some students.

Your main profile picture

Please upload a friendly colour photo (not a black and white one) to use as your profile picture for the site.

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Ways of interacting:

1. Doing Live CHATs

Live chats are fun and give immediate contact between scientists 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.

View the list of sessions available. You will also be notified by email of new bookings.

At the time of the chat:

  • log in and click on the CHAT icon at the top.
  • about 5 minutes before each session, the chat box will appear on this page. Refresh to make sure the latest session is visible to you.

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Tips for the chat

  • 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 someone 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! Moderators have had a lot of practice and they can repeat questions that have been missed.

  • 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 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.


2. Answering ASK questions

You will be notified by email of all ASK questions sent to your profile. You can answer them in your own time.

  1. Log in
  2. On your profile page you’ll see a “My Unanswered Questions” box near the top. Up to 100 recent unanswered questions will appear in this box as clickable links.
  3. To answer a question, click the link and type your answer.

You will also be able to view other scientists’ answers to the question.

It is up to you which 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 need to write long answers.

Our advice is simple; be honest, straightforward and to the point in your answers.

Moderation of questions: Our policy

All questions in ASK are moderated before they are sent to you. Live CHATs are reactively moderated. 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 most students are 13 or 14 years old, although there may be some Sixth Form classes taking part too.

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 in ASK, 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, they 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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Advice on engagement

Is this your first time engaging with students?

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”.

Here’s a great video from one of our funders, Wellcome, which might also help:

Talk to us!

Please communicate with other scientists 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 Scientist, among other things. It’s a great way to communicate how the activity is going, learn more about you, the people taking part, and ultimately keep in touch with everyone after the activity.

Get on board and follow us at @imascientist and #IASUK.


If you need any help, please email or call 01225 326 892.

Visit the Staffroom at during the activity to say Hi, or if you’ve got a question for the moderators.

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