In conversation with...Graham Scott

28 February 2015 - By: Bethan Wolfenden

In conversation with...Graham Scott

Dr Graham Scott-IN txt
Professor Graham Scott is a member of the SEB+ section committee.

By Bethan Wolfenden

The newly appointed Professor of Bioscience Education at the University of Hull, Professor Graham Scott, is also an avid bird watcher and a licensed bird ringer. By attaching engraved metal bands to wild birds, he tags the birds to be identified in the future, contributing data to the British Trust for Ornithology monitoring programme. Family holidays are often nature based, and Graham muses that although his 14-year-old teenager plans on pursuing a career in ornithology research, his youngest aims to be a musician. 

Graham wrote his PhD on the fighting behaviour in Blue Tits at the University of Edinburgh. After a period as a research associate at Newcastle University, he became a lecturer at University College Scarborough, now part of the University of Hull, where he now leads a Bioscience Education Group. Graham was recently awarded one of the five prestigious Doctoral Programme awards from the Higher Education Academy (HEA), and is a recipient of the Ed Wood Teaching Award (the fore-runner of the Bioscience Lecturer of the Year Award).

Graham strongly advocates fieldwork and student autonomy. Within fieldwork, Graham explains, “the relationship between tutor and students shifts slightly so you have a shared experience of practical research”. This shared experience adds a human dimension. In the biosciences, the practical research components are often students’ favourites, and this is reflected in the feedback Graham receives from students each year. Within his university, Graham’s research focuses on understanding how fieldwork encourages independent student learning. 

Remarkably, Graham routinely asks his students to provide a self-assessment on the quality of the work they submit, and he provides feedback on that assessment, as well as the submitted work. This feedback cycle is crucial for students to benchmark their understanding. “We need to challenge the perception that knowledge is given to us” Graham points out, “In a digital world, one of the challenges for educators is to equip our students to use information to create new knowledge.”

Within Higher Education, roles in academia are shifting. Graham says, “Students and educators are becoming co-creators of knowledge”. Graham runs a module ‘Whales, Sharks and Dolphins’, in which he is taught by his students. These final year students are given the opportunity to create their own curriculum, and they collectively write a book on the material they believe they should learn. 

As a committee member of the SEB Education and Public Affairs (EPA) Section, Graham is keen to support educators to showcase their work and share best practice. “The EPA Section can capture all that fantastic practice that’s out there and share it amongst the membership of the organisation so we all benefit”. The recent SEB Education symposium ‘Teaching and Communicating Science in a Digital Age’ in December 2014 brought together educators from over 10 countries, including UK, France, Nigeria, Russia and China, to support the growth of the SEB as a community of educators, as well as experimental biologists. Graham’s highlight for this coming year is the SEB Prague 2015 conference, which will include a one-day undergraduate education session. “That’s quite exciting” Graham says, “It enables us to really internationalise the conversation about best practice”.

These meetings additionally provide an opportunity to shed light on issues that educators face. “The EPA Section has the opportunity to raise awareness of issues amongst its membership,” Graham explains. At an Education Satellite meeting held in Birmingham in 2013, a discussion brought attention to the lack of recognition and reward for academics, for their learning and teaching excellence, in comparison to the reward for research excellence. This recognition is important, and Graham adds, “The SEB Education meetings also help researchers to gain a profile in their home institution; it’s important that the SEB supports that”. 

Category: Spotlight on Members
Bethan Wolfenden-RS

Bethan Wolfenden

Bethan Wolfenden started writing for the SEB Magazine in January 2014. She studies Biochemistry at University College London where she started running science journalism workshops for school students.