James borrell is a conservation scientist and science communicator, with a particular interest in how species adapt to changing climate.

Speaking to Schools

I consider myself pretty fortunate really, because from time to time I get to speak to young people from schools, youth groups and universities on behalf of BSES, a youth development charity. I sometimes think it’s a bit cheeky, as I am still a student and only left school myself a few years ago.

Anyone could get an audience excited and motivated, when the subject matter is trekking in the Arctic, research in the Amazon, mountaineering in the Himalaya and everything in between, a picture really does speak a thousand words in those situations. It’s sometimes a job to know where to begin. Invariably, the mischievous side of me likes to start with a brief, but dramatic, rendition of Captain Scotts last great expedition, just to make sure everyone is awake. It was after all a member of this expedition, Surgeon Commander Murray Levick, who founded BSES nearly 80 years ago.

The students are always fantastic, probably because they have escaped from lessons. Spending your summer off on an expedition is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, often the opportunities I get to present require a lot of time, effort and unfortunately money. Thankfully though, no matter where you speak there’s always a handful that are determined to rise to the challenge.

It can sometimes be difficult to get into schools, but it’s always worth it in the end. I’ve tried writing letters, sending emails, and making telephone calls, the latter seems to work best. You might get a 10-20 second window to make your pitch to the lovely receptionist and then hope you get forwarded to a suitably receptive person. My humble experience has taught me that shooting straight for the head master or mistress is a little ambitious, they are normally far too busy. Better to go for a head of 6th form, educational outreach, or better yet, the receptionists suggestion (call it lucky dip). Once you’re in, thank them profusely and say you hope to see them again next year!

In conclusion, I think I’ve got the bug. It’s the best job in the world and I’d love to keep doing it. I have a couple of talks in Devon over the next few weeks, and I can’t wait. So if you know of any schools or groups that would like to hear a talk from BSES then please get in touch! If you enjoyed reading about BSES then you might like to visit their website to find out more, or you might even fancy downloading an application form, you never know what might happen!