At-Bristol Science Centre

Behind the scenes with volunteer Alex!

Blogging science to life

Fri 30 March 2012, Written by: Alex

In At-Bristol, February half-term is, to put it mildly, a bit busy. With around 2000 visitors a day, it’s the busiest week of the year. To help visitors have the best possible time, volunteers like myself are brought in to help run extra activities, like Make Your Own Robot in the Live Lab. This adds to the visitor experience and provides extra hands-on fun for everyone to get involved with!

In fact, it’s not just February when we’re needed. School holidays in the summer, October, Christmas  and Easter breaks are all extremely popular times for visitors. So opportunities for volunteers  to contribute are very common. Plus the opportunities don’t just end with holiday support, we can get involved in schools’ workshops, community days and outreach activities into the wider Bristol community.

The Live Lab activities are always a highlight for visitors, afterall who wouldn’t enjoy the chance to create your own robot friend, have a look at your own DNA and dissect a daffodil?! All these great activities mean the space can get pretty busy! At the end of a particularly manic day recently, a couple of members of staff even tried to apologise to me for how many people there had been. I thought that was very sweet of them. However, I would hear none of it. “I don’t come here to get bored” I said. So what reasons do I have for giving up my time?

To a certain extent, I romantically agree with At-Bristol’s charity mission of “making science accessible to all”. It’s about self-sacrifice in the name of a greater good and the chance to engage with the wider community and get science out there!

On the other hand, I’m also being quite selfish. I don’t just mean the free lunch, (although that is nice!). Volunteering, I’m told by endless careers advisers, “looks great” on my CV. So I fully expect my experience with At-Bristol to help land me a job someday.

It is also proving very useful for my Master’s degree in Science Communication at the University of the West of England (UWE). Compared to its counterparts at other universities around the country, the UWE course contains a lot of opportunities to try out practical skills, like demonstrations and presentations.

Nonetheless, even a highly hands-on course like the one at UWE is no match for real-world experience. Spending time in At-Bristol is all about “learning by doing,” and this applies to us volunteers as well.

For example, last August, I was volunteering on the K’Nex challenge, where visitors could use K’Nex construction pieces to make anything they wanted. A girl of about 11, complete with mother in tow, came along to the LiveLab, plonked herself on a seat and declared “I want to make a clock”.

Not knowing much (anything!) about how clocks are made, I was feeling a little apprehensive as I enthusiastically declared that this would be “no problem at all”. As we broke the problem down into chunks, working out what bits we would need to put together and in what order, I realised that improvisation on this scale simply can’t be taught.

Overall, it’s clear to me that by lending a hand in the Live Science Team, I get a lot more out than I put in. That’s how it should be. I really feel part of the team in At-Bristol, certainly much more than “just a volunteer”. And this makes me want to come back, to continue the cycle between being taught the theory on my course and putting it into practise on the venue floor and to get hands-on!

I can’t wait for the next occasion…

From At-Bristol

Thanks Alex! Look out for volunteers like Alex on your next visit to At-Bristol and say hi – they’ll be lots here over Easter!


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