Six and a half, already researchers!


As a PhD student in human genetics, I live in a real science bubble full of stimulating exchanges. Over the days, I experiment, I present my results to my supervisor, I share my observations with my colleagues, I exchange with members of neighboring laboratories, I submit my work to the peer review of other laboratories etc. This life is exciting but it carries a risk, that of remaining in isolation. And I do not want to run it!

Convinced that diversity is necessary for innovation and that scientists have a duty to train in research, and through research, I run weekly extracurricular workshops with about twenty students of CP and CE1.

This meeting is possible thanks to the program “Savanturiers-School of Research” , led by the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (CRI). The objective is to discover science to children in a fun and educational way so that they develop their critical view vis-à-vis the experimental approach.

Team spirit

Every Friday, I forsake my bench and my test to join in the 18 th  arrondissement of Paris these researchers apprentices. In my first speech, we immediately introduced the idea of ​​a team working to learn something. The students voted for a lab name and made themselves a badge, with one of the only words they can write in September: their name.

Once the “Championnet Laboratory” set up in the classroom, a slight obstacle was opposed to my experimental protocols. Indeed, at six and a half years old, reading is still an Olympic challenge. This is why my explanations of experiences are only by demonstrations.

By the end of the term, these CP / CE1 students all knew how to use a pipette, a vortex, a benchtop minicentrifuge and a syringe (without the needle anyway). Certainly, these skills may seem a bit superfluous in a schoolboy’s resume. This is when the experimental approach comes into play. Very quickly I was surprised by the group’s intuition and curiosity.

For example, during a session, we observed under the microscope a sample of their oral mucosa, obtained by scratching the inside of their cheek with a teacup. Some do not see the value of the experiment, preferring by far the previous week, showing that their favorite soda is more acidic than lemon juice … but others come to see me, shocked: “If we take a big magnifying glass and that one looks at me I am only small circles? ! “

Critical sense

They are only six and a half, but these children already have the intuition of their cellular constitution, without even knowing what a cell is or even how it works. On the other hand, I do not fail to specify to them that when one is sick, it is these “small rounds” which are not well, which can not exchange any more between them, nor to move or to work correctly. And to illustrate this information through a role play.

Another example, during the starch detection experiment in food, where the strong head of the class remarked to me with the greatest seriousness that I could not be sure of my conclusions: how can I be sure? to reveal starch and nothing else? Doubt settles and manifests loudly in the classroom. I made the inexcusable mistake of not presenting a negative control of the experience. Well embarrassed, I hastened to correct, to the satisfaction of the students.

The budding mentor that I am has marveled at this critical spirit. Without pretending to believe it originally, I like to think and sincerely hope to have a little help to cultivate over these meetings. Whether at age 6 or at age 27, it seems like an essential skill.

By the end of the quarter, they will not know what a cell, DNA, autoimmune diseases and other Krebs cycles are … but they may be better able to analyze what we can tell them. on their cells or any other subject.

Author Bio: Elodie Dandelot is a PhD student in human genetics at Paris Descartes University – USPC