Who’s who in the Zoo – Kat O’Brien Skerry

This week meet Kat O’Brien Skerry, our Public Engagement Officer, who has been taking Zooniverse projects into schools around the UK.

– Helen

Name: Kat O’Brien Skerry

Location: University of Oxford, UK

Tell us about your role within the team 

I joined the team in January 2022 as a Public Engagement Officer and I work on a fixed term contract bringing the Zooniverse to schools and educational settings around the country.

What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

My background is in STEM education having originally trained as a physics and maths teacher. I moved from there into informal education and most recently spent 5 years at the science museum in London in their learning team.

What does your typical working day involve?

My role is split between delivering workshops in schools and developing those workshops and convincing schools that they’re a great idea. So some days, I will be in classroom leading hands on activities, getting kids stuck into the Zooniverse, or facilitating zoom calls with the researchers. Some days I will be trying out experiments and explanations on anybody who I can find who appears (reasonably) willing to play. Some days I have a bit more of an office life and I’ll be finessing what we’ve done, contacting schools and all that stuff..

How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

A one stop shop for citizen science.

Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

I first used Galaxy Zoo as an activity in a STEM club that I was running and had just as much fun playing as the kids did. Being added as an editor on projects so that I could take on this role was pretty terrifying!

What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

The feedback from one of my most recent schools was just the best. I had one pupil ask me, wide-eyed, “Did I really do actual science?” and respond to my “Of course you did!” with “Wow, maybe I could be a scientist”. I could have cried. To me, Zooniverse is a way to get kids to see themselves as scientists and seeing that impact becoming real is wonderful.

What are your top three citizen science projects? 

I’m biased by the two I work on, so Galaxy Zoo and Science Scribbler: Virus Factory. But I also have a real soft spot for the Davy Notebooks Project because I’m a big history of science fan.

What advice would you give to a researcher considering creating a Zooniverse project?

Again, I’m biased, but think about if it could be useful in outreach!

How can someone who’s never contributed to a citizen science project get started?

Give it a go! There are so many great projects out there from annual birdwatching and insect hunts which you can do at home, to more supported projects in museums if you want a bit more help as you get started.

Where do you hope citizen science and the Zooniverse will be in 10 years time?

I’d love to see citizen science embraced as a way to make science education and outreach more meaningful for both schools and researchers, and Zooniverse as a means to do so.

When not at work, where are we most likely to find you?

I’m studying for an MA in Education at the moment (specialising in STEM education) so spend a lot of time in the library. Otherwise, I am found inexpertly herding and raising a small menagerie of children, chickens and chameleons.

Do you have any party tricks or hidden talents?

I can come up with a kid friendly STEM activity for almost anything. And will. Often without being asked.

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