Centre for Inflammation Research

Mentoring scheme for Castlebrae High School students

Ongoing: Maria Panagopoulou writes about the mentoring scheme between Castlebrae Community High School pupils and researchers from across Edinburgh BioQuarter.

A group of researchers and school pupils chatting at a table.
Mentors and pupils sharing pizza after a CRM-based session

Researcher perspectives on the mentoring scheme

The mentoring scheme for students at the Castlebrae Community High School is an initiative originally designed by public engagement officers and researchers at the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine. It has now grown to include researchers across Edinburgh BioQuarter including members of the Centre for Inflammation Research’s Public Engagement & Communications committee.

The idea is to bridge the gap between Edinburgh BioQuarter and the local community and aims to engage the students with people working in science through direct interaction with researchers.

The volunteer mentors visit the school on a regular basis and spend time with the students, discussing science and career related topics. We give support on their coursework, preparation for exams and on general study strategies. The major part of the discussions, though, are on potential professional paths in science and higher education. The message to be delivered is that what they are being taught in school can be translated into a real job in a related topic, and it particularly helps to boost their self-esteem in considering future options.

They have the chance to talk about science beyond that taught in school, get a glance of what everyday life in research looks like, and learn that there are often failures which are constructive rather than discouraging.

Pairing students with a mentor gradually helps them to build their confidence in the discussions and it is observed that the students feel a lot more prepared to ask more questions in each session, maximising the benefits they get. It can also relieve any prejudice about academia.

The feedback has been encouraging and the students seem to benefit from the discussions and realise that they can pursue their passion for science. As a general statement, the students would welcome a larger team of mentors, more frequent sessions, and more opportunities to become involved in the scheme. 

From the mentor’s perspective, it is an excellent opportunity to develop engagement and communication skills through this long-term interaction, and it is surprising how much the mentors learn from the students, too! Personally, I found these sessions not only helpful with my interpersonal skills, but also an enjoyable break from the everyday lab life, just nearby.

This experience definitely reminded all of us how stressful it is to be asked to pick a career choice already form school, and we are confident we can help relieving most of the bias about life after school. I am looking forward to the next school year to continue with the students and find out how they have succeeded in their STEM classes. 

You can watch a video about the mentoring scheme, chatting to both the researchers and the pupils involved, by clicking the link at the bottom of the page.

If you would like to get involved with the Castlebrae project and/or become a mentor, please contact Cathy Southworth.


Article written by:

Maria Panagopoulou,

Member of the Castlebrae mentorship team

OPTIMA CDT PhD Student, member of Centre for Inflammation Research Public Engagement & Communications Committee

The 2019-2020 academic year

Six researchers from CIR have signed up for the 2019-2020 mentoring scheme, helping National 5 and Highers students to gain confidence and flourish in the sciences.

The mentoring sessions run fortnightly and alternate between being held at the High School and at the MRC Centre of Regenerative Medicine in the Edinburgh Bioquarter.

Katharin Balbirnie-Cumming, Sam Benson, Broc Drury, Abi Reese, Leila Reyes and Emily Thompson have already taken part in sessions this year. New volunteers Broc and Abi commented how engaged the students are and how great it is to see the students grow in confidence as they engage with experiments!

This year there have been increasing numbers of children participating in these after-school mentoring sessions and new volunteer mentors are always welcome.

Find out more about the Castlebrae High School Mentoring Scheme

Mentorship video (YouTube)

MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine 

Castlebrae Community High School (external website)

Edinburgh BioQuarter (external website)