The Brilliant Club is a charity with the overarching aim of bridging the gap between under-represented school pupils and highly-selective universities. This is achieved by matching PhD researchers with schools where they deliver a research programme to small seminar groups, culminating in the students completing a final assignment and being awarded with university-style grades at a graduation event. I was working as a Brilliant Club Tutor during Autumn Term 2016.

Why did I apply to become a Brilliant Club tutor?

I came from a low participation school and felt that when making decisions about university, the knowledge or support network I needed was not available. A teacher once told me that highly-selective universities were out of reach for people at my school. I applied to The Brilliant Club to try and make a difference. I wanted to use my knowledge and expertise to intrigue and inspire a generation of students, giving them the opportunity and confidence to not be held back in achieving their potential.

What is involved?

The process of delivering The Scholars Programme is well-supported by a dedicated Programme Officer and support team at The Brilliant Club. The programme is flexible to suit your personal and research needs, starting with a dedicated training weekend, during which you are provided with knowledge and teaching skills.

You first meet your pupils at a University Launch Trip. For me, this was at Exeter, where the pupils got a tour of a campus, were able to ask questions and I delivered their first tutorial. As my placement was in the Autumn, I was given a pre-designed Biology course to teach: ‘Is Ebola the Next International Pandemic?’. For subsequent terms you can design your own course based on your research. My course for next term is called: ‘From Fossil Fuels to Fish: Where Environmental Chemistry meets Marine Biology’.

Tutorials take place in schools with pupils in groups of 6. In total, the programme consists of 6 seminar-style tutorials, the final one being for feedback. After each, you set the pupils’ homework to aid their understanding of the subject and research skills. After tutorial 5, the pupils are set a final assignment, of 1500 words, where they answer a focussed question based on what you have taught them. This is graded in university-style and pupils are invited to attend a graduation event at another UK University.

What I Found Rewarding

Performing a placement with The Brilliant Club has been rewarding on many levels. The pupils are engaging and keen and I learned a lot from them. This experience has given me an awareness of how to engage non-specialist audiences in research that may initially seem intellectually challenging. I have perhaps never felt greater achievement than when a group of 12 students were begging me to replace their Science teacher. Furthermore, I was astonished by the quality of final assignments they produced. I got great satisfaction from groups of 12/13 years olds submitting final assignments, having used biomedical journals as sources, correctly referenced in Harvard style.

Author: Cameron Hird is a PhD Researcher in Biological Sciences at the University of Exeter. You can find out more about Cameron and his research here.