Sharing Your Science

Marla showing a cardinal to some kids

I got addicted to outreach early, helping doing public education through the bird observatory back home and my summer job teaching ecology at the local boy scout camp. If you haven’t gotten your feet wet yet in the world of spreading science do not fear, it’s not that hard.

One way I’ve found effective is finding partners. I work with birds and have a good background in many other aspects of ecology, so seeking out local Audubon societies, scouting organizations, state parks and other groups who support the outdoors are great ways to get started in outreach.

A prime example is the partnership we have formed between our student chapter of The Wildlife Society and one of our local state parks. They wanted to have a program where the public could closely interact with birds and we all love mist netting and many of us wanted to gain more experience extracting birds.

So we set up some nets a few saturdays ever spring and catch birds. The park lets us use their beautiful visitors center and has partnered with a local grocery store to get some coffee and muffins donated and ‘Birds and Breakfast’ was born. We regularly draw over 50 people to spend a few hours on a Saturday morning learning about birds, their habitat and how to conserve them. Our audience is a great mix of youth and adults and everyone loves the chance to take a close look at the birds they see at their own feeders.

Finding partners is as easy as sending out an email, ‘Hi, I’m a grad student studying X and I if you would be interested I’d love to come give a talk to your members about what I do.’ You’d be surprised how many people will bend over backwards to fit your schedule and hear you talk.

Showing off the little seen details, like birds tails helps everyone look more closely.

Another great way to do outreach is to reach out to local schools. The Biology Graduate Student Association has had many of our members go and present in the biology classes of local high schools. We talk about our research, how we got involved in science and help highlight the variety of different careers available in science.

One outlet I haven’t tried yet but I think sounds awesome is doing outreach in schools through Skype. David Shiffman of Southern Fried Science has been doing outreach via Skype and it seems to work really well. Skype is a great, and cheap way, to communicate with people all over the place and can even worth with groups of wiggly first graders!

The more outreach I do the more I see my abilities and enthusiasm snowball. Once you get started you gain confidence and knowledge about what works and what doesn’t and you just want to keep going and keep getting better.

One of my committee members always says if you can’t explain what you do to a ten year old then you don’t know what you do well enough. The presentations you give to a elementary school student is different then to your academic peers, but both help you understand your science better and help give your science a broader impact, which is incredibly important is our constantly changing world. We need a population of people who love science and want to understand the world around them more.

Get out there! Find some partners and start sharing your science!

Written on May 20, 2014