Five ways to get involved in community science outreach

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The start of the new year is often a time for reflection, gratitude, and thinking about new year’s resolutions. Is one of your resolutions to volunteer more? To give back to your community? Perhaps you can become an advocate for science!

Science outreach benefits everyone involved, from young school children to your older neighbors. Sharing science with kids could capture their interest in STEM (I can personally vouch for this: learning cell biology as a high school summer student in my dad’s lab got me hooked on science). Discussing science with friends and neighbors can give them a better sense of what you and other scientists really do—science can seem very technical and confusing to non-specialists. Finally, talking big picture science can also remind you, the specialist, that science is fun! It’s a reminder that many of us need after another day of troubleshooting experiments. Here are five ways you can get involved with science outreach:

Talk science with family/friends/neighbors/friendly person at the coffee shop

Not only will you help raise scientific awareness among the public, but also you can remind yourself of the significance of your work. It’s too easy to forget the big picture of your project that got you excited in the first place, especially after spending a lot of time troubleshooting negative data. Your audience’s big picture questions might even help you think of some new “out of the box” experiments or make you reconsider your assumptions.

Give a talk at your neighborhood science café or school

Sign up to give a talk at your local Science Café or at a similar community event, such as Nerd Nite. ASCB organizes an “Ask a Scientist” bar night at the ASCB/EMBO Meeting, and similar events are organized by universities across the country. These events connect scientists with the broader community and are a great training platform for science communication skills.

If you’d like to reach a younger audience, contact your neighborhood school’s science teacher and ask to visit her/his classroom. Scientific societies, such as the Society for Neuroscience and the Biophysical Society offer a “Find a Scientist” database. Scientists can sign up to serve as volunteers to be contacted by K-12 educators to visit their classrooms. You can also sign up to volunteer for the Skype a Scientist program through which educators reach out and ask you to video-chat with their classroom of students (kids or adults). This great program includes scientist volunteers all over the world and allows you to virtually visit classrooms in a different part of the country.

Bonus point: Offer to guest-teach in your former Biology teacher’s class. (S)he will be immensely appreciative and proud of your accomplishments!

Give a career talk at your former college

Are you visiting your former college town? Give a career talk at your alma mater to current students. You can answer questions about science careers and advise students on steps to take in college to build a network and apply for jobs/grad school programs. You can leave your contact information with the college’s career office, so current students can contact you for further career advice.

Get involved with your university’s outreach program

Does your university organize an outreach program? Perhaps an arrangement for scientists to visit a local school to teach science to students? Or is a local school planning a “visit day” to a lab at your university? Maybe your university has a summer student mentoring program? Find out and get involved!

Start your own outreach program

Want to get involved in community outreach but can’t find an opportunity in your community? Start your own event! The ASCB awards Outreach Grants to graduate students and postdocs who want to start their own outreach projects. You can host a Cell Biology Day at your public library with talks geared toward the general public. If you’re into web design and writing, start a science blog. If you’re into art, gather your friends’ favorite microscopy images and organize a science-art exhibition. You can organize a science café in your community. Whether at a coffee shop or at a high school, science cafés are a great platform for scientists and the general public to gather to discuss science. Check out some examples of recent ASCB COMPASS Outreach Grant recipients and submit a grant application to start your own outreach program.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the views of the author(s) and do not represent the official policy or position of ASCB.

About the Author:


Vladimir Botchkarev is a postdoctoral fellow in David Livingston’s lab at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School where he is investigating the mechanisms of breast cancer. Vladimir earned his PhD in Jim Haber’s lab at Brandeis University for his work on cell cycle control and the DNA damage response. Vladimir loves science education and science outreach and has established the science outreach program Sharon STEM Talks (https://www.sharonstemtalks.com/) at Sharon High School with help from ASCB COMPASS Outreach funding.