COMPASS Outreach Grant awardees adapted creative ways to deliver virtual science outreach

In a bold understatement, 2020 was a year like no other. The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic has shuttered many aspects of “normal” life, including dramatically impacting the way that scientists work and share their science. However, this pandemic has also highlighted the best of what scientists can achieve when we work together to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. We need science now more than ever before. And, just as importantly, right now we need to share our science with those beyond our insular academic circles. Now is the time to create approachable and engaging ways to make sure that science truly is for everyone.

With this goal in mind, the ASCB COMPASS Outreach subcommittee offers Outreach Grants up to $1000 for ASCB members to design outreach projects within their local community. In 2020, our Outreach Grant recipients designed some amazingly creative virtual solutions to keep science outreach thriving during this time. Below are a few examples of their recent projects.

Inspired by these virtual outreach efforts? Have a creative idea of your own on how to engage your community? Read some pro tips on how to plan a successful virtual project, and then apply for a COMPASS Outreach Grant! The next deadline is June 11, 2021.

#ProjectStem: Becoming an Investigator – Cell biologist Brittania Moodie and colleagues founded the Caribbean Youth Development Institute to provide online resources and live virtual STEM workshops for students in Jamaica and across the Caribbean. They designed a four-week workshop called “Becoming an Investigator,” in which students performed a series of labs at home to solve a “crime scene” mystery together using FoldScopes, cell biology techniques, and forensic science. Follow their work on Twitter @cydinstitute

Behind the Microscope” Podcast – In late 2019, a group of MD/PhD students at Emory University (Bejan Saeedi, Joseph Behnke, Carey Jansen, and Michael Sayegh) started the podcast “Behind the Microscope” to explore the human side of scientists and how they work. Although the pandemic cancelled plans for recording live episodes in local Atlanta high schools, the podcast team adapted to gather questions from these students; they will soon be releasing two episodes answering these student questions about research-based careers and graduate school. In addition, they hosted several “COVID Check-in” episodes with graduate students across the country to see how they are coping with the challenges of graduate school during the pandemic, as well as episodes on science outreach, amplifying Black voices in STEM, and career exploration for grad students. Find podcast updates on Twitter @behindthescope_.

Developing Future Biologists – Developing Future Biologists (DFB) is an educational outreach organization led by a team of graduate students and postdocs at the University of Michigan (U-M) at Ann Arbor. Each summer, DFB hosts a weeklong developmental biology course at U-M for undergraduate students, including students from underrepresented groups and/or disadvantaged backgrounds across the mainland U.S. and Puerto Rico. Shortly into the planning season for DFB’s 2020 course, the pandemic abruptly halted all travel and in-person teaching plans. Despite this challenge, the DFB team successfully overhauled their entire course to a virtual format. They utilized several online platforms to work collaboratively, such as Slack, Zoom, Miro, and they taught labs using both Labster virtual lab simulator and by shipping “lab at home” kits to all the students. Follow DFB on Twitter and Instagram @DFB_UM.

Journeys in Science Virtual Storytelling – Led by Fanuel Muindi and Jessica W. Tsai at the STEM Advocacy Institute in Cambridge, MA, “Journeys in Science” hosted a series of virtual storytelling events to amplify stories from underrepresented scientists and provide a space for the public (especially high school students) to explore the diversity of paths that are possible in science. Watch the recordings of their September 2020 and October 2020 virtual events on YouTube and read real-life stories from dozens of scientists across the globe at the Journal of Stories in Science.

#ScienceKocek at-home science kits for Malaysian students – Xavier Chee, an early career scientist at Swiburne University of Technology and Chumbaka (a technology education program for children in Malaysia), designed at-home science kits for children. These kits came with online guides, and they hosted YouTube live stream demonstrations so that students could follow along in real time. Watch their recorded live stream videos and explore their experiment guides for more ideas on DIY science with kids learning remotely.

Microscopy outreach in Philadelphia – Graduate students in the Cell Biology program at the University of Pennsylvania partnered with a local high school to create a microscopy-based online workshop for biology students. Led by Stephen Coscia, he and his fellow graduate students combined an at-home FoldScope experiment with a live video demo of brightfield and fluorescent microscopes in the lab and lessons on how microscopy works. In addition, they led a discussion on what a PhD is, why the volunteers chose to pursue one, and the variety of careers available to PhD scientists.

Virtual Microscopy Camp – A team of graduate students and postdocs across Maryland organized a four-week long microscopy camp for kids ages 9-13. Ankita Jha (postdoc, NIH, Bethesda), Michelle Baird (graduate student, NIH, Bethesda), Ankit Dwivedi (postdoc, University of Maryland, Baltimore), and Ikbal Choudhury (graduate student, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore) led 30 students across the country in four weekly online sessions on topics such as ecology, cells and tissues, and crystal chemistry using FoldScopes, prepared samples, and samples that students found in their own backyards. Check out their photo gallery or follow them on Instagram @outreach.scientists to see more of the photos taken by their students.

Make Art for Science Zoom Workshops – Professors Jamie Newman and Nick Bustamante of Louisiana Tech created a series of workshops for local Louisiana 7th-9th grade students to combine art and science in partnership with the Louisiana Tech Visual Integration of Science Through Art (VISTA). They engaged students to learn basic drawing skills and biology through presentations, videos, and drawing activities. Each student was provided with sketching supplies, and they worked together to create educational illustrations (comics, flyers, posters, etc.) to summarize what they learned. Here’s an example of a comic about COVID-19 prevention drawn by students in the fall of 2020.

Even though 2020 was an incredibly tough year, we have persevered to find new and exciting ways to continue sharing science with our communities. These projects are only a handful of the amazing ways that ASCB members adapted their science outreach for life during a pandemic. We hope to see many more scientists apply for COMPASS Outreach Grants in 2021 to continue the critical work of bringing science to everyone.

About the Author:

Emily Summerbell is a member of the ASCB Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS). She is a postdoc in the lab of Meera Murgai at the National Cancer Institute studying phenotypic plasticity in stromal cells during metastasis. Twitter: @esummerbell