Whether you are volunteering at science fairs or speaking with policymakers, creating engaging conversations on scientific topics is a key skill we as scientists can develop to connect with the community. To further improve these skills, the Houston chapter of ComSciCon hosted multiple workshops focused on science outreach at its annual conference held April 10-17th, 2021. I wanted to share helpful resources from this conference, including tips for revising your work, as covered in Part 1 of this article series. This second part will focus on improving outreach with our communities through facilitating science-themed events and creating strong social media presences.
Part 2: Science Outreach
When it comes to bringing science from the lab to the community, Dr. Sarah McAnulty is a dominating expert in the field. She is an Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at University of Connecticut, a squid biologist and science communicator. To connect with classrooms throughout the United States, Dr. McAnulty serves as the Executive Director of Skype a Scientist, a program that promotes public science education through fun and genuine interactions with scientists. In her workshop “Creating Engaging and Equitable Science Communication Events,” Dr. McAnulty challenged participants to answer three guided questions to better design successful outreach events.
“Who do you want to reach?”
The first step Dr. McAnulty recommends is thinking about your target audience and what they care about. Are these events for kids, adults, families, etc.? What would they be interested in learning? When it comes to designing the event, Dr. McAnulty suggests putting yourself in the audience’s shoes and considering how you would want to spend your night. While not many people would want to go to school after a long day of work, some potential venues include farmers markets or community centers. Science outreach can even happen at a local bar! Dr. McAnulty has been hosting weekly science trivia nights for a while now and has had great turnout at these events. The most important aspect to determining your audience is representing and including everyone. Dr. McAnulty suggests the events should provide accessibility for those who may be disabled, deaf, color-blind, or mobility impaired. She also emphasizes making these outreach events easy to attend to maximize their impact.
“What do you want them to know?”
At the event itself, Dr. McAnulty explains, “People will probably only leave with 2-3 pieces of information. Make them count!” One suggestion for creating engaging events is to use an activity where the audience can activity participate. People often enjoy learning about themselves, so activities like having participants use a microscope to view their cheek cells will increase the likelihood of them learning from the event. Additionally, Dr. McAnulty recommends incorporating games into outreach events. Having games like science trivia or relay races can be a fun way to get everyone involved. Finally, Dr. McAnulty recommends collecting data to assess how participants enjoyed the event and what they learned. This can be done with a simple survey as people are leaving. This allows for feedback to help improve future events.
“How do you want them to feel?”
Early in her workshop, Dr. McAnulty emphasized, “Scientists must appeal to people’s emotions.” The goal of her events is to give people a friendly face to associate with science. By carefully crafting events within the community, Dr. McAnulty leaves her participants feeling inspired, curious, entertained, and stimulated. She does this by providing active learning opportunities in which her participants engage in addition to delivering unique and entertaining experiences. In the words of Dr. McAnulty, “Go to them, entertain, and have fun!”
Dr. McAnulty shared her Commandments of Science Outreach
Another route of reaching out to a variety of different communities is through social media. In her workshop “The Do’s and Don’ts of Science Twitter,” Anna Kiappes highlighted tips for using Twitter as a way of sharing your science. Kiappes is the Social Media Manager at Baylor College of Medicine and develops content for their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn pages. When it comes to Science Twitter, here were her recommendations for creating an effective online presence.
Science outreach can occur in a variety of modes, whether it is sponsoring events within the community or communicating through social media. At the end of the day, the goal of these events is to create an engaging environment to learn more about science.
About The Author
Katie Lillis is originally from Buffalo Grove, IL. She attended the University of Iowa where she received her B.S. in Human Physiology and B.A. in Psychology in 2018. While she was there, Katie worked in the laboratory of Dr. Ryan LaLumiere where she focused on studying the neurobiology of addiction. In 2018, she moved to San Antonio to pursue her Ph.D. in Integrated Biomedical Sciences at UT Health San Antonio. Katie is currently in the Neuroscience discipline and works with Dr. Anibal Diogenes. In this lab, she studies how sensory neurons modulate bone loss in dental infections. She also serves as the Vice President of Women in Science: Development, Outreach, and Mentorship (WISDOM) and will be taking over as the Science Communication Director for Enventure.
The “Beyond The Bench” series features articles written by students and postdoctoral fellows at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.