When Jonathan Frederick was in elementary school, he often went to the local science museum with his father, a software engineer. When his father helped the programmers there with computer-aided exhibits after work, Frederick romped around in the empty building for several hours at night. “I absolutely fell in love with museums,” says Frederick, who has worked as a science communicator at several museums and is now director of the North Carolina Science Festival in the United States.
Some science enthusiasts fall in love with research and devote their careers to academic activities. Others, like Frederick, find it useful to make the topic accessible to people. Interactive science communicators do important work. But for them this work is also a lot of fun.
Love of science, but not of science
Unsurprisingly, many interactive science communicators have a science background, although that is not necessarily a requirement for this type of work. Frederick enjoyed studying science in college but never wanted to be a scientist. Instead, he found there was real value in being an ambassador for people who are really comfortable in laboratories and who may not be quite as comfortable speaking out in public.
Emily Fisk, who works at the Science Oxford Center, an indoor-outdoor interactive science education center in Oxford, UK, realized that she was not eligible for the tenure track during her doctorate in medicine. She loved laboratory work, but academic politics and a difficult relationship with her manager drove her to explore alternative careers. In her spare time, she attended science festivals and discovered that she loved teaching science.
It’s the surprise and joy they get and that little spark you see
At the Science Oxford Center, operated by Science Oxford, part of the Oxford Trust charity, Fisk enables and organizes visits, shows and workshops for families and schools. “I absolutely love going to school,” she says. “Every now and then you say something or do a demonstration and see a kid or two say,“ What ?! ”It’s the surprise and joy they get and that little spark that you see. I love these little moments. ‘ Fisk adds that she is lucky to have found a job that combines teaching and community engagement. “I have the perfect career,” she says. “I’m basically a teacher, but I don’t have the pressure to teach either.”
Much like Fisk, the extroverted Stacey Baker, an employee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) public engagement program, left academia after spending three years in a molecular biology laboratory at the National Institutes of Health in the United States had spent. “I realized that research wasn’t exactly right for me: it was fulfilling to my analytical brain, but not to my creativity or my desire to connect with people,” says Baker.
Jeff Vinokur stormed into the field pretty early. During her studies, the biochemist started the Dancing Scientist program and traveled through the USA to carry out chemistry and physics experiments that were visually appealing for schoolchildren – with a little dance, things are very appealing for a child, “says Vinokur, referring to his demonstrations . “It can inspire and influence them to consider a career in science and become more interested in science.”
Now a full-time science communicator, he founded Generation Genius in 2018, a company that creates educational videos for children ages five to 13. Around one million students consume the content every week. While Vinokur plans to get back into research at some point, he is currently fully committed to inspiring children. “I don’t think everyone has to be a scientist, but I think everyone should be exposed” [science] at the right age, and then they can decide for themselves what they want to do, ”he says.
Serious work follows fun
During a work day, interactive science communicators can enjoy many playful activities but also have their jobs. As an entrepreneur, Vinokur inevitably wears a lot of hats. He not only has to stand in front of the camera, but also help with the writing of scripts, video editing and admin work. “On the one hand, it’s exhausting,” says Vinokur. “But on the other hand, how lucky I am to have this type of career and to reach a million students every week.”
Fisk’s job also keeps her busy. She is one of two people at the Science Oxford Center who coordinates and directs the school and public visits. “I have to switch very quickly between sitting at my desk and handling the logistics of a show,” she says.
In addition, the communicators had to quickly adjust and adapt to the pandemic. Like many museums, the Center of Science and Industry (Cosi) in Columbus, Ohio, USA, was closed at the beginning of the pandemic. In the midst of the crisis, Frederic Bertley, President and CEO of Cosi, and his team considered ways to reach the public. “We know that people like to come to a science museum because of the practical interaction. It’s not quite like an art museum where you stand and just look at the art, ”says Bertley. “So my challenge to the team was how do we do it? How do we keep what people love about Cosi, [even though] are we physically closed? ‘
Bertley’s team created six science kits, each around a theme (like space or the human body) and began distributing them to disadvantaged children. It aims to reach 100,000 children in the United States by the end of the year. Each kit contains materials for five different hands-on activities.
Meanwhile, Katie Behrmann, Steam and Innovations teacher at Aspen Academy, a private school near Denver, Colorado, USA, had to find new ways to teach her elective – an interdisciplinary subject that includes robotics, engineering, programming, construction and construction Combined sustainability. At the beginning of the academic year in August 2020, the school implemented a hybrid attendance model – students could study either in the premises with Covid protocols or virtually.
For the virtual learners, Behrmann used their design instructions to create simulations online so that the students could participate in the same design and engineering challenges as others at the school. For example, if their classmates were learning how to model clay, web-based students would use 3D modeling programs online. “The opportunity to really explore these online platforms was a real blessing for the students both in person and online,” says Behrmann. “It was really interesting to be able to compare the making of a prototype of something physically and then online or in a digital space … kids as young as seven or eight could talk about physical and digital manufacturing and construction.”
From science to science communication
In a world plagued by misinformation and fake news, it is imperative for scientists to educate the public. But busy academics often cannot devote themselves to this matter – this is why the work of science communicators and educators is so valuable. “We create meaningful connections between researchers and the public,” says Holly Menninger, director of public engagement and academic learning at the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota, USA. “There are many reasons why these meaningful connections are important. One is that science is and is critical to our health and wellbeing, as well as the environment [we make] make sure the public can ask questions and have the information they need to make their decisions. ‘
People with science degrees and research experience are well suited for this profession because their background offers them several advantages. Menninger, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology and a PhD in behavior, ecology, evolution and systematics, notes that her degrees give her “a really strong foundation in the scientific process. I can explain how we know what we know because I did and was part of that process. ‘
Scientists, too, find it easier to trust Menninger if she teaches them communication skills. “I can speak their language, I know where they come from, and I know their work,” she says. “I can help you challenge yourself to think about new ways to engage our public.”
There are also more intangible benefits. “I like the skills that [I’ve] as a scientist, “says Baker.” My ability to look at a problem and then break it down and think about each step, and how to go through certain things and try to address, comes into my work all the time. “
The really excellent science communicators draw attention
Researchers looking to get into the field need to develop strong communication and empathy skills in order to connect with their audience. Bertley, who himself worked as a laboratory scientist for years, says that good science communicators must respect the curiosity of their audience. “First of all, just stop being arrogant because you’re a scientist,” he says. “There are no bad questions. So when you talk to someone, especially if they have no scientific education or no scientific experience at a higher level, make sure that they are comfortable [so] that they can ask you anything. ‘
Additionally, communicators need to go beyond facts and dive into storytelling to make an impact. “Most people get to a point where they’re pretty good at it, they get a pretty good definition for a complex term, they get a pretty good analogy for a complex idea, but then they stop there,” says Frederick. “The really excellent science communicators go beyond that. You get to a point where what you are saying is very clear and understood by your audience, and you get the audience to care. ‘
Getting people interested in science is not an easy task, however. In fact, it can be very emotionally exhausting. “Something that I really struggle with and that I fight so hard is that people think they cannot understand science,” says Behrmann. “They tend to put themselves in the,” Oh, I didn’t go to college and never went to science. ” Children who are very young will put themselves in this box. ”But that’s it, she says, that gives it meaning. “Making science as accessible as possible on the lowest common denominator while explaining these really high-level and often invisible concepts is part of the work that drives me the most.”