I recently participated in “Skype a Scientist” – a program self-described as one that “matches scientists with classrooms” and “give(s) students the opportunity to get to know a ‘real scientist’”. Pretty accurate. Basically, if a scientist signs up, she will be matched with a k-12 classroom somewhere around the world. After some coordination with the classroom teacher, she will get the chance to describe her work to a group of eager youngsters in about half an hour to an hour. Needless to say, it is an opportunity worth exploring.
For those of us unsettled by science’s recently more pronounced credibility crisis, marked by uninformed, hence unhealthy skepticism, we can take comfort in the fact that this program is exactly what is needed to (1) spread the word – that science is interesting, thorough and important, and (2) pique the next generation’s interest in science. The underlying importance of this initiative aside, there are some incredibly gratifying reasons to participate.
First, you get to figure out how to explain your work to kids and why you are doing it – which is not easy. This is the stuff of grant-writing ! I work on understanding growth dynamics in developing fruit fly egg chambers, and when I presented to third graders, I was asked questions such as what can we learn from the fruit fly that would help us humans? Try answering that without using the word ‘conserved’. It is no secret that scientist often find it challenging to explain their work to others outside their field, and there is hardly a better exercise in distilling one’s work to the absolute basics than “Skype a Scientist”. Second, you get to inform kids and get them excited about novel and potentially game changing work, and perhaps even to express a desire to pursue a career in science. I often think of scientists as individuals who wander through the world and ask questions about their environment – the whys and the hows. In that sense, kids are already scientists: indeed, there is a hardly a group of individuals more curious about their surroundings, and if we can find ways to nourish and support their interests, then we are doing each other and the pursuit of science a great favor.
So if you find half an hour to spare, please do participate !
Jasmin Imran Alsous
Chemical & Biological Engineering