By Meghan Parsley
Edited by Simon Bakke
Learning that goes both ways
Letters to a Pre-Scientist is a program whose goal is to make these connections a reality. Their mission is to “demystify science careers by creating personal connections between students from high-poverty schools and real scientists”. To do this, they pair scientists and students as pen pals, and over the course of a school year, grade 6-8 students exchange letters with a scientist that specializes in a subject area they find interesting. Middle school students get a chance to hone their reading and writing skills and get exposure to STEM career paths. And scientists get to practice science communication to younger audiences in a one-on-one setting.
Last year, I was lucky enough to be one of those scientists talking with a middle school student. We were matched as pen pals and exchanged letters throughout the year. In our letters we talked about the student’s interests, career aspirations, and my own work as a scientist. Believe me, she asked a lot of great questions. Some of our correspondence also included photos, drawings and STEM activities for her to explore science further.
There are three key beliefs and strategies of the Letters to a Pre-Scientist program that encourage successful experiences:
However, joining their mailing list will keep you up to date on other outreach opportunities and ensure you don’t miss the window to sign up for next year’s program. With the help of participating scientists and teachers, we can demystify STEM careers to younger students and encourage all students' futures in science.
Meghan Parsley is a Ph.D. student in Environment and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. @MBParsley
Will’s talk, “How to sound smart in your TedX talk,” has been viewed 7.3 million times since it was first posted on Youtube three years ago. This says something powerful about the importance of how to deliver a message. According to Joyce Russell in her article “Career Coach: The wrong tone can spoil the message”, a quality delivery often comes down to one single aspect of communication: tone. “Our tone conveys our attitude,” says Joyce, who has spent more than 25 years coaching executives on everything from public speaking to interpersonal communication. “Sometimes our tone has a greater impact on our audience than our actual message.”
That’s why, in science communication, getting your message across is less about the content of the message itself, but rather how it’s delivered.
Let’s face it. Getting people excited about science is not easy. The task becomes even more difficult when science is communicated blandly and without consideration for how it's presented — which is, unfortunately, all too often the case. When this happens, science loses its appeal, and with its appeal, the opportunity to connect with a larger audience. It's doomed to remain trapped in the confines of academia.
Other influential public speakers also agree with Joyce. Dale Carnegie, in his book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” — perhaps the most widely read book on social communication skills — notes how tone is essential in conveying emotions, and emotions are key to successfully winning people over with a memorable message. “If you want others to be enthusiastic, act enthusiastic,” he writes. And that's especially relevant when it comes to science.
Enthusiasm translates into passion, and passion is addictive — it’s contagious. Research has shown that “mood contagion” is often the reason why we believe an idea or why we choose to follow a particular leader. It might also be the reason we become interested in something in the first place. For science, it might just be the missing link between engaging with academically- savvy “sciencephiles” and successfully attracting a more passively-interested public.
My advice to scientists and science communicators? Next time you’re presenting in front of a crowd, be sure to show your passion. Adjust your tone so that people know how excited you are about science. Remember what makes you excited about it. Make what can appear to be a “boring” talk into a life-changing experience. Repeat the phrase: “isn’t this amazing?!” because chances are that, with enough vivacity injected into scientific findings, people will agree with you.
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