Folding and Moulding Outreach into Your Professional Pathway

Who doesn’t love a Science Café, or a Pint of Science, or any manner of extravaganza, big or small, celebrating STEM? I have been attending and participating in outreach activities my entire life. It started when as a child I would go to the ‘Science on Saturdays’ public lecture series as the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory near where I grew up. Myself and a gaggle of geeks would pile into my mom’s car and she’d drive us to hear a physicist give a lecture on any number of interesting topics. I didn’t understand every word or concept, but the idea of being in the near orbit of these science stars and sharing the experience with other neighbourhood people was like a cupcake for my brain. And as a grown-up, I took advantage of any other opportunity I could find to attend or be involved in outreach activities – during both work and play hours. It became clear to me that not only is outreach a natural instinct for me, but it is a need. So I realised that to fulfil this need, I would have to be strategic in designing my career to ensure that I could partake of or contribute to outreach in various forms.

 

Campus Talks during #LINO18: in short presentations, young scientists talked about their research to a non-scientific audience. © Julia Nimke/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Fellow nerds hungry to engage in outreach – especially science outreach – take note! It is not just ‘moi’ who can manifest outreach into their professional pathway. You, too, can incorporate outreach activities into almost every career, both in the form of providing the outreach and attending or participating in the outreach. Admittedly, some professions and organisations make this easy and seamless to do in your work time. This is especially so for organisations that include in their mission an outreach component, or have organised events or campaigns to serve the community. Of course, there are also vocations, like professorships, that require an element of ‘giving back’ as part of the promotion and tenure process.

But even for those of you in jobs that seem to be far removed from having a service component, there are still ways to weave science outreach activities into your life. In fact, as a Lindau Alumnus, you have a very easy mechanism to engage in outreach – you can share your experience at Lindau with up-and-coming scientists at your alma mater, both in person and remotely via Skype or Facebook live events. You can also volunteer to give a science talk in which you present your research, passions and goals to change the world. Additionally, perhaps you’ll volunteer to write an article for the blog of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. These opportunities to engage in effective science outreach are just a few of the means to communicate the importance of this amazing conference and experience, and encourage and inspire students to pursue the chance to participate in Lindau as a young scientist. And you are doing triple duty when you engage in this type of outreach, because not only are you fostering and amplifying the Lindau mission, but you are also magnifying the critical need for people of all ages and professions to support science in any way, and you are showcasing your own devotion to the cause within the community. Talk about a win-win-win!

To start thinking about incorporating science outreach into your life, consider the following points to plan an effective, customised outreach strategy for yourself.

 

Part of the ‘Mission Education’: on the Lindau Science Trail explorers can learn about discoveries that have been honoured with the Nobel Prize. © Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings/ Lisa Vincenz-Donnelly

1. Why do you want to do science outreach? There are many reasons to engage in outreach in a career. It could come from a basic place of wanting to give back or pay it forward: to help the next generation or the community understand why STEM is important. It could come from the immediate or long-term impact of knowing you made a difference. It could also be that you generally enjoy doing, planning, or being a part of outreach (for me, it’s all of those and more!). Be honest with yourself about what is driving your ambitions.

2. Who is the audience you want to reach? Are you interested in reaching grad students? Or perhaps college students? Or maybe you want to impact your community of emerging women tech entrepreneurs? With whom you want to collaborate and for whom you desire to conduct outreach matters as you plan your strategy and determine the resources you can invest.

3. On what platforms can I share my love of STEM? Lindau provides several platforms and output opportunities, be they in the form of speaking, writing, and other creative avenues. You can contact the Lindau Alumni Network to ask how you can be involved and suggest ways to partner- we would love to hear from you! But there are other ways to share your passion for STEM in your community. Consider a Science Café or Pint of Science, both are international programmes. Contact your local university and ask if you can volunteer to give a colloquium.

4. How about mentoring? Mentoring is a fabulous way to engage in outreach and to truly pass on your devotion to a subject, field, and profession to those early in their career. Mentoring can be both formal, in which you participate in an established programme, or informal, where you take on a protégé to enable their success. As you advance in your career, you will find that mentoring as an activity may come very naturally, in that there will be peers and people earlier than you in the field around you, to whom you very organically provide advice while assisting them in removing barriers for their professional triumph. Don’t underestimate the value of mentoring even one person.

Keep in mind that outreach can be added and mixed into your career at any time in the career spectrum, in various forms and fashions. But one particular method and output of outreach is to support the Lindau Alumni Network and our additional efforts. This could be as simple as following us on and retweeting on social media. It could also include you volunteering to give a talk to your local university about what it was like to be a Lindau participant.

No matter how and when and where you decide to engage in outreach, make sure you enjoy yourself! And never lose sight of the fact that as a STEM-educated professional (no matter what career you have chosen), there is always opportunity to ignite the public’s excitement for science and engineering. When we communicate our own love of STEM and the role STEM plays in society, we contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of science and research in society. And this serves everyone. It is a privilege and an honour to serve the public in any form, and I am glad it is something you are considering in your long-term professional strategy!

About Alaina G. Levine

Alaina G. Levine is an award-winning entrepreneur, STEM career consultant, science journalist, professional speaker and corporate comedian, and author of Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015), which was named one of the Top 5 Books of 2015 by Physics Today. She has delivered over 700 speeches for clients in the EU, US, Canada, and Mexico, and written over 350 articles in publications such as Science, Nature, and NatGeo News Watch. In addition to serving as a Consultant to the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, she is currently writing two online courses for Oxford University Press/Epigeum about career development and entrepreneurship. @AlainaGLevine

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