Science Outreach Ideas — The Running List
Throughout my meanderings across the online world of “scicomm” and science outreach, I felt myself a bit surprised to not come across many nice, tidy (and specific!) listings of the diverse and great ways to get involved in science outreach and engaging the public. Moreover, I’ve seen quite a few ideas out there that I don’t want to forget myself!
That said, what follows is my running list of the categorical types of science outreach activities I’ve seen or heard about that seem to have some considerable merit. And they’re not just for scientists! While many might be (that’s what we’re used to), there’s quite a few things here than anyone with the desire, knowledge, and resources might could pick up. I’m up for all manner of ideas here, whether they be the actions of an expert, a middle school student, an interested parent, an artist, a car mechanic, a politician, whoever! The only caveat is that it somehow engages the surrounding public in science.
I plan to continue to update this list over the site’s tenure, so please do suggest what you think should be here in the comments! If there’s a great example or link for any style of event, I might throw that up here also.
Through online media
- Join a “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit
- Blog about your research
- Here’s a link to get you started, but there’s tons of helpful guides just a google search away.
- Youtube on your work
- More guides out there, but here’s my suggested read.
- Curate a “RoCur” account on Twitter
- Join a Twitter # party
- Another way to start making some Twitter connections is to join a # party that regularly tweets on certain topics. For instance, while groups like the #SciParty may hit science more broadly, you might also find a home a with a specific Twitter party like #NeuroNewsNight. These are sometimes curated like the RoCur accounts above.
- Pitch a story to a journalist or science mag
- You don’t have to wait for the media to find you! This can be tough, but here’s some tips.
- Host a Science Cafe
- Science cafes are informal community events giving the public a chance to have discussions with local scientists. Author’s bias but I’m a big fan of these. For a great page of resources, check out NOVA’s site on science cafes.
- Science Speed-Dating
- Set up a “Science Night Out”
- Where I work, we do a program called “GUTS” (Getting Under the Surface) that brings parent-son/daughter pairs together for a short 90minute themed science module. These can have a variety of formats, but the “family night” format seems a big pull. Here’s a page with some suggestions.
- Celebrate with a science birthday party
- I’ve been seeing this cropping frequently up as an interesting “for profit” type event from groups who do this professionally, so I thought it worth mentioning. If someone has a great example, feel free to share.
- Connect with an entertainment convention
- Lead a session on emerging science topics at a teacher training/conference
- Does your university have a K-12 education outreach department? What about any teacher education conferences near you? Connecting with such groups may yield opportunities to share your expertise with education programs near you.
- Take a science nature walk
- This is something to connect with your local park leaders about, but here are some ideas of activities to get you started. Take these, and then figure out how to mix in your own biology or environmental research.
- Visit K-12 classrooms
- Don’t underestimate the value here (role-modelling, learning how to convey your work to broader audiences, connecting students to the “real deal”). Some organizations might set this up for you, but don’t be afraid to reach out.
- Start a citizen science group
- It doesn’t take a PhD to do science! If you haven’t heard of citizen science, check out this read. In short, these are ways the public can contribute to real science. You might consider starting a group or even coming up with your own project. A couple of good sites that organize this kind of work are SciStarter and Zooinverse.
- Set up a Makerspace, science-style
Supporting broad & existing outreach
- Get involved with science fair
- While science fairs may seem “old hat,” they can be some of the best ways possible to get young minds doing real science and can provide great connections with K-12 learning. Some of the big-named organizations are ISEF, Broadcom, Google Science Fair, and Siemens. Getting involved in started science fairs at schools is tough work, but you can also offer to judge and/or mentor. As I work with ISEF fairs, here’s a link to find ISEF-affiliated fairs near you.
- Volunteer time or supplies to a museum, aquarium, etc.
- A chance to go somewhere cool and make others smile while learning. While this might look like leading sessions, you might also think about developing activities and exhibits or leading sessions.
- Join an activist/lobbying group
- While perhaps in an ideal world scientists could completely ignore politics, we know that science today is become increasingly political, and it will take efforts speaking out to come to the right conclusions. Consider groups like AAAS for start, but do your research on which fits your aims.
Bringing them to your university
- Host open lab days
- Pick some days for an “open house” where your target audience can come and see what’s being done, ask questions, and maybe even participate.
- Work with a university department for a science “open house” event
- These can be a big endeavor, but where I work, much of the science department gets together to host an “open house” day for nearby students filled with demos, tours, and hands-on science. It’s a great way to get your university out there while spreading fun science.
- Offer student or teacher lab shadowing/internships/experiences
- Never underestimate the significance you might offer by giving someone the chance to get involved with science first-hand. Probably best to work with your university departments to set these up as formal opportunities.
- Suggestions needed!
- For you science and artistic folks out there, I need some more specific suggestions and links to go here as it’s not exactly my forte. So send them on my way!
There’s most certainly quite a few other types of outreach and science engagement out there! Let me know in the comments or on twitter @joshkking, and I’ll add them to the list!