How do we talk about science?
How science communications encouraged Jess to start her own “My Mini Scientist” program for kids.
Science is everywhere, not just in a textbook. Throughout my research as a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, I’ve been encouraged to share my science, my research and my passion.
As a scientist, I’ve found one of the greatest challenges is making science accessible to those that don't speak our language. As scientists, we often know how to communicate with scientists in our own fields but learning how to effectively communicate to different audiences goes beyond the numerous workshops and seminars available to us. For example, the term 'unzipping genes' can have very different meanings, even among scientists.
Growing up, science communication experience wasn’t really seen as necessarily. Teachers gave a basic explanation of science and maths and left it at that. But throughout my career to pursue my PhD, I’ve since learned the importance of being able to communicate effectively to different audiences.
I believe the best STEM education begins at a young age by fostering excitement and curiosity in children in a fun and engaging way. Science helps explain the world around us and it can help kids form critical thinking skills as well as the ability to solve complex problems throughout their life. The best kind of science communication that I never realised I got was the encouragement to learn. Making science accessible, fun and engaging is the best way to push yourself in STEM without feeling like you're "learning." Science and engineering are all around us - in machines, structures and built environments. Maths provides vital life skills and is an essential part of early learning. It helps children to problem solve, identify patterns, measure, develop spatial awareness and using and understanding shapes. Science communication helps children see how maths and science are relevant in their lives
Exposing children to modern technology, science, engineering and maths has endless benefits. These subjects can improve hand-eye coordination, language skills, visual attention as well as developing dynamic spatial and problem-solving skills, expanding horizons. I really wish I had these same opportunities growing up, as I was always a curious child who loved to learn and be my best academically. My teachers always encouraged me to work beyond what was expected.
High school saw me continuing to pursue STEM, studying biology, chemistry, maths methods and specialist maths. I had teachers who loved their subjects and they encouraged me to share their passions. While I was always focused on getting good grades, I never quite understood the power or importance of communicating science, particularly to non-scientists, until I became a scientist myself. Reminding myself about the love and passion I have for science reinforces how important it is to be able to communicate to non-scientists and share these interests.
Communicating to different audiences has become increasingly important in today's world where we have increasing scepticism of scientific conclusions. Effectively communicating our years of research requires trust from audiences, and this trust comes from clear communication and understanding. Throughout my time as a PhD candidate to develop my science communication skills as much as I can, because if the community can't understand our research, we are not doing our job properly.
My research on Alzheimer's disease requires a lot of skill when talking to affected families and financial donors. These audiences are particularly worried about their future, and how I explain my work, and that of other talented neuroscientists, can build trust, give them hope and demonstrate that their efforts are not going to waste.
I have learnt to collaborate closely with the public and that the purpose of our research is to positively impact the community. I continuously endeavour to make what I do accessible to everyone through science communication workshops, talking at public events and teaching students. I currently teach genetics, physiology and biology to tertiary students and have worked as a science mentor encouraging science to young high school students. One of my favourite parts of teaching is using metaphors, images and anecdotes. I once made a joke to my physiology students that the heart has a recently discovered 5th chamber- the Chamber of Secrets. It didn't go down too well to those that weren't Harry Potter fans.
I’ve found teaching to be a passion of mine this is why I have taken a huge leap of faith and founded My Mini Scientist. My Mini Scientist is a hands-on science themed party experience for children aged 5-12. I wanted to create a party experience like no other, one that could teach future generations about STEM from a young age, but in a fun and engaging way!
I attended a similar style party once, which I thought was a great idea, but the science-host could not communicate effectively to a group of 5 year-olds and it was disappointing to see the kids not understanding or having a good time. As I have a background in drama/theatre and entertainment, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to marry my skills together. I have hand-picked experiments that are the most exciting, fun and hands-on experiments that ALL children can do. We don't just perform the experiments while the kids watch, every child does every experiment too! We also ensure that children never feel like they are learning in a boring way, it is a birthday party after all! I strategically place our scientific knowledge into each activity and I also tailor each party to accommodate different age groups to ensure I teach the appropriate information in an understandable way. A number of our experiments are also “take-home” activities, where the final product can be taken home and enjoyed. This encourages science communication between the child and their family, as they proudly share their experiments.
It's great seeing these little scientists in their lab coats enjoying experimenting and learning about the world around us through science. I once had a child come up to me at the start of a party saying "I don't like science", but by the end of the party, they were so excited to be performing experiments and seeing what they can do! They just didn't realise that science could be so fun. I think the important message for kids to realise at this stage, is that anything and everything can have a STEM background. It's about showing how science can relate to their life, so that even if they still don't believe they 'love science', they can at least appreciate it.
It's been an amazing journey starting my own small business and giving children the opportunity to learn about STEM and showcasing how science is not just a boring textbook. Plus, the birthday cake after each job is a great bonus!