An Insider's Guide to Science Outreach Activities

Sept. 27, 2017

An ASM volunteer walks science festival attendees through "Which Microbe Are You?"
An ASM volunteer walks science festival attendees through "Which Microbe Are You?"
Source: American Society for Microbiology
You have a million and one things to do, are in the lab for all hours of the day and your thesis is looming. You already know the benefits that come with doing science outreach - improving your communication skills, boosting your CV, and increasing the public trust and awareness of science. However, how exactly do you incorporate science outreach activities in your already hectic schedule? Here I summarize science outreach programs that have varying levels of commitment and modes of involvement and provide my insights on what I thought about each.

Skype a Scientist

This program will connect you with K-12 classrooms for 30- 60-minute question-and-answer sessions. The program and the classes are based in the US, but they accept scientists from around the world. Depending on your timezone, these sessions may be within working hours or outside of them. You can set the number of classrooms you are connected with so the time commitment is variable. This program is definitely on my to-do list and what I like most about it is that they make an effort to match scientists of different flavors to classes that have a high percentage of underrepresented minority students, so they can meet a scientist that looks like them or can relate to the challenges they may face.


I'm a Scientist Get Me Out of Here!

I can tell you from personal experience that "I'm a Scientist Get Me Out of Here!" is a great deal of fun! It's an event where you take part in live chats with science classes from schools around the country and answer questions that students post. The chat sessions are fast, and the questions may be off the wall or show a genuine interest in science (anything from "Do you like Slayer?" to "How much of an effect does the use of antibiotics in animals and livestock have on drug resistance?"). They all want to know what you do, why you love what you do and how you got into it. The experience was a real pick-me-up and reinforced my love for science.

The time commitment will probably be more than you expect. Each event lasts for 2 weeks, with up to 3 half-hour live chat sessions every day and a large live chat session on the second Friday. All of these are integrated into science classes during school hours. You can sign up for as few or as many as you want. Additionally, students will post questions that you can answer at any time.

To get the most out of this activity, throw yourself into it wholeheartedly. If you can get the OK from your supervisor, do as many live chats as you can and make sure to be free for the final session. I'd recommend warning people you can't talk to them while the chats are on, as it will take all of your attention to catch all the questions. An added bonus to this is the chance to win £500 for an outreach activity of your choice, and you'll definitely hone your typing skills, if not your spelling. Keep hold of your sense of humor and decide what type of questions you definitely won't answer.

"I'm a Scientist Get Me Out of Here!" has programs in various countries, like the UK, Kenya, and Ireland. The UK version accepts applications from international scientists too. They also run "I'm a Medic" and "I'm an Engineer" events.

Become a STEM Ambassador

This is a UK-based program where you act as a STEM ambassador by taking part in pre-organized activities such as science fairs, science clubs, and career days at local schools and colleges. I really enjoyed the science fairs, and I was particularly impressed with one poster that determined which biscuit is best for dunking in tea (turns out it's a Jammie Dodger). The time commitment will vary depending on how many activities you sign up for, ranging from a few hours a month to one or more activities a week. Most of these activities will be within school hours but some, such as the Science Clubs, often run at the end of the school day. Signing up for a range of activities will help you get the most out of being an ambassador.

Soapbox Science

For the daring women among you, there's also Soapbox Science. This program is set up like the London Hyde Park's Speaker's Corner, which is historically a place for public debate. This opportunity promotes the science of women scientists while using a novel platform. Amaze the public with your latest discoveries or pick a subject you love. In the cities taking part, scientists get on their soapbox, talk and answer the public's questions.

The time commitment is on the lower side compared to the other activities, being limited to just your prep and presentation time. This is predominantly a UK event, taking place in 13 cities. There's information on their website about organizing your own events, wherever you are.

Cafe Scientifique

Cafe Scientifique is more focused on debating current scientific issues and runs in cafes and bars across the world. The presentations run for about 20 minutes, with an hour afterwards for questions.

Pint of Science

Pint of Science runs across the UK and several other countries like Spain, France, Canada, etc., for a couple of days in May every year and is a forum for people to meet those responsible for the future of science (and have a pint with them). There are opportunities to organize events and add your name to speak. Speakers are chosen by the local organizers for each event.


Donna Johnson is a senior lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and Course Leader for their MSc courses in Biomedical Sciences. She is actively involved in research investigating the molecular mechanisms of antibiotic resistance development.

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Author: ASM Careers

ASM Careers
ASM Careers staff.