Day #63: The Importance of Science Outreach
Today is Skype a Scientist day! Every term I volunteer my time and try to explain my journey, my research, and my pitfalls with students all over the US. Technically this is my second session (of six!) this term, but I wanted to talk about why I do what I do today. So if you’re interested in what it’s all about, keep reading.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this post. Frankly I wasn’t sure I would have the time and I’m not the most qualified “scientist” in the world to talk about why scicomm is important. Then again, I do think it is very important and after some rumination, I decided my imposter syndrome didn’t matter so much and I could in fact talk about it with some sort of authority, at least for my case and why I do it.
It wasn’t an easy journey to my PhD, after the consistent and relentless bullying in high school (I was a poor… very poor, hispanic child that didn’t fit in), I swore off college. I mean, why would I put myself through 4 more years of that! This feeling was further confirmed when I left the Marine Corps. I didn’t think I could be around people again, much less further my education.
After a few years, I decided to give it a shot anyway. It was a good choice, despite all the rocky problems I’ve had. No one bullies you in college, it helps that I’m a war veteran, sure, but it’s not like it was in high school for sure. I wish someone would’ve told me, I am glad I served, I am, but it would have been nice to know that school didn’t always have to be hell.
From a young age I wanted to be a scientist, since kindergarten at least, if we want to be accurate. No one ever tells you that when you get here you can (at least in my case) not actually feel like a scientist. I mean, sure I’m an engineer, I have my BS and my MS, but somehow I still don’t feel qualified. That is actually why I decided to push myself to do outreach like I do now.
No one tells you these things, at least no one told me. I don’t want others to be left in the dark. That is why I do outreach, it doesn’t matter that I don’t feel qualified, what matters is that I have a story, I’ve been on a journey, and I hope that someone will be inspired by what I say or learn that there are other options. Really I want to explain that no matter your experience in high school, college is totally different.
Do not let people beat the creativity out of you
I want to inspire people to go into engineering, sure, but more than that I want to inspire people to learn and want to be educated. I once told a tour of high school kids, “do not let people beat the creativity out of you.” I meant it and I would say it again to be honest, it was the truth. I sometimes think I’m odd because I see things differently than other people, but if it were not for that difference, I would never have designed and built my robot and I certainly wouldn’t be the work I’m doing now.
I wouldn’t be designing alligator prosthetics for children.
I wouldn’t be here.
So I share my story and hope that someone will be inspired to take their wild ideas and see what they can create. In the end, it isn’t a matter of being an expert in your field, it’s a matter of spreading your story and helping people see that they can do it too if they just let themselves be who they really are.
As for me, I have a story to tell, actually I get to do it twice today. Maybe I’ll inspire someone, maybe they won’t feel so alone, who know? So my advice to anyone who is thinking about it, take the leap, you never know who you may inspire, or who may inspire you back!
Until next time, don’t stop learning!