We're a little crazy, about science!

Outreach in a pandemic

I’ve been matched! No, not with a dating service, with an outreach program called Skype a Scientist. If you are a scientist (any type will do) you can get involved too! I’ve talked about some of my outreach activities in the past, but heck let’s run through why I think outreach is so awesome and how the pandemic has actually made it easier to do!

Not too many good things have come from the COVID-19 pandemic. I mean here in the US we’re dying at in incredibly fast rate and for some reason, that isn’t fast enough for people (in the general sense) to care. It’s amazing we can have a whole subset of the US who would rather die than wear a mask or literally do nothing.

Thankfully, my outreach activities aren’t limited to in person meetings. I’ve volunteered with the skype a scientist program since its inception and I really enjoy doing it. I’ve had my own struggles with science communication of course and in a lot of ways I’m still learning how to best go about doing it, but I’ve learned a lot. Namely that I work better with older kids getting ready for college, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t skyped (well zoomed, google meets, or just about any other meeting software really) with other age groups.

In fact, one of the more interesting meetings was somewhat of an accident, but I got to explain brain-machine interfaces to children. As in really really children, kindergarteners! Now you want to talk about a challenge, well that was it and I had never done it before so I really needed to think about how I was going to show what we do, not just tell what we do. I did a few robot demos with the exoskeletons we have in the lab, talked about cool robots I’ve built, and there was a (poor) attempt and explaining the brain to them and that we can record from it without poking the head.

There was also an incident where my computer would not open a single one of my photos. That was… well awkward! Normally I have a certain flow that I like to follow. I don’t use powerpoint slides because I like to tell a story and adjust depending on the group I’m talking to so I have groups of images and videos to select from which help me tell that story. Since I had to tell the story without my visual aids, it was hard so I just jumped straight into demoing the exoskeletons we have. We have ~8 I believe, and four of them are self balancing so I can demo them easily just by controlling it from the joystick (see below for a few of them).

The point being I’ve learned a lot about how to do outreach and how to explain the complex things I do in ways that anyone could understand. That was another function of my daily blog, to break down some complex stuff into easily digestible bits, like my explanation of how EEG works, or my whole know your spinal cord series. It’s a good way to practice and while most of my posts cover the day to day of a PhD in progress, I still like to cover certain topics when I feel up to doing that kind of work.

With the pandemic my job has gotten even easier, everyone is on zoom/skype/etc. so it makes it easier to connect with teachers who may not have been comfortable with the software before the pandemic. I mean it has been a little sad with COVID-19 in the background, but we’re adaptable and this is how we are overcoming the problem, even if it is only piecemeal.

In any case, I’ve got my latest match and we’re meeting next week! The class has some great prosthetic related questions and I really look forward to answering them and showing off some of the stuff I do. It’s going to be great! With that, I have some work to do for a meeting I have scheduled tomorrow with my Co-PI. You’ll get to hear all about that tomorrow though!

2 responses

  1. Oh I’ve heard about Skype a Scientist – looks like a really cool program! Great to hear you’ve had a good experience with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 11, 2020 at 11:46 am

    • Oh yeah, I love it. I always get really good questions. Leading up to it I get a little stressed since it takes time out of my work, but afterward I’m glad I did it.

      Liked by 1 person

      December 11, 2020 at 4:10 pm

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