I don't have that much experience, but I did some outreach myself and came to science from a pretty complicated background and so might have been in a position alike those girls at some point - anyway, what works best imho, is a personal story. Something along the lines "It's great and I have a friend who does something alike" and than a few sentences on how she/he reached her/his goal to be an astrobiologist or whoever else. One cannot tell stories alike all the time, of course, but the few times people did tell them to me it was a great encouragement and it gave me a general idea what might come.
This is a really good idea. I need to make a sort of mental filofax of people I know who are in fields that seem to be popular aspirations (e.g. medical doctor, astrophysicist, engineer). Thank you.
If you think that what they're aspiring to do is great, than tell them why you think that!
Astrobiology (if I've got it right!) in many respects can be considered a slightly more sensible approach to the search for little green men, so yes, very interesting stuff. Things like extremophiles are relevant in this area of work, and you can certainly chat about that sort of stuff (black smokers, life in ice etc)
Likewise Brain Surgery, not exactly what I'd want to do (far too gory!), but how the brain works is certainly fascinating stuff, as is why it doesn't work the way we think it does, and the odd things that happen with brain damage.
Just telling them these sort of things will help their confidence, since clearly talking about their aspirations will demonstrate to them that they're not unreasonable wishes, and other smart people out there find these subjects interesting and engaging.
Anyway, well done with all that. I'm not sure I'd be much good talking to such youngsters, but you've clearly got the knack of it, and are doing lots of good stuff.
I think you're right. I don't have to say too much more to make them believe I think their ambitions are worth pursuing. victorine
also suggested I encouraged them to ask for support from their teachers. As long as I can keep my response under three sentences long, I think I won't overwhelm them or lose their attention. :)
The depressing thing is that if they are studying GCSE Science, as opposed to Physics, Chemistry and Biology, they likely won't be able to take the "A" level subjects that would give them access to a science degree at a decent university. It's really appalling that children are getting locked out of such things at such an early age.
Really? I thought GCSEs followed by A-levels were the standard here. Is the IB system considered better?
I don't really know the circumstances of these girls, but you say they are underprivileged. Perhaps you can come prepared with some sort of resources for those of them who tell you their ambitions? Some kind of tutoring, or college preparation resources that may be available in their schools or outside? Books that they may find interesting and could check out of the library? Websites?
Hm, that's a bit much for a response to "I want to be a doctor/biologist/astrophysicist". It could be a useful thing to add to the talk itself, though. Thank you!
Oh! Thank you. I've worked quite hard on learning to write engaging blog entries. I still don't feel I'm great at it, and I'm not sure it's a skill that will ever be of any practical use to me, but I enjoy doing it.
2010-12-10 21:02 (UTC)
One of our student groups here does a lot of science outreach to underprivileged kids, and they're wrestling with the same conundrum. For many of the students that they talk to, it's practically too late for them to take a (traditional) path to a science degree.
I don't feel that the "That's great!" approach is necessarily lacking. Anyone pursuing a non-trivial dream is going to require different kinds of help from different people at different times of their life. I rather suspect at a brief event like the one you describe few students are looking for a plan (unless they ask for it) - they're looking for inspiration and, perhaps, permission to express their own interests.
Yes, I definitely got the sense that the DoS was doing her best to try and make it so that the environment and the lack of resources at their school wouldn't drag these girls down. It was hard not to get depressed about their prospects, but it sounded like the school was trying very hard, by offering new options for the girls to take engineering and higher level science courses, to keep from failing them.
I think you're right about what the students want from an outreach event like this. I got the sense they didn't want me to plan their futures, they just wanted me to confirm that their goals were both admirable and achievable.
I think with the time you are given, being positive and encouraging and saying "that's so cool! I know someone who..." is a concrete and meaningful thing you can do. Even "oh wow! Do you know about Ben Carson? He's a pediatric neurosurgeon in America and does that kind of work! You should google him next time you are at the library" can be meaningful.
To have a stranger listen to them, and then reaffirm their interests is never going to go astray.
I like that. I will make a mental filofax of people I know in various fields so I can give a quick summary - I want to keep it short - and encourage them to look up further information.
Thank you for your blog - it is generally a safe place to be on the internetwebs when I'm dr0nk - informative, interesting, life affirming. I shall go to bed now.
I tend to get approached a lot when I am out either drawing or taking photos. People always seem to want affirmation of their opinion. While that may be helpful on a very general motivational level; I tend to go "That's fantastic! ." And so long as the story is margianally relevant, relateable to their interests and interesting or funny people tend to become inspired by it. And I am extremely tangential in those stories... so it ends up as even less relevant and more slice of life... but I think it also humanizes their dream and can make the impossible seem attainable.
Regardless I think it is fantastic that you had the opportunity to reach out in this way! I'm sure you inspired more than you think you may have.
I'm very partial to the theremin. I encourage the idea that childlike play is highly intellectual and that science is fun due to the aspect of discovery; the aspect of play. And the more that you can encourage that idea with children and teenagers the better!
I encourage the idea that childlike play is highly intellectual and that science is fun due to the aspect of discovery; the aspect of play. And the more that you can encourage that idea with children and teenagers the better!
Yes! I think I'm going to use this activity again. I'll make my talk better, and I'll practice a little more on the theremin myself. I can control it to a certain extent but I find it quite difficult to "play" properly. Then I can show them a few more tricks, and when I turn my back they'll have a bit more structure for their play.
In terms of encouraging these young'uns to pursue their goals, I think that in addition to what you're already doing, you might encourage them to speak to their academic advisor/guidance counselor on how they might achieve that goal. "That's awesome! You should definitely talk to your advisor and see what classes you should focus on for that..."
I know that when I was going off to college, I thought I wanted to be an English teacher, but no one really sat down with me and outlined what I'd need to take in order to do that. Luckily for me, I decided after one semester that there was no way I had the patience to teach first year English and chucked that whole idea.
P.S. I think it's awesome that you do these outreach presentations. I could have used a few more female role models at that age.
you're lovely. :)
i guess the DoS was local, and you'd not encountered a West Midlands accent before? i grew up in Wolverhampton, and although i'm glad i don't have the local accent [my parents are not from Wolverhampton, and most of my pre secondary school friends didn't have particularly strong accents], i always enjoy hearing it. :)
out of interest, which school was it? i'm afraid Wolverhampton is generally rather run down these days. its retail sector in particular has been hit hard by the recession due to the proximity of other major shopping centres [the Merry Hill Centre and Birmingham in particular], and when i was there on a Saturday quite recently it seemed a lot quieter than it used to. it's definitely got its own character though, and while i'm glad i don't live there any more [i needed to move away, and anyway i love Nottingham :)], i always rather enjoy visiting. i'm sorry your experience wasn't great, but i'm glad it had good points. :)
Yes, I think that might have been the first really strong non-Birmingham Midlands accent I ever heard.
I won't name the school here in case this entry ever gets found by some random Google search, but I'll PM you with it. From what I saw from the taxi window, Wolverhampton looked really diverse, so I'd like to go back and visit properly.
"At this point I had a brainwave. I simply turned my back on the theremin and started chatting with the DoS. A big group of girls suddenly shot towards it and clustered around it, trying out different distances and motions of their hands to create sounds."
Thankyou for giving me my grin back. I was wondering where I'd left it... =:o>
Aw, you're welcome. They gave me my grin back too!