Public Outreach: A Skill-Builder for Undergrads

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Friday, July 21, 2017


Jacob Robertson

Often, when we talk about the benefits of science outreach, we talk about the benefits the public receives: increasing science literacy, instilling wonder, and inspiring young people. But what good does the demonstrator (specifically, undergraduate students) receive from doing outreach? 

Students stand to improve their interpersonal skills. By interacting with the public, whether in large groups or with individuals, students develop verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Outreach events are never perfect. Someone will probably forget a critical supply and someone else will be 15 minutes late. These situations test problem-solving and decision-making skills. 

By explaining science to the public, students further develop their own understanding of science. Explaining a scientific phenomenon accurately, simply, and concisely requires careful forethought and consideration of fundamental physical principles. Often, the public asks challenging questions, this is especially true when the audience is young children. Students must apply their critical thinking skills to their knowledge set to answer these questions.

Finally, students create strong community relationships by inserting themselves into the community and interacting with administrators at local schools and libraries. By creating a presence in their community, students are reinforcing the public's commitment to science. This is an investment in the student's career. As public interest in science increases, we are more likely to see better public policy and funding toward science.

While the public benefits greatly from science outreach, the activity also benefits undergraduate students by developing skills necessary for a successful career. 

Jacob Robertson