How do we engage young people in science: My response

Earlier this week the following item was put up on science blogs New Zealand.

This is my reply.

Subsequent to reading this blog I spent time reading the Curious Minds Report. Certainly a useful report, wonderful that progress is on the way.

I think it is impossible to overstate that we scientists must learn to speak (and video, blog, tweet, dance, paint…) with passion and enthusiasm about science. And we must learn to tell stories. Watch both Cosmos series, Neil de Grasse Tyson and Carl Sagan both tell the stories of the scientists as well of the science. All of the best communicators tell stories. We must too. Tell our own stories and make a point of telling stories for our audience. What I mean is, I’m male, if I was talking to young women about science I would introduce successful women scientists and tell their stories as well as my own. Talk to our audience’s interests. That’s just good manners.

Another point I have is to have a nation-wide communication contest: best speech, best poem, best short film, best song and best art work. Seek to enthuse the artists into science (Siouxsie Wiles does a wonderful job of this). An additional thought is that we talk inclusively of STEAM based opportunities; not just employment but a broader New Zealand culture, enjoyment and participation. Life. It is not just rock-star scientists, encourage the part-timers. Speak positively, my area is environmental science and as much as I can I tell stories of business folk profitably mitigating climate change. Just look at the wind energy industry in the Manawatu.

Like previous commentators here, I think the market for STEM graduates is overstated.

I agree with the report’s authors, education – particularly primary and intermediate school education – is critical and at present poorly done. Last term one of my international students expressed her surprise. Her daughter had been taught at an international school in Singapore, with science an integral part of the programme; when they transferred here, they found little science in her class. On reflection, both of my children went through primary school with pretty much no science. It is a little better at Intermediate, where science was an option.

On the subject of community engagement I am much more positive, there is plenty happening but it is focused on STEM bound students and practitioners, and there is little for citizens. Just look at the latest Royal Society News Letter. Move onto STEAM and encourage artists and amateurs.

To finish, the most important thing is for us scientists to tell positive engaging stories and to build a culture in New Zealand that supports this.


About sustainabilityandbeauty

My passion is telling the stories of possibility, seeking a sustainable and beautiful future. My training is in science, chemistry, environmental science and teaching.
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