I am an outreach science communicator. My full-time job is to pack a van full of science shows and exhibits and set off to schools all over Scotland, from the borders to the highlands and islands. I love my job, and one of my favourite aspects of it is interacting with the kids during the exhibit sessions or after a show, who can be anywhere between 5 and 16 years old. We ask teachers to fill out feedback forms in order to justify and secure our funding and to assure we are hitting all the right spots as far as the curriculum is concerned, but for me direct face-to-face interaction with the pupils themselves is the best measure of our impact, and I don’t care if it’s difficult to measure quantitatively or that it does not cut it with the funders. The children and young people I work with are the reason I do the job I do, and this is an open letter to them.
Dear Primary School pupils,
You guys are brilliant. I will never stop envying your energy, enthusiasm and endless curiosity about the world, and I think all adults could learn a lot from you. You lot are all little scientists already and I hope you continue to enjoy the subject all the way through your lives, even if you don’t want to be a scientist, because it is all of you who will be the doctors, vets, astronauts, and teachers of the future! Thank you for all your questions which always challenge me, make me think and often make me smile (“Why is poo brown?” is a favourite). Never stop asking “why?” and “what if…?”, no matter how crazy it drives your teachers and parents.
Dear High School pupils,
I love talking one-to-one to you guys, not only because I can talk to you like adults and we usually have really good conversations, but also because you are not afraid to tell me the truth and ask really thought-provoking questions that often I do not know the answer to (admittedly I hate that almost all of you tower waaay over me). I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that you are not stupid. I hear this all the time from you guys, and it is a downright lie. (See also: “I caaaan’t!”, my other pet hate. You can.) You know who you are, the ones who say you enjoy the show or workshop but when I ask you how you feel about science at school, your reply is often “oh I’m not good at it, I’m not that clever!” Anyway, you don’t necessarily need to be uber-intelligent to be good at science (this seems to be a common misconception). The most important thing is to never stop questioning everything around you – remember when you were little and you would ask “why?” constantly? Try to get back into that habit. But now that you’re older, try working the answer out for yourself, either on your own or by carrying out research! You guys literally have a world of knowledge at your fingertips, the internet. You can find out absolutely anything you want to – be your own teacher. I learn from all of you as much as you (hopefully!) learn from me, so thank you for being so receptive and interested in the world around you.