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Grassroots #SciEngage: lessons learned

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Photo courtesy of Jarrod Creameans

This year, I joined a group of professors and students to help plan a local science festival called Everything is Science (EiS). The idea of EiS is to facilitate scientific outreach in Lexington, KY, in venues and ways the public might not expect. During 10 events over the course of three days, local scientists, professors and graduate students gave informal talks about their research in breweries, cafés, bars and restaurants. The topics included regional favorites such as bourbon distilling and horse racing, as well as more modern themes such as LGBTQ+ health disparities and personalized medicine. My role consisted of finding and coordinating host venues for EiS, but it was not limited to that, as I designed advertising materials, contacted speakers, helped with other logistical tasks and even emceed three events. I have previously been involved with several other scientific outreach events such as Earth Day celebrations, traditional science festivals and a TEDx conference, but none of these taught me as much as I learned through planning EiS.

Here are most useful lessons I learned:

You can’t do it on your own. This is first on the list for good reason-having the trust of those you work with and reciprocating that is incredibly important to accomplishing anything as a group. Trust among your group will not only encourage everyone to work harder, but it gives you all a chance to best utilize your skills since you can each focus on the things you are most likely succeed at.

Communication should be your foundation. Communication has a big effect on every part of the process of accomplishing anything; being on the same page from the big picture to the smallest details allows the group to be creative since everyone knows the end goal. Not only will a lack of communication cause logistical problems, but it could also cause the goal of the group to not be achieved, since that goal may be different in everyone’s mind. Being united in your vision allows for individual creative ideas to shine and come together synergistically.

Good leaders don’t mind the grunt work. If you have done science outreach, you have learned one thing very quickly: there is still a long way to go. Beside general confusion and misinformation circulating among the public, there is still a huge part of the scientific community itself that believes science outreach is a waste of time! Due to the circumstances, there is A LOT of grunt work to do in science outreach; foundations need to be laid. Everyone on the EiS planning team was willing to help and do whatever needed to be done for the event to be successful. There were no tasks too small for anyone on the team. Remember, Steve Jobs began his career in a garage… not at Apple headquarters.

Don’t (necessarily) think outside the box. This might seem counterintuitive, but one thing our planning team quickly realized and had to keep in mind was that we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel- we only needed to get our audience members to think about science differently. Effective science outreach doesn’t need to be an elaborate, never-before-seen type of event in order to get people interested. Science is interesting enough in and of itself; the only thing we needed to do was give the audience the chance to think about it differently: that is, take it outside the classroom and frame it in a way (with commonly used words) they could understand and, most importantly, relate to.

There is a lot of progress you won’t see. You cannot watch someone’s mind change about something and more importantly, you will not change how the public views a scientific issue overnight. Science outreach is not easy, especially since there is still so much work to be done. It is very discouraging at times because you may not see the result of your hard work right away, or ever. You may see some of the fruits of your labor in the form of people wanting to get involved and additional support from the community. The important thing to keep in mind is that you are making a difference, whether it feels like it or not.

I am proud to be an original EiS organizing committee member! Not only did I learn about science outreach and teamwork, I grew tremendously by pushing myself to work outside of my comfort zone. With the right team, organizing EiS from scratch didn’t turned to be as difficult as I thought it would be!

About Jarrod Creameans (Twitter: @jw_creameans)

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Jarrod Creameans Collage
Photos courtesy of Jarrod Creameans
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I am a Ph.D. student in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy. I am writing this blog as a part of my public engagement class #UKCOPPublicEngagement #beyondthescript. I would also like to thank my mentor Prof. Garneau-Tsodikova (Twitter: @GTsodikova, Instagram: gtsodikova, Facebook: gtsodikova). I encourage you to organize your own EiS festival (Twitter: @EiS_LEX, Instagram: eis_lex, Facebook: @EiSLEX). I am sure you will benefit greatly from it! My team and I would be happy to help.

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Photo courtesy of Jarrod Creameans