This month we have been challenged to peek into the mind of scientists and engineers. How do we do that? It seems like such a scary proposition. How could we approach those aloof academics squirreled away in hermetically sealed laboratories, thinking about nothing else but their hypothesis?
Ummm. . .
#Fieldworkfails will give you a whole new perspective on those stuffy scientists. These are everyday folks making everyday mistakes. One researcher accidently glued herself to a crocodile, a field team had baboons steal their last role of toilet paper and string it up in trees, another group managed to get a drugged zebra’s neck stuck in the fork of tree.
This is peeking in!
And guess what – STEM Professionals are eager to share. In fact, many are almost shouting, jumping up and down, waving stadium-sized banners: “COME LEARN FROM US!”
There’s this growing field, science communication, and more and more practicing scientists are themselves becoming all about some SciComm. Go ahead, check out #Fieldwork or #SciComm or one of the bajillion other cool places these STEM nerds are sharing.
As a writer, I’m just as likely as the rest of the world to see scientists – especially those I adore – as remote individuals who don’t have the time for me. Once, I was in awe of this scientist – she gets to dive with manatees for her research – so I put off contacting her for months. When I finally did reach out, she invited me to join her next research trip to Belize! But the trip was in two weeks. I couldn’t get organized that quickly. I missed the opportunity of a lifetime because I had been nervous about contacting her.
Don’t miss out. Don’t let your students miss out.
Do reach out to the STEM community
But first, be prepared.
- Visit the scientist’s website. If they have videos, articles in popular magazines, or active social media accounts, they are eager to engage.
- Read about the research the scientist is conducting.
- Generate a list of your questions and then prioritize those questions.
- Contact the individual (I use email), letting them know:
- your purpose
- how you prepared for talking with them
- what exactly you are seeking (a phone interview, answers via email, a video chat)
- why you are seeking them out as opposed to another researcher.
Then, once you’ve made contact, let the questions begin. Do let the professional share in a way that is comfortable to them. Some prefer lots of questions; others love to tell stories. Have fun with them and don’t forget to send a thank-you.
Peek Into the Past
But don’t think this peeking in is limited to living folks. Books on this month’s reading list give you prime opportunities to wander around in the world of geniuses such as Charles Darwin. Take a look at Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith, by Deborah Heiligman. You’ll get a look into the inner workings of his mind:
- Reading Charles’s list of marriage pros and cons
- Seeing that after years of work he worried that “all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed,”
- Watching him grapple with a child’s death and the realization that natural selection was playing out in his own life.
Fiction can show us the inner scientific mind as well. Consider The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly. Young Callie Vee posts questions in her notebook, “What shapes the clouds?” She observes a weather vane and documents her ideas. She builds an anemometer, and just like the contributors to #FieldworkFails, she discovers that STEM endeavors aren’t always easy. Her great anemometer blew apart. Fortunately for Callie Vee, she has a mentor eager to share the thrill of design, but wise enough to let her learn through failure.
I encourage you – students, writers, educators – STEM lovers reach out and peek in!
Nonfiction author Heather L. Montgomery peeks into the lives of scientists in her recent book Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill. A scientist who pulls parasites from snake lungs? A kid who rebuilds animal bodies bone-by-bone, a researcher who finds contagious cancer? Don’t you want to know how those folks think? Heather also peeks directly into roadkill herself. Dissecting a rattler, skinning a fox, her hands stay busy discovering answers to questions her brain keeps pumping out.
O.O.L.F (Out of Left Field)
How can students connect with STEM professionals? Here are some good opportunities:
Before they were scientists is an interview series that asks scientists what they were like in middle school.
Skype-a-Scientist matches scientists with classrooms for 30-minute Q & A sessions.
Melissa Stewart’s “Dig Deep” series looks at the inner lives of nonfiction writers who often write on STEM topics.