Science Outreach and Career Development
Gone are the days when getting an advanced degree in science or engineering likely meant a career as an academic researcher. Given the increasing number of science and engineering degrees awarded each year, coupled with a limited academic job market, it is clear that developing transferable skills during scientific training is paramount. However, because of a variety of reasons such as workload, mentor support, and/or availability of resources, it can sometimes be difficult to pursue professional interests outside of the lab.
One relatively straightforward mechanism to gain soft skills is to participate in science outreach efforts. Because the practice of science outreach can be carried out in virtually unlimited ways, it lends itself to creativity and innovation, and can be tailored to suit the specific professional and personal goals of the individual doing outreach. It is possible to leverage your science outreach experience for general career development, and not just those related to education. Skills gained from participation in science outreach can include those related to communication, project management, curriculum development, grant writing, popular writing, public speaking, teaching, leadership/team management, and more. Science outreach is also ripe for developing your professional network — an obvious yet critical step for getting a foot through the door.
From my personal experience, participating in science outreach activities provided a sense of fulfilment that helped me get through challenging times while I was at the bench. When my experiments were failing, or I was just having a tough time, getting outside the lab and engaging with members of my community was both energizing, and gave me a fresh perspective on my research. It pushed me to think about my science through a different lens, particularly due to the diversity of questions about my research that were often fired at me by little, yet surprisingly insightful, school kids. This, in turn, led me down experimental paths that I may have not considered had it not been for these outside angles. It also allowed me to better understand how to put my science research goals into broader contexts, which assisted my proposal framing when seeking funding. Overall, I can say that science outreach pushed me to be a better scientist — a point that I think is often overlooked when it comes to this extracurricular.