Taking science to schools – A rewarding experience

Public outreach is one of the fundamental tasks we have as scientists. However, in our everyday lab routine, it can be difficult to fulfil this task. Luckily, the research school at Lund Stem Cell Center kick-started the “Taking science to schools” initiative in 2019. The idea was to send PhD students to interested high schools and present different aspects of stem cell research, our career path and motivation as well as our own research projects.

As part of the first “batch” of scientists for this initiative I teamed up with a fellow PhD student and we started preparing our school visit. We quickly realized that this type of presentation was going to be very different from what we were used to do. Instead of loading it up with data and experimental plans, we had to break it down to the basic concepts and focus only on the most relevant pieces of information.

After several drafts and with a lot of helpful feedback from the research school we finalized our talk and went to meet the students at Malmö Latinskolan. We did not know what to expect. Was the level of our talk appropriate? Would they understand what we were talking about? Would they be interested at all?

It turned out to be a very rewarding experience. The students were super curious, and we got a ton of interesting questions. Personally, I was reminded of how cool it is to work in a research lab. It is easy to forget how exceptional this work place is when I go through my daily routine. Feedback from the “outside” always helps me to re-adjust this perception and to appreciate the opportunities I have through my PhD studies.

Following the success in 2019, there was another round of school visits planned for 2020. But of course, things took a different course due to the still ongoing COVID19 pandemic. Together with a colleague I joined the project again which was made virtual and postponed to the fall of 2020. This time the challenge was: How do we engage the students and have active discussions with them in an entirely virtual visit? With the students from Österänggymnasiet in Kristianstad we tried to focus more on the interactive parts of the meeting. After some initial reluctance, the students warmed up to the virtual forum and we had a great discussion.

I was once again energized by how rewarding it was to communicate my research to these kids. I value the opportunity to convey my view and personal experience of science as a profession and to give a realistic and relatable picture to high schoolers of what it means to work in a research lab.

Fingers crossed for an in person visit in 2021!