September 2011

Students on front lines of public engagement

Teigler describes SITN's mission as having three goals: 1) to fill the gap in access to science information after formal education, 2) to address cases of widespread misinformation and misunderstanding of science, and 3) to create an avenue for direct communication between the public and scientists.

"Graduate students already harbor a desire to share their passion for science," Teigler says. "SITN taps that enthusiasm, giving students varied outlets to communicate science that match their interests."

A decade of growth


A young participant peers down the microscope at zebrafish larvae at Science in the News' Model Organism Zoo at the 2011 Cambridge Science Festival. The exhibit explores fundamental genetic concepts of genotype and phenotype with the help of SITN volunteer "zoo handlers" and a selection of wild-type larvae and mutants with striking visual phenotypes

SITN first started as and continues to hold a free, public lecture series each fall at which teams of three graduate students give two-hour, interactive talks on broad scientific topics recently covered in the media. Slenn reports audience sizes currently range from 150 to 250 people per lecture, with about 30 attending post-lecture tours of the medical school's labs. In addition, SITN provides a biweekly e-newsletter, the SITN Flash, written and edited by students.

In 2009, SITN expanded its effort to include participation in the Cambridge Science Festival, high-school outreach, and its own Science Café, Science by the Pint.

"Providing varied programming gives eager SITN volunteers a chance to share their love of science in a manner of their choosing," Teigler says, "but it also attracts and engages audience members of different ages, interests and backgrounds."

Motivated audience

Some audience members, like Michael Shapiro, say they attend SITN lectures for professional development.

"I am a mathematician by training and a mathematical biologist by trade. That means that my general biological education is full of holes and makes the SITN talks ideal for me," Shapiro explains. "They start at a very elementary level and almost always teach me something I didn't know."

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