Middle School Science Educational Outreach Programs: “Present Your Ph.D. Thesis to a 12-year-old” and “Shadow a Scientist”

Greg Clark, University of Texas at Austin

“Present your PhD thesis to a 12-year-old” and “Shadow a Scientist” are novel science education outreach programs designed to promote interaction between the scientific research community at The University of Texas at Austin and middle school students in the surrounding area. Both of these programs are based on direct communication of actual research to middle school students. “Present your Ph.D. thesis to a 12-year-old” is a program in which graduate students present a simplified version of their Ph.D. thesis in middle school classrooms and community centers. Each presentation is about 20 minutes long and all presentations are carefully vetted to be engaging, fun, and easily understandable without the need for prior knowledge of the topic. This program gives emerging scientists the opportunity to communicate their discoveries with middle school students and encourage the students’ curiosity and enthusiasm for science. “Shadow a Scientist” is a summer program in which scientists host a pair of middle school students in their lab for two hours one afternoon a week. Middle school students are matched with scientists in an area of research that interests them. On a typical visit the students meet and work closely with a scientist in their lab. We have found that these programs have a three-fold benefit: the students’ scientific knowledge is increased, the scientist’s role is demystified, and the scientists improve their communication skills by explaining basic science research to a general audience. Here we present details about both programs and discuss the feasibility of exporting these programs to other universities. 

Poster link