The STEMNET Case Study (part 6)

Do you have any tips for future STEM Ambassadors?

  • Learn to perform. You don’t have to be on stage, but feel poised and assured when you talk. Remember that you usually know more about the activity than those you are teaching. The character is ‘you’, so be yourself. The plot is the story of your subject, so feel confident enough to tell it well.
  • Start small and don’t be overly ambitious. Maybe develop a single activity and learn to perform it well but flexibly. If you focus on a particular discipline it isn’t hard to string a series of small activities together that vaguely follow a theme. It is often how you package your activities that will appeal to students.
  • The right amount of preparation is the key. Too little rehearsal and you are tied to notes or just appear disorganized. Focus too much on delivering set pieces and you won’t have flexibility in your delivery when faced with questions or when experiments go wrong.
  • Look at your history books and refocus on what you actually need to demonstrate a scientific principle well. Start accumulating pieces of very simple kit that can be used interactively. Think of household objects that your pupils can acquire and replicate your demonstration at home.
  • Communication is dialog, meaning it is two-way. Don’t stand at the front of a room and talk at them; ask them questions and lead discussion with your audience. Pupils will have views so respond to them; don’t just hear, listen. Get close to them by walking around the room. Sit with your audience and deliver your session from their viewpoint.
  • If you have slides then keep them very simple and use as little text as possible. Consider just a picture as being your cue to talk about the topic rather than have a page of text explaining it. Use a remote slide advancer to get away from your laptop.
  • Make time to develop and deliver your activities. You will make sacrifices, maybe in terms of some of your annual leave, but the rewards of immense.

Are there any other pieces of information / advice / observations that you would like to express (either to potential Ambassadors or to young people)?

Find and join the networks of people who are ambassadors, advocates or who share a passion for science communication. They are usually delighted to tell you their story and I still find inspiration from talking to fellow practitioners. Recently Professor Jim Al-Khalili told how his colleagues tried to dissuade him from devoting time to public engagement and science communication. Yet now, he reflects that he still teaches and researches but the remainder of his time is spent in the thrill of public engagement activities rather than sitting on a committee for something or other. It doesn’t matter what stage of your career you are at, there are rewards in being a STEM ambassador.

I’ve been given the opportunity to tell you my story and I hope it may inspire you to consider how a STEM role can be your future career or, if you already work in a STEM discipline, what you can do with it. Happy is the man paid to do his hobby.