The initiators of the project developed an education module for children, which they complete with their own teacher in their classroom before visiting the Hoe?Zo! Show in a local theatre.
In the theatre show, children can ask a team of four PhD candidates (under which Céline) any question that they might have. The PhD candidates do not know which questions the children will ask and need to produce an impromptu answer. The PhD candidates do not only answer the questions, they also visualize the answers using a collection of props. To ensure accurate answers, the PhD candidates are allowed to use the internet for a restricted amount of time. The PhD candidates are trained in presentation skills and improv before they go on stage. More information about this show: (https://hoezoshow.nl/).
One of the aims of the project is to train PhD candidates in outreach skills. Outreach is an important aspect of science, but formal training is often not available. As part of the project, PhD candidates (under which Céline) complete a two-day training. The main aim of the project is to teach PhD candidates all of the skills necessary to continue outreach efforts on their own work after the project.
What did you learn from the training in outreach skills?
“We got taught about the psychology behind learning: how do you keep the attention of the children, how do you spark their curiosity? We can use this knowledge when answering their questions during the show. For example, we try to first make the question broader and create more related questions. This will increase the relevance for others, and will result in some unanswered questions hanging in the air. By not immediately satisfying their curiosity with a complete answer to all questions, they will stay curious about the answers to the other questions. Also, we try to couple an emotion to our answers and we try to use examples that connect to their own experiences, which helps with keeping the attention.
To feel comfortable on stage, we did a theatre workshop. This is not only useful for the show itself, but also helps with taking the stage with confidence in other presentation settings.
Next to learning about psychology and working on our theatre skills, we got trained in media skills: who to approach if we want to share our research, and how to interact with media that contacts you about your research or scientific opinion?
All in all, useful skills to have when you want to share your science!”
How was your first show with the kids and tell us something about the questions they asked?
“The first show was great! Of course, I was a bit nervous before the start, but once on stage, all nerves disappeared. The children were super enthusiastic and did their best to attract the attention of the presenter so that they could ask their question. The questions were diverse and some actually made me wonder about the answer as well. Examples of questions that were asked were: Why does glue not stick to the inside of the bottle, but it does stick to paper?, Why are there so many languages?, Which came first: the chicken or the egg?, Why are soap bubbles spherical?, Why do humans have emotions?, Why was Einstein’s IQ so high?, Why do colors exist? and even the existential question Why do we exist?. Luckily, we’re allowed to use Google and we’re never alone in answering a question: we usually team up to explain and visualize the answer in duos. It’s fun to brainstorm with a fellow PhD about the question and figure out together how to explain the answer with the use of the available props.
Not only did the kids have an opportunity to ask any burning question they had, they also enjoyed cool science experiments by the presenter Boy Vissers: he set his hand on fire to figure out whether fire is hotter at the bottom or at the top, and he transformed a vacuum cleaner into a marshmallow-shooting cannon! The show always ends with the PhDs having to dance on stage: that’s the deal for not completely having answered 5 questions before the timer is up.”
Any questions related to synthetic cells perhaps? Or Bionanoscience?
“Not directly about synthetic cells, but the related question ‘How did life on Earth originate?’ was asked twice on the first show day! Next to that, there were many questions related to either biology or physics, like Why is the sun so bright?, Why do poisonous animals exist?, How many diseases are there and why? & Why does water not fall off the Earth?.”
Do you have suggestions for other BaSyC PhD’s how they can train their outreach skills?
“There are many opportunities to do outreach, and the best way to train your skills is to just do it. Tell the people around you that you’re interested in outreach; whenever they hear about an outreach event, they’ll think of you! For example, I joined an outreach event via my fellow BaSyC PhD colleague: during the Dutch Design Week, I joined a stand of the Rathenau institute about the synthetic cell project, and discussed with visitors about their thoughts on synthetic cells. Other examples of (Dutch) initiatives that you can join are the science festivals:
If you first want some training, you can check out the graduate school courses at your university. Examples of relevant courses that are taught in Delft are ‘Sharing your research and work as simple as a TedX talk’, ‘Popular scientific writing’ & ‘The art of presenting science’.”