A couple of interesting papers on Science Outreach: Why do YOU do it?

A link to this paper:

How Academic Biologists and Physicists View Science Outreach

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0036240

popped up on my Twitter feed this morning, so I’ve just been reading through it. It is based on academics taking part in outreach (across 97 institutes), rather than across the scientific community as  a whole, and it focusses on physics and biology (an interesting mix!), so it’s probably not conclusive, but it has some interesting findings, including this one

“In physics, 76 percent of women are engaged in some type of science outreach work when compared to 58 percent of men.”

Comparing this to biology “…. where 69 percent of women but only 32 percent of men do outreach work.”

In both cases, most of the academic physicists and biologists who are busy doing outreach are female – and I’ve definitely found this to be the case. What makes it interesting is the  actual number of women working in each of these fields – biology is female-dominated, where across the institutes included in this survey, only seven of the physics professors were female.

This paragraph also made me smile a wry smile….

“It is likely that this negative regard for outreach work may be tied to a ‘‘Sagan effect,’’ such that a scientist’s research quality is thought to be inversely proportional to the amount of outreach work she does. In short, scientists who popularize or make science too accessible are suspect by their research community”

Let me direct you to this paper: Scientists who engage with society perform better academically  http://perso.ens-lyon.fr/pablo.jensen/spp.pdf

In this work, the authors found that “…contrary to what is often suggested, scientists active in wider dissemination are also more active academically. However, their
dissemination activities have almost no impact (positive or negative) on their careers.”

Personally, I do science outreach for a number of reasons – and none of those is because I think it will have a positive impact on my career. I do it because

  1. I really REALLY enjoy it
  2. I’m pretty good at it
  3. I see it as an important part of my job
  4. I’m lucky enough to have managers who support me doing it
  5. It cheers me up after a crappy day in the lab
  6. I love talking to people
  7. I want to help non-scientists become more scientifically literate

Why do you guys engage in science outreach?