We have talked a lot about networking over the years at Gradifying and to continue this week, I had a really interesting networking opportunity this past summer that I wanted to share. It didn’t involve Academia or anything work-related, and yet, it was one of the best networking experiences I have had to date.
For about 4 years now I have volunteered with a program called PlantingScience. This program pairs Scientist mentors with groups of middle and high school students that are working on plant biology-related science projects and experiments. The students have access to their mentors through an online forum and they can ask for advice with any phase of their project whether it be designing an experiment, collecting data or interpreting their results. I applied for, and got accepted into their “Digging Deeper” workshop this past summer. It is a chance for scientist mentors to come together with the teachers of these students and engage in a week-long flurry of professional development activities.
We were put into groups for the week to complete a series of activities. I was paired with another PhD student from the University of Georgia, and 3 teachers, from Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina. We spent the week thinking like students, and designing projects about the “Power of Sunlight” (photosynthesis). I’ve helped students for years to design these projects, but I can’t say I have ever had the chance to test them out. In our groups, we actually completed these experiments. We also did lots of workshops about effective teaching and mentoring, asking the right questions and more. And of course, we did have some fun too!
I loved this experience. I loved it more than any Academic or research-related conference I have been to. It was an opportunity to engage with a whole different crowd of people and ended up being very valuable for networking.
- I got the opportunity to learn about something I really know nothing about – high school. Both of the teacher’s I work with teach high school. While I have mentored for awhile, I don’t actually have much experience with high school students. These workshops and activities gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about secondary school, the attitudes and mis-conceptions students have, and why they are struggling and losing interest in science. As someone aspiring for a career in outreach, learning all of these things was very useful.
- I got to explain my research to a non-Academic crowd. I never really thought about this before I got to the conference but once I did, I got questioned a lot about what it is that I study. This gave me a lot of practice with explaining the often fuzzy theoretical problems my thesis tries to address and gave me an idea of how to market my research to the general public.
- I got to talk to different people with science degrees about the many different paths they have taken in life. When I go to typical Academic conferences everyone did a Masters and then a PhD, and is either in (or aiming for) an eventual career in Academia (for the most part). It was so interesting to talk to these teachers (and the mentors too) about how they got to where they are and the previous employment that they’ve had.
Overall, this experience really opened my eyes to the world outside of Academia, while at the same time helping me to expand my skill set, and meet some cool new people. Oh…and did I mention…it was in the Rockies too, which was also totally awesome!