It was summer last year when I saw a post on Facebook from Jillian Worssam – an amazing person from the Flagstaff Unified School District, Arizona – about the educational project “Scientists in the classroom”. I was very much excited and interested because education and outreach should be an integral component of any kind of research. Yes, it’s a very general statement that I use without being very much into the process myself, before this following experience.
I myself am a working scientist, writing articles, undertaking fieldwork, compiling data and creating educational activities mostly for university students or young scientists. Yet, the following encounter was my first experience working with school kids and you know what? There is obviously a huge difference in level of knowledge needed but the most impressive thing I have learnt is the incredible feedback.
My first mentee was Kayla from the eighth grade, with our communication being based online, mostly via email, it was always a great pleasure to log into my email account and receive emails entitled “Mentor”. That was the first time someone called me like this. While the first emails were dedicated to getting to know each other by the time Kayla asked me about what should we study, the Polar Night had come to my region making the answer to her question pretty obvious – The Polar Night and its effect to Arctic residents. I have studied this topic myself for some time during my social investigations.
After a few introductory letters Kayla asked me a question that was very interesting for me because at the first glance I couldn’t find the scientific connection to those 2 things mentioned in the question. Furthermore I spent the whole day exploring for the answer, taking me away from writing station’s research plan.
Kayla wrote: I was wondering how the polar nights are connected to climate change.
Yulia thought: Hmmm, interesting!
…and proceeded to spend a few hours reading, searching, and exploring to get the answer on board!
I even found several answers that might fit the question asked. Do you want to know how those things are connected? Search it or (if you don’t have the patience) email me 🙂
It’s not the question of what can we do for kids but what they can do for us. Kayla unknowingly made me think broader and sparked my curiosity causing it to peak higher than it has peaked in a good while, which is why I will never forget this question. Personally I believe that curiosity is the motivating force for any form of successful research!
The message I want to send out to all my colleagues and fellow scientists based on this personal experience is: “Hey, don’t be afraid, lazy, too busy or what other excuses you can find not to take on a little mentee. You will give a little but will gain a lot more!”
I want to say Thank you to Jillian for such an amazing experience!
Mentor (but still mentee sometimes) Yulia
PS I am so much looking forward for a new experience this year!