I do a lot of outreach or “reach out” as my contract endearingly terms it 🙂 In terms of talks, my outreach spans a great range of ages and experiences; from the University of the 3rd Age (U3A), Women’s Institutes, the Rotary Club and similar organisations, local Natural History Societies, Garden Clubs, and less often, schools and youth groups. As you can see from the preceding list, most of my ‘formal’ standing in front of an audience and lecturing outreach, although not primarily aimed at the older generation, does most often find them. Face to face interactions with the younger generation is mainly via University Open Days and events like the Big Bang Fair which are great fun but are annual one-offs. I was thus very pleased when I discovered Skype A Scientist last year and had the chance to extend my ‘face to face’ interactions with the younger generation, not just in the UK but around the world. My two favourite classroom session were with 9-10 year olds, one class in a primary school in Northern Ireland and the other in an elementary school in Cincinnati.
The questions they asked are wonderful, heartening and stimulating. Some, especially the ‘why’ ones, are pretty hard to answer, remember the ‘language’ we speak as scientists has a vocabulary that is not necessarily the same as that of a 9-year old. Although I have listed all the questions they asked, I’m not going to post all my attempts at answering them, just some of the ones that weren’t as easy as you might think. Thankfully, the teachers were kind enough to send me a list of the questions a few days before the session, otherwise I would have been in trouble 🙂 Try answering them yourself and as a side exercise, which questions came from which school? If you haven’t done Skye A Scientist, I can thoroughly recommend it and hopefully, as a community we can sow enough idea seeds in this age group for a large number to germinate and grow into a high yielding crop of future scientists.
Do all animals drink water?
Do you mostly work indoors or outdoors?
How did you get interested in your job?
How did you get into your job? Hard work and luck
How long have you been in the insect profession? A long time 🙂
How can you tell poisonous bugs apart from not poisonous bugs? An excellent question as gave me the opportunity to talk about warning colouration and the difference between poisonous and venomous
How does a caterpillar turn into a butterfly? Harder than it seems
How do you get rid of the pests without killing the crops? Gave me the chance to talk about phytotoxicity
How do you remove pesticides without hurting and ruining the food and water? This was actually about organic farming
If you could save any insect from extinction which insect would it be? Really difficult to answer this
Is pesticide the only chemical hurting the plants/insects or is there more? Chance to talk about pollution issues
What is your favourite part in an ecosystem and why? The insects – because they are cool
What is your favourite consumer?
What is your favourite insect? Had to be an aphid, but then I had to explain what an aphid was 🙂
What is your favourite animal that you have worked with? Large willow aphid of course
What is your favourite animal(s) in the ecosystems you observe? Obviously aphids 🙂
What is the most dangerous insect? Hard to answer, but did give me an opportunity to talk about allergic reactions
What are the most common pests that harm crops? An easy one
What is the coolest animal/insect you have ever seen? Again, really hard, because there is so much variety, I went for Snow flea, Boreus hiemalis 🙂
What did you want to be when you were a kid? Gerald Durrell 🙂
When did you become a scientist? A long time ago 🙂
Why do insects that have stingers have stingers? One of those why questions!
What’s your favourite animal/insect that you had ever helped? I went for spider just to be controversial
Why did you choose the career of being a college professor in science?
What is your favourite part of your job? Talking to people about insects
What chemicals have you worked with, and which ones are the most harmful?
What is your favourite insect to learn and inspect? Always aphids 🙂
What kind of animals do you mostly research? Guess what?
What are some tools you use? Told them about pooters
What insect has been infected the most from the chemicals?
Where do you work?
What do you wear for work? What I’m wearing now – jeans and shirt with sleeves rolled up 🙂
What do you think of pesticides? Gave me a chance to talk about pros and cons and specificity
Why did you chose to be an ecologist? Gerald Durrell
Why do butterflies drink tears from turtle’s eyes? Great chance to talk about puddling and peeing in tropical forests to attract butterflies
You know how there are certain bugs that look the same as other bugs that are poisonous, how does that species that looks the same as the poisonous ones stay not over-populated? Very interesting question and lots to talk about concerning mimicry and aposematism
Are spiders insects?
Can you heal an ant if it gets sick? Interesting question and gave me a chance to talk about ants helping each other
Do insects sleep at night? Depends on how you define sleep
Do insects hibernate? Some do
Do insects see in black and white or colour? Colour, but generally not red and chance to talk about UV vision
Do slugs have sharp teeth? Depends on what you mean by teeth and sharp
Can leaf cutter ants eat through human skin? Ouch, yes
Can ants swim? Chance to talk about surface tension
How are ants so strong even though they are so small?
How do crickets make the clicking sound?
How many types of insects are there in the world? Lots and a great opportunity to have a rant about vertebrates 🙂
How do butterflies get coloured? Difficult as had to talk about scales, refraction, wavelengths etc
What is a beehive made of?
What is a beetle’s body made of? Easy on the surface but then you have to work out how to describe chitin
What do woodlice eat?
Why are bees so important? Gave me a chance to talk about how important other pollinators are and how chocolate lovers should love flies 🙂
Why do spiders have so many eyes? Yep!
Why do bees make honey?
Why do dung beetles roll dung? Nice question
Why are bugs so small? Good opportunity to debunk giant insects in horror films and talk about insect respiratory systems
Why do insects have 6 legs? I went for the descended from organisms with lots of legs and because of size and balance problems, six was the most stable reduction (tripod theory). Mercifully nobody picked me up about mantids or Nymphalids 🙂
What is the biggest insect? Luckily had a photo to hand
As you can see a bit of a challenge even with advance warning, but definitely worth doing. School 1 was in the USA and School 2 the UK. Did you guess correctly?
This year I am looking forward to talking to schools in Moscow and Switzerland; truly global reach. How cool is that?