Many chemists and chemical engineers remember that special person who got them excited about figuring out how the world works, encouraged them to ask “what if,” and got them started on their career in science. As a working professional, it’s now your turn to share that passion and help inspire and educate the next generation.
Where. Many places would love to have a scientist visit. Schools, for example, have career events and science fairs, and teachers may welcome demonstrations from scientists. You can start by reaching out to the school’s principal to determine its needs. Community organizations, scout groups, after-school programs, and science centers are also looking for volunteers to help with their science programs. Another option may be to volunteer with a local ACS high school chemistry club; there are more than 500 clubs across the U.S. and abroad.
When. You could start by committing to just a single visit, as fits your schedule. If it goes well, you can return for additional visits, add other locations, or become an ACS Science Coach and develop a long-term mentoring relationship with a teacher if he or she is a member of ACS’s American Association of Chemistry Teachers.
Logistics. Once you agree to a presentation, find out what the logistics are. Will you be indoors or outdoors? Will you have electricity, running water, a table? Do you bring your own supplies, or will the place you’re volunteering at provide you with what you need? How much time will you have, and will it be a classroom setting? How many attendees should you expect, and what is their experience level? What safety precautions will you need to take? Safety is of paramount importance.
Make it exciting. Although chemistry magic shows can be big and flashy, students often enjoy predicting what will happen, then testing their predictions. Use demonstrations to engage students in the topics they are learning in class.
If you’re doing a presentation, consider using props. Is there something you use in your work that the students would find interesting? Even pipetters or infrared thermometers can be fascinating to younger students.
Make sure your explanations are accurate and age appropriate. You can often use analogies to things the students already know: For example, a mole is like a dozen, only bigger. Forming connections to students’ everyday lives is also recommended as a way to make chemistry “real.”
ACS has many resources for sharing science, including its magazine ChemMatters, which demystifies everyday chemistry. You can also explore the ACS website for activities that chemists have used successfully in the classroom, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Make it personal. Don’t be afraid to share your own story—why you got into chemistry and how you use it in your career. Not everyone will grow up to be a scientist, but everyone will need a basic understanding of what science is, how it works, and what it can and can’t do. You can provide that understanding. And who knows, you might inspire someone to become a chemist.
Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers).