Graduate Students Connect with TSCN

When we were starting our teen science café, we asked Café participants to rank the areas of science that they found most interesting, and then we used this information to recruit graduate students, rather than professors or other professionals, as speakers for the coming season.

10141713806_e796f7944b_bWe decided to focus our recruitment on graduate students because they are close in age to the teens and are active researchers. We thought this change would allow the teens to better relate to the presenters and, therefore, would be more engaging and exciting for the teens.
We then asked the Teen Leaders to help in the selection of speakers. A group of 20 Teen Leaders met with 10+ graduate students. Because we were short on time and faced with a pretty large group, we came up with a quick and fun ice-breaker using a speed-dating model, a sort of “Scientist Speed Meet and Greet”. The teens arranged themselves in small groups of 3-4 around the room. The graduate students, in groups of 2-3, were allowed 5 minutes to meet with each group of teens before moving to the next group. The graduate students were asked to introduce themselves and share a little about their current research and how they became interested in science. The teens were able to ask questions and interact with the scientists. In only 20-30 minutes, everyone had gotten to know each other!

The Teen Leaders evaluated each graduate student based on a brief rubric. They rated their responses to the following four questions on a scale from 1-5 (1 being “Not at All” and 5 being “Extremely”):

  1. How interested are you in this science topic?
  2. Did you understand what the speaker is researching?
  3. Would this speaker be appropriate for a teen audience?
  4. How likely would you be to attend a Café presented by this speaker?

Following the “Scientist Speed Meet and Greet,” we spent time with the Teen Leaders to discuss which scientists they wanted to invite as speakers. We used this feedback to schedule our presenters for the Café series.

We took our discussion with the Teen Leaders a step further to ask them to produce a short list of criteria for selecting a speaker and another list with their top tips for presenters at a Science Café. Happy to be involved in the selection process, the teens set to work. This is what they came up with:

Our teens are looking for a speaker who…

  • Is confident and knows what they’re talking about
  • Is excited about what they do and wants to share it with others
  • Has a good personality and interested in speaking with them, not at or to them
  • Has a relevant topic – something that relates to everyone

Our Teen Leader’s advice to speakers:

  • Pick one topic or focus to discuss from your work
  • Interactive – we would much rather DO or SEE than listen
  • Keep it simple – use general terms that anyone could relate to and understand
  • Adjust your language to address a teen audience, but don’t talk down to us
  • Tie your talk into other topics – either everyday life or other areas of science (we like to see how things connect, especially to our lives)
  • Think about how/why what you do is important – why should we care?
  • If you’re excited, we will be too!

It was great to see the Teen Leaders in action, and the criteria they came up with for speakers is right in line with what we set out to achieve!

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