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Students on-screen listening to an online presentation delivered by Emily Monts
Students from Santa Rosa, US watching Emily's presentation via Zoom

Emily Monts

Outreach Experience

 

I had the opportunity to speak to a group of high school seniors in the USA about what they can expect when they begin university. It was the first time I had engaged with students in a socially-distanced manner, which was vastly different from past in-person experiences. Communication was more difficult as the students were unable to ask questions freely throughout the talk as it was challenging for me to balance the twin tasks of watching to see whether hands were up and presenting the information. Additionally, it’s a very different feeling presenting to students over the computer -  it’s far less personal and feels more like a lecture rather than a discussion.

 

Difficulties aside, it was a wonderful learning experience to have the opportunity to not only improve my presentation and communication skills but to also hear the concerns of those who are beginning their higher education in the midst of a pandemic. I was surprised to hear that their concerns were much the same as my own when I began in 2015. The questions asked pertained to the usual concerns we all face when beginning a new chapter in life, "is it challenging to meet people you share commonalities with?”, “what's it like to live in a different country or state?”, “What is it like to live with people you've never met before?” Having the opportunity to hear their concerns and attempt to prepare them for this brand-new period in life taught me the importance of encouraging the next generation of scientists.

 

Regarding my experience using an online platform, Zoom in this case, it was highly convenient to operate, however, I was unable to gauge the reaction of students while presenting as I could not see them, which added to the challenge of reflecting upon whether I was speaking at an appropriate level of information or whether there was much confusion. Perhaps this could have been avoided with another program or if I had a more thorough understanding on Zoom.

 

A challenge I faced was learning how to accurately describe a highly specific and complex scientific field to students who had not yet begun their university-level scientific classes. I learned the value of being able to communicate complex ideas in clear and accurate terms and was made aware of the language barrier that separates the scientific community from others. This realisation made me reflect upon whether this poses an issue in everyday life and what can be done to improve this communication. The concepts I found most difficult to communicate were regarding my laboratory work on the Non-Homologous End Joining Protein Complex as it is difficult to explain a complex and intricate topic such as the structure of various proteins and their interactions in a simplified form.

 

For anyone who is considering pursuing socially distanced scientific outreach, I'd certainly encourage them to do so. The students were happy to hear a first-hand perspective about what it's like to be a scientist and it taught me the value of personal reflection upon my own educational career. It’s funny how speaking through your past experiences can help clarify the future. It was also so rewarding to answer questions after the presentation about my experience as an American student studying in the UK. Many of the students had not considered studying abroad so I was happy to bring that option to their attention.  In my experience, scientific outreach always ends in the students becoming more inspired to pursue a higher education in science, and when this is not the case, they appreciate the value of science and what it brings to the world, which I believe is an equally valuable accomplishment.

 

Emily Monts is studying an MSc in Radiation Biology in the Department of Oncology, University of Oxford