Get involved! The next generation needs you

iJOBS hosted a career panel, on May 22, 2017, in hopes of enlightening students about career opportunities in education and science outreach. The panelists included: Lucille O’Reilly Ph.D. (Science Teacher), Tiffany King, Ph.D. (BioBus), Patricia Irizarry, Ph.D. (The Rutgers Science Explorer Bus), Paul Winslow Ph.D. (Students 2 Science) and Kara Mann, MS. (Liberty Science Center).

Many of us are a source of inspiration to the children and young adults in our lives. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is a very demanding field and most of your high school mates probably majored in non-STEM related fields. For those of us who chose this field, there is a high chance that we got where we are today because of many people that encouraged us (teachers and family members) and programs that propelled our curiosity about the field. There has always been, and will always be, a need to have people working STEM jobs. Therefore, it is our responsibility as scientists to instill the love of STEM in the next generation. Whether or not you are planning for a career in science outreach, we should all be aware of what we can do to increase the number of people in STEM careers. Here are ways to get involved in science outreach:

High School Education: I bet you never imagined being a high school teacher after spending years obtaining your Ph.D.  However, there are several individuals with Ph.D.s who discover that middle or high school education is where their passion lies and one such example is Dr. O’Reilly. She started out as a community college adjunct professor while still in grad school, but quickly found out that she prefers high school education. How did she get there? Obviously, she has a passion for teaching, but in order to become a public school teacher she had to be certified by the state. From her Ph.D. courses alone, she was qualified to teach both biology and chemistry. It is no surprise that schools are in crucial need of science educators, but Dr. O’Reilly emphasized the importance of having great science educators –those who will not only teach, but also encourage and inspire students.

As a previous fellow in the NSF Graduate K-12 (GK-12) program, I can attest to the joy teachers experience while teaching young minds. It is a rewarding job and it is even more rewarding when you leave your students more inspired at the end of the school year. Children and teens believe that science is cool, but the goal is to make them believe it is still amazing after leaving high school.

Wondering about the pay? Public schools generally give a starting pay of $40,000/year, but higher degrees may allow you to start at a higher pay scale- depending on the district. For example, our panelist started at $56,000/year. Now she wants to switch gears and become a curriculum developer, a position that pays up to $100,000/year.

Con: associated state rules and regulations that come with the job.  All educators have to follow laws, such as anti-bullying laws, and make sure that students are well-accommodated in other ways. The other con is that you may not only serve as a teacher, but also a mentor or moral compass for your student(s), which can take an emotional toll on you. It is also a time-consuming job because you often take your job home with you.

BioBus: Have you ever seen kids walk into a bus and go, “wowwww,” with eyes wide open?  I doubt it! This is the experience you get every day as a staff member of BioBus. BioBus exposes children between 4th and 8th grades, to different science experiments.  The students get to use electron microscopes, study water samples from different areas and even learn how to extract DNA! The bus is also solar-powered, which serves as another way to teach children about science and technology. Dr. Tiffany King, a staff-scientist at BioBus, previously volunteered for Citizen Schools (another great program to check out) while obtaining both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Dr. King’s lack of interest in academia and her passion for hands-on science education made BioBus an ideal workplace.

BioBus has many volunteers that range from graduate students to post-docs. Graduate student and post-doc volunteers are welcome to apply for open job positions. If you have cool, educational ideas and want a company that will utilize them, check out BioBus or similar science outreach careers.  They need scientists, like you, to create lesson plans that will stimulate young minds!

BioBus pays in the upper $40,000 for starters, but can vary depending on your experience and the position.

Con: It is a small company so you may be pushed to do several tasks. The job varies from day to day (a pro and con) so it is not monotonous.

The Rutgers Science Explorer (RSE) Bus: If you want a career in science outreach why not check out one offered by your school. A lot of people have never heard about this educational outreach program provided by Rutgers. It is a lot like BioBus and caters to middle school students. The best part about programs like this (including BioBus and Students 2 Science (below)) is that they center their activities on students’ curricula. They learn a topic in the classroom and then perform hands-on experiments to further understand the topic. This form of active learning helps the students retain what they learned and provides you with an opportunity to inspire the next generation. FYI: RSE is hiring and in need of volunteers so apply here!

Dr. Irizarry is the current program director at RSE. She credits her previous experience as a GK-12 fellow and other educational outreach programs in helping her become a strong candidate for a position at RSE.  In addition, she is an associate director for the Rutgers Geology Museum and a board member of the Mobile Laboratory Coalition.

Con: The position requires you to have multiple responsibilities at different locations, and the mobile aspect can be stressful.

Student2Science: Here’s another nice program that brings science to middle and high school students through different events: career oriented and hands-on experiments/challenges for high school students and general science, or life science lessons for middle school students. They target under-served communities and have a variety of experiments for students to perform, similar to BioBus and RSE. They need up to 1000 volunteers per year and graduate volunteers often get to mingle with people who work in the industry (did anyone say “network”?).

FYI: they are currently looking to hire a curriculum developer, which will pay up to $100,000/year.  They also have 12-15 full-time positions available, which range from a career as an instructor to site-directors and they pay more than a public school teaching position.

Liberty Science Center (LSC): A trip to the Liberty Science Center (LSC) is fun for any age group. I took a trip there with my students while I was a GK-12 fellow and everyone, both teachers and students, loved it! LSC offers a wide range of STEM activities for students ranging from physical sciences to biology and engineering.  Employees also travel to schools for hands-on activities with students.

What is it like to be a STEM educator at LSC? You conduct assembly programs for large groups of people, conduct interactive workshops, engage in live demonstrations and develop new educational contents.

Con: It is not always a 9-5 job and the daily tasks vary, which can also be a plus.

Advice from the Panelists:

“Expose yourself! Get involved with programs and certifications offered by the school, which will give you an upper hand.” Dr. Irizarry  

Dr. Winslow advised us to find “what you value versus your perceived values”. He elaborated by adding, “Find a good mission-match, be passionate and decide how much money you can live with” J As he rightly said, you can’t fake it around kids- they will definitely sense if you have a lack of passion!

It is true that you will earn more (at least in the beginning) in academia or industry, but it is crucial that we find out what will make life more fulfilling. The common theme from this event was the passion that exuded when each panelist spoke about their work and how they are inspiring students from different backgrounds. If that is what will make you feel fulfilled, then think about volunteering, or finding a career in educational outreach!


Published by

Maryam Alapa

I love science and enjoy teaching, research (mostly) and writing. I consider myself a lady that has been shaped by two countries: Nigeria and America. I spent almost half my life in Nigeria and moved, permanently, to the US at the age of 13. I attended East Orange Campus High School and went on to Montclair State University for both Bachelor's degree (Chemistry) and Master's degree (Chemistry/Biochemistry). I am currently a 5th-year Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers University - NJMS. My dream is to have a positive impact on science and research education in Nigeria and surrounding countries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>