The Importance of Outreach
Written By: Amanda Labuza
As graduate students, it is easy to get caught up in lab. We spend so much time focusing on experiments and getting a low p-value that we tend to forget the purpose of our research. We lose sight of why we entered the crazy world of grad school to begin with. As for me, I always wanted to do research to help solve problems for those who suffer from mental illness. By joining UMB's Neuroscience Outreach and Volunteer Association (NOVA) I kept this goal alive. Joining an outreach group has helped me stay grounded and applying what I learn in lab to help real people has been an incredible opportunity.
Each month I venture out of the lab to help psychiatric patients by participating in NOVA's monthly BINGO event at Spring Grove Psychiatric hospital. We provide the patients with a little break from monotony of life in hospital care by leading a BINGO game for them. Our prizes range from toiletries to new coats and other items they wouldn’t obtain otherwise. It is truly fulfilling to work with this often overlooked group of people.
My personal favorite events, however, involve young students. In the fall we give lab tours to local high school students. They get a chance to see firsthand what a career in the biological sciences looks like. In the spring we visit local middle and high schools to teach science classes complete with flashy, fun lab experiments. We also work with elementary students at Baltimore’s childrens museum, Port Discovery. I adore the days I get to get up, go out, and get students excited about science.
I’m not only in it for the warm feeling I get in my heart. NOVA events also benefit my career training through opportunities to network with my peers and to practice communicating my work with the public. It has become increasingly important in our modern political climate to be able to explain our research and its significance to a wide variety of audiences. With pseudoscience surrounding us, a limited NIH budget, and news media that's constantly overstating and over-simplifying scientific conclusions, it is hard for the public to differentiate scientific fact from science fiction. It is up to our generation of scientists to fix this. Through NOVA I discuss my work at every level, from elementary students to parents to state senators. I’ve learned to take complicated subjects and pare them down to simple statements that still have excitement to them. This experience is absolutely invaluable and this skill set is one that will help me throughout the rest of my career.
These are just a few of the amazing opportunities and events we host throughout the year. If you are interested in doing any of these activities please consider joining NOVA. Join us for our first meeting Monday, September 18th in the graduate student lounge (SMC Room 305). Come for the free food and stay to learn more about NOVA events this fall! Or check out our website for contact information, see pictures of past events, and regular updates!