Finding financial support for science outreach is "a real problem," says Mark Hertle, program analyst for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Precollege Science Education Program. "Basically, you have to create a job for yourself."
But whether you want to make a career change or just get involved with science outreach on the side, Hertle recommends first trying your hand at volunteering. Obvious places to look for volunteer opportunities include local museums and schools. Schools are always looking for science fair "judges" who have experience in science, for example.
To volunteer your services to an already-established outreach program, try the following leads:
In the U.S.
The National Science Foundation's Office of Legislative and Public Affairs provides a list of science and engineering societies and organizations with outreach initiatives. See the external resources page.
To find a public outreach program in the natural and life sciences, Hertle recommends you search an online list of outreach programs supported by HHMI (you can search by state).
The following sites have information on physics- and astronomy-related outreach volunteer opportunities:
COOLSpace: This is NASA's educational outreach program to secondary schools and science centers across the United States. Although the outreach programs are primarily aimed at people already involved in primary education, the program description gives information on how to become involved.
NASA's Genesis Spacecraft: On January 2001, the Genesis spacecraft will journey a million miles sunward. The site lists ongoing opportunities for teachers, students, and community members to participate.
The American Astronomical Society: The society's Web site includes a section on outreach resources.
The Association for the Promotion and Advancement of Science Education: This is a nonprofit society dedicated to supporting teachers, parents, and other community role models in capturing the interests of elementary school children.
The Calgary Science Network: This nonprofit organization matches scientists with local teachers and community groups to judge science fairs, give demonstrations and presentations, and help with science enrichment ideas.
Let's Talk Science: This is a national organization working to "develop a society that is scientifically literate and globally competitive through innovative educational programs, research, and advocacy."
In the U.K.
ScienceNet: In addition to assisting with questions posted to the site, there's also "the opportunity to broadcast live on the radio, help with exhibitions, events, and do other tasks around the office," of this London-based organization, says Nicole Aebi, Science Line coordinator.
Be a mentor:
MentorNet links female students to mentors in science and engineering. See Next Wave's review, " New National Program Offers Female Students Access to Industry Role Models." )
The HP Telementor Program helps 5th-12th grade students and college students from public, private, and home school environments excel in math, science, and career planning.
The Electronic Emissary calls itself "the longest running Internet-based telementoring and research effort serving K-12 students and teachers around the world."
Answer questions for any of several online "Ask a Scientist" programs that welcome volunteer experts:
Argonne National Laboratory's Ask a Scientist: Answer questions from teachers and students in a range of science fields.
NewScientist's The Last Word: Check out the archive of questions seeking answers.
Contact one of the many large commercial "Expert" sites that are also looking for scientists to answer questions:
AskMe.com: Click on "be an expert." Science experts have their own section.
Create your own Web page:
Raman Pfaff created ExploreScience.com while at University of Michigan earning a Ph.D. in nuclear physics. The goal of the site is to allow students and teachers to enjoy science by visualizing scientific concepts, says Pfaff. The site, now nominated for a 2000 Webby Award, was "done entirely from my own heart and pocket," adds Pfaff. "I never requested any grants, and I did things in my spare hours when I used to have free time." But the effort was not without rewards: "The site has led me to my current job with a small start-up company where we are devoted to getting a lot more of this interactive stuff up on the Web."
Apply for a teaching fellowship:
Graduate students interested in trying their hand at outreach or high school teaching should look into teaching fellowships offered by the National Science Foundation. See Jeffrey Mervis's story, " Grad Students Head to Class as New NSF Teaching Fellows."