I volunteered my lab for something this evening, and I don't regret it... yet. I went to a meeting tonight at the nearby museum of natural history to discuss ways to engage students on campus more with the museum. At this meeting I learned that they have a series of family programs on weekends where professors, post-docs, or lowly grad students give presentations based on their research to a family audience. I was not really interested in spending my time and energy to engage the undergrads in the museum, but the idea of presenting out work to kids and their parents... totally exciting! I think I have gauged the personality of my lab well enough to know that I will not be doing this on my own, but I also think it is something I can handle if no one else is interested. The challenge will be to bring in enough of what we are actually studying to supplement a basic talk about how cool hydrothermal vents and the deep sea are.
I can see the presentation starting off with an image depicting how much of the planet is covered with water, then talking about how most life that we think about gets its energy directly or indirectly from the sun, and then moving in to how different things are in the deep sea and contrasting the barren abyssal plains with hydrothermal vents. Enter here all sorts of cool preserved vent organisms that our lab has, and maybe even some vent sulfide (rocks that make up the chimneys) samples to pass around. From here I could go into some of the specifics of what our lab does, but the challenge will be to present microbial metabolism to middle schoolers in an engaging, but not too oversimplistic way. Maybe I can just do the basic microbes are awesome shpeel.
I am excited about this, especially because the museum administrator I was talking about it with said that he has a lot of trouble finding people to present. The problem is, this could become a huge time-suck, because I know how much time I can spend putting together an interesting slideshow. I think that this kind of communication and outreach is important, and under-valued in academia, but I also know that my priority needs to be my research, and that I have to guard my time. I don't think this will put me over the threshold, but I am realizing that I am going to have to start thinking before I volunteer for this type of thing. I did stop myself from volunteering at the aquarium last night when I realized that 4 hours per week plus travel time really was a bit much. I just want to do it all, which has always been my problem, like I said I blame my mom, who is only now at age
beginning to guard her time to keep her sanity and prioritize things like gardening and weekend trips to Maine.