Saturday, April 29, 2017

Knitting is my super power - science outreach goals

As I reflect on the March for Science that was held this past Saturday, there are a lot of conversations and themes I'd like to cover (diversity, sexism, GMO's, how to engage and interact with non-scientists, funding, peer review, just to name a few). I look forward to elaborating on those topics later, but for now, I want to focus on my action goals following the march.

Knitting is my superpower

I have discovered through going viral after designing the "Resistor Hat" that knitting is a very powerful tool. In a way, it is a super power. Through knitting I can transform balls of yarn into hats and sweaters, which is a super power in itself. In addition, knitting is an extremely powerful tool for outreach. 
My lab and friends posing in some of the hats I designed
for the March for Science (photo credit L.A. Cicero)

If you are a non-scientist, imagine meeting a scientist such as myself in a bar. You say, "So, what do you do?" I respond, "I'm a microbiologist." This is perhaps intimidating, right? I have found through my informal experiences that about half of the people respond, "That is really cool, tell me more" (or some variation thereof) while the other half respond, "You must be really smart" or "Sounds complicated" or something related to that. However, when I introduce myself as a microbiologist who designs science-themed knitting patterns, the second half of people who may have been intimidated or unlikely to engage with me before now are more likely to ask me about my science and my knitting. In addition to talking about my own work, I can talk about all of my friends' research and the knitting patterns I made for that. Through all of the media attention associated with the Resistor Hat, I have found out that knitting is a powerful tool that makes me more approachable and engaging as a scientist. 

Beyond the march - Utilizing knitting as a forum for science outreach

Many people do not realize that science outreach is something that scientists take on in their own outside of the lab. Scientists donate their time to these projects and then must work extra long hours in lab to keep on progressing. I plan on donating more of my time, money, and efforts to such outreach programs in the future as I place a high value on science outreach and education.

Speaking about my recent fame and how I will use my knitting as science outreach at the Taste of Science Bay Area event.
My goals and action plans for the near future and beyond:
  1. Continue to design science-themed knit items and expand to include more information about the science behind the patterns geared toward a general audience. Similar to my video explaining the science behind the Resistor Hat, I will also make more youtube videos explaining the science behind the items. This will help knitters and others who visit my website understand what they are knitting. Some existing examples of this science-themed outreach are my #KnityourPhD series of hats including the Prairie Dog Patterned knit hat designed for my friend Dr. Loren Cassin-Sackett and the Uterus Patterned knit hat designed for my friend, Dr. Erin Reinl when they defended their PhD's.
  2. Develop in person science outreach to knitters and the general public - this will give me an opportunity to interface with people and expand my outreach ability. I will also raise awareness about my efforts to do knitting as science outreach at these events. If you have any ideas of events or Maker's Fairs, where I can present of have a table, let me know!
    • On April 24, I talked about Knitting as Science outreach at the Bay Area Taste of Science event in Redwood City. To expand the reach of this event, I broadcast my talk on Facebook live in the March for Science Knitting and Crafting group.
    • On April 29th, I will present my knitting at an art exhibit as part of the Berkeley Microbiology Student Symposium. I plan to feature my Phage and E. coli knit hats along with some knit microbe pins.
    • On May 4th, I will run a table at the California Academy of Science's Nightlife - as part of their Maker's night
  3. In the next few years, I'd love to develop a weekly knitting after school program to inspire the next generation of citizens. 
    • I will focus on areas with economically disadvantaged children in late elementary/middle school. I hope that providing these youth with the skill to knit and celebrating each stitch and finished object might provide a ray of hope in an uncertain world. 
    • I am seeking to make connections to help achieve this aim - contact me if you would like to help.
Please help contribute to my science outreach (use the "Donate" button on the top right of this website). Any donations will go toward:
  1. Website hosting fees
  2. Outreach activities (yarn, needles, supplies, displays)
  3. If I become overwhelmed with donations or cannot fulfill my outreach plans for any reason, I will donate any extra $ to other science outreach programs such as Girls who Code

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