All scientists have a responsibility to make their work understandable to the broader public. For me, outreach is a way of helping develop a spirit of scientific inquiry and thinking that can help people become more informed. It's also important to show the public that basic research is the foundation for many essential applied research discoveries across fields, even though we can't predict the applications of basic research ahead of time.
Basic research, especially behavior-oriented research, is frequently viewed as a non-essential use of public funds. My PhD research was targeted in Senator Jeff Flake's 2015 "Wastebook". In order to defend my work and basic research in general (as my advisor, Sheila Patek, did wonderfully on PBS Newshour), I think it's imperative to reach out to the broader public as effectively as possible.
To these ends, I have participated in a range of outreach activities.
I was a member of the leadership team of SciREN, the Scientific Research and Education Network, from 2014 to 2018. SciREN helps researchers at universities and other institutions develop K-12 lesson plans that incorporate their research while reaching local and national curriculum standards. SciREN first hosts lesson plan workshops and "office hours" that help researchers create lesson plans, then hosts networking events at which researchers offer these plans to educators. In 2017, I helped develop a network between STEM researchers and Masters of Arts in Teaching students at Duke to improve the quality of lesson plans used in SciREN. Read a summary of our network here.
Galeta Marine Laboratory
I did most of my PhD fieldwork at the Galeta Marine Laboratory of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Galtea serves as both a research site and an outdoor education hub for much of Panama. During my PhD, I often spoke with visiting classes about the seagrass and mangrove habitats of Galeta and their inhabitants. Many students have never seen stomatopods, and some have never been in the ocean! The habitats around Galtea are always in peril, due to traffic in the Panama Canal and expansion of the nearby city of Colon. Hopefully, increasing the amount of visitors to Galeta through research and education will keep it as a protected area for future generations.
North Carolina Science Festival Invite-a-Scientist program
During my PhD, I participated in the NC Science Festival: a state-wide event that highlights the importance of science to North Carolina. The Invite-a-Scientist program recruits scientists to visit local K-12 schools to talk about becoming a scientist. A main goal of the program is to show K-12 students that science is a viable, exciting career.