Issued: Sun, 29 Sep 2019 16:59:00 BST
Graeme Eddolls became a STEM Ambassador in 2010 when he started his undergraduate degree. He loved all of the outreach activities when he got involved through the STEM Ambassadors Programme and the Glasgow Science Festival, and knew he'd want to continue outreach for the rest of his life. After graduating in Astrophysics in 2014, Graeme worked as a scientist in electromagnetic stealth for naval ships and submarines, continuing to do a lot of STEM outreach while in industry. Last year he came back to the University of Glasgow to study for his PhD as an experimentalist in gravitational wave research. This has allowed him to continue his outreach which is hopes is as of much benefit to the research group as it is to him!
Why did you decide to become a STEM Ambassador?
My Mum and Dad have always been incredibly supportive of my passion for STEM from a young age which has been an amazing privilege. Not everyone has the resources or role models to get into STEM and I hoped I could in some way fill that gap for others by talking about my own, relatively average West of Scotland background. I also want to break down the barrier between "scientists" and "the public", I want everyone to know they have the ability to learn, contribute and teach others about STEM subjects; to feel genuinely valued and welcomed in the scientific community and to show STEM can complement other academic and non-academic fields rather than compete with them.
Which area of STEM are you most passionate about?
Subject-wise, it has to be Maths, Physics and Astronomy. My current PhD research covers a lot of materials science relating to ground-based gravitational wave detectors. To know that studying things on the atomic/nanometre scale may, one day, contribute to detecting black holes and neutron stars further into the cosmos, is why I love it so much.
Outreach-wise I am very passionate about engaging with adults. There are so many wonderful programmes and ambassadors out there for children and that is obviously incredibly important but I particularly enjoy engaging with adults. Too often you'll hear "Oh, I'm not smart enough to understand that" or "I used to enjoy all of that science stuff when I was younger" but we forget that everyone retains that child-like curiosity, it can just take someone to engage with them directly to bring it out or remind them that curiosity is still there - to keep asking "why?". Adults are the people that (mostly) run the world, they are the ones who vote, who make world-changing decisions, who influence their children and are just as much deserving of our attention and engagement as children are. I believe now, more than ever with the current global events, engaging with adults in STEM is vital.
What is your favourite thing about being a STEM Ambassador?
Seeing the excitement and wonder in someone's face, regardless of who they are, when they see STEM in action. Nothing in the world is more rewarding than seeing a person get excited by science and having them understand what is going on when you discuss it with them.
Describe your favourite or most memorable activity so far:
I've been invited back a number of times to my old school, Marr College in Troon, quite a few times now. At my first visit, I talked about how Physics, Engineering and Computer Science are all important when it came to working with ships and submarines but Maths was really vital. I had an S3 pupil come up at the end of the talk saying how much they really enjoyed Maths at school and how cool it was to see Maths working "in real life". I was genuinely a bit emotional having a 14-15 year old telling me they passionate about Maths!
What STEM Ambassador activities do you have planned for the future?
I've just completed 11 hours of outreach with Explorathon and will be running a similar Gravitational Waves exhibit at the Institute of Physic's Festival of Physics at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh - come visit us from 25th-27th October!
What advice would you give to new STEM Ambassadors?
Four bits of advice:
1) Don't compare yourself to other Ambassadors and think "I don't have enough experience" or "What I do doesn't sound as cool as what they do" - there's a reason you do what you do, you just have to show that passion to others and that will excite people about your subject.
2) Don't expect to be good at all outreach - after 9 years I still really struggle to engage with children under the age of 12. Some people are better at engaging with different demographics and that's totally fine!
3) Really make an effort to engage with everyone - that child that's quieter than the others at your table, that parent standing at the back on their phone or the pensioner wandering past the table with a curious smile. It can be socially difficult/awkward to engage in these situations sometimes but you get used to it - again I still fall foul of this a lot, especially when you're tired after talking to people for an hour solid.
4) Finally, always remember why you enjoy STEM yourself. Take a break from outreach and go see other peoples outreach stands/activities and get excited by their research, it will help recharge your enthusiasm for your own activity. Being a STEM Ambassador can be difficult at times and it can produce a lot of feelings of guilt making you think "I should be doing more outreach". I always try to keep in the back of my mind, that if I can inspire just one person into STEM in my life, it will all be worthwhile.