Friday 5: Why I Love Outreach

Last weekend I participated in the Arizona Insect Festival, the first celebration of insects of its kind hosted by the Department of Entomology at the University of Arizona.  It was a really great event (look for a whole post about it soon!), and I really enjoyed it.  After the Festival, I pretty much collapsed in a heap on my couch and got absolutely nothing accomplished for the rest of the day, but it did get me thinking about all the outreach events I’ve done.  I realized two things.  First, I’ve done a lot of outreach events!  Between a whole semester of visiting schools for Insect Discovery (I worked with kids from 18 different schools!), Meet the Beetles last fall, the Tucson Festival of Books in the spring, Big Bugs earlier this month, and the Festival, I have rocked the entomological outreach events the last year!  Second, there are five things that I really love about doing insect outreach events.  And you all know what I do any time I come up with a list of 5 insect-related things…  Friday 5!  Let’s get right to it, shall we?

1. talking to the Public


Crowd at Meet the Beetles last fall. There were so many people there!

I am an entomologist.  It definitely doesn’t apply to all of us, but we tend to be an introverted lot and we can be socially awkward at times.  (What, you don’t regularly talk about parasitic maggots that infest sheep during dinner?)  We are often much more comfortable talking to other entomologists than the average Joe because other entomologists “get” us in a way non-entomologists never will.  However, when you see us at outreach events, we’re absolutely in our element!  Outreach events are super fun because non-entomologists enter our world for a brief period of time and we suddenly become social superstars!  When the event is over, many of us return to our dark offices/labs and return to our quiet lives, but just for those few hours we have a chance to talk about the things we love with a rapt audience.  It’s fantastic!  As an extra bonus, my blog’s been online long enough now that I meet readers at nearly every event I do.  I might not get to spend more than a few seconds talking to you if things are busy, but I do appreciate it when you introduce yourselves.  And I’ll remember you too!

2.  Socializing with Colleagues


Some of the fabulous colleagues I worked with in the Insect Zoo at the Arizona Insect Festival.

This only happens at the bigger events, but it’s really nice to have a chance to interact with a lot of entomologists all at once.  Big events tend to draw people out of the woodwork, so you get to see colleagues you might rarely see otherwise.  Doing outreach gives me an opportunity to talk to people and catch up on new developments in their lives.  I enjoy getting to socialize with other entomologists – and outreach events are a great place to do it!

3.  Playing with Bugs


Who wouldn't want to play with this gorgeous animal? It's a hickory horned devil, or the caterpillar for the regal moth, and totally harmless.

Okay, so I know I do this practically all day every day, but I still really love getting to play with bugs at outreach events.  It’s such a thrill to pull one of the big Lethocerus giant water bugs out of a jar of water and watch it spread its forelegs menacingly or to poke a dragonfly nymph and see it jet around its container.  Visitors also love it when you grab something and pull it out of the water so that they can get a closer look – or hold the insect themselves if they’re brave enough.

4. Getting People Excited About Bugs


This kid was SO excited about that queen caterpillar!

I think I most love doing outreach because I can help get people who’ve never really thought about insects or who have been scared of insects their whole lives excited about something having to do with bugs.  Of course there are some people who say something like, “Ewww!  Bugs!” and keep right on walking, but most people walk away a little bit better informed and a little more enthusiastic about bugs.  It’s a great feeling!

5.  Wardrobe Upgrades


Some of my recent volunteer shirts. The tarantula was actually from the Tucson Festival of Books and not an insect-centered event (though I was part of an insect outreach booth), but I still love it. The tarantula is made up of letters!

There is usually some incentive provided if you volunteer for outreach events.  I love getting tickets to go on tours at places like the Biosphere II or getting to see the Big Bugs sculptures for free.  A lot of the events I’ve done recently have provided t-shirts, so I get a wardrobe upgrade!  It’s always nice to get free t-shirts, especially when they’re covered in bugs.  :)

Does anyone else out there do science outreach events?  If so, I’d love to hear what you love about them!  Fill up the comments section below!


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