Reaching Out To The Community

This article was one of my MicroSoft Small Business Forum pieces.  

My approach to science entrepreneurship tends to be one of advocacy. If making money at all costs had been my goal, I certainly would not have chosen my circuitous path through the physical and biological sciences, conspicuously avoiding medical school and other avenues of more obvious pecuniary reward.

Instead, my path has been one of engagement, first through laboratory science, then through teaching, then through policy work, and now through business.

But despite the new commercial face of my career, the underlying ethic has remained the same: using science to enhance our society, while educating society about the powers and limitations of science. It’s just that now I also need to print up business cards and dress marginally better than usual!

As part of my mission of engagement, I write newspaper articles and speak to community groups on issues in science. One of the more enjoyable aspects of this practice is the visiting of schools and youth organizations. While I still have in my possession a piece of paper licencing me to teach high school in Ontario, I nonetheless find public schools to be foreign and sometimes intimidating places. But there’s no place better to have your message critiqued in the most honest and objective way possible.

An adult professional audience has become accustomed to bewilderment and to speakers trying to gloss over problematic portions of a presentation. Kids do not tolerate such chicanery. If something is unclear, they do not hesitate to point it out. I find that their viewpoint keeps me on my toes.

I’m fortunate to enjoy a long time association with an organization called “Let’s Talk Science”, which brings real scientists into contact with school kids in an effort to demystify science and to encourage a degree of excitement about science that textbooks and traditional lessons cannot confer. Through LTS, I’ve been able to re-examine projects that I’ve pursued solely for money, and to reconsider their scientific, social and educational value, sufficient for communication to public school kids. This represents an invaluable opportunity to grant even more emotional and social value to activities that often are mistakenly dismissed as the mere money-making scurryings of a profit-based business.

Occasionally, a science public outreach exercise will find me in strange circumstances indeed. There was a time when I suddenly found myself at a meeting of Brownies, holding hands with a dozen little girls and prancing about an imaginary mushroom. I’ll take that over a boardroom encircled by stuffed suits any day.