Association of Polar Early Career Scientists


Welcome to the APECS Polar Outreach Blog! The APECS Education and Outreach Committee will use this space to feature outreach activities in the Polar Regions, provide resources for scientists interested in outreach and act as a forum to discuss all things related to these types of activities. Our hope is that this blog will also be interesting to the general public and serve as a point of access to interesting science stories and examples.

In gathering content for this blog, I found it important to reflect on my own ideas about outreach and science education. Outreach has become a central focus amongst scientists and researchers. In a very explicit case, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) requires all applications to include a 'broader impacts' section, where applicants specify and report on how they plan to disseminate research results to the public as well as build partnerships with society and industry. While not constrained to outreach only, the NSF example emphasizes the importance of public communication for scientists and researchers. For researchers working in the Polar Regions, there are many reasons why this type of interaction is understood to be critical to a successful research program: often remote and logistically-difficult work sites, the need for community support, and the sometimes politically charged nature of the Arctic and Antarctic. Indeed, major polar conferences often include an outreach component or even an 'Outreach Day'. But what do we mean when we say outreach? And science outreach? Do polar researchers across the world have a common understanding of these concepts?

Wikipedia describes outreach as "an activity providing services to populations who might not otherwise have access to those services". Science outreach is further referred to as a "term for a variety of activities by research institutes, universities and institutions such as science museums, aimed at promoting public awareness (and understanding) of science and making informal contributions to science education". I find the difference in these two definitions interesting, because the strict definition of "outreach" when applied to a science setting, would suggest that if scientific outreach is not provided by scientists directly to the public, then there is little recourse for society to gain this information elsewhere. In contrast, the definition given for "science outreach" suggests a more supplementary type of education. This to me, begs all sorts of additional questions, many of which are particularly relevant for polar science outreach, especially outreach that occurs in polar communities. When we talk, as scientists, about engaging in outreach, what are we assuming about our role as purveyors of outreach as opposed to those in a recipient role? Are we assuming that the knowledge we seek to transfer is otherwise inaccessible to a segment of the population? What would change about our outreach perspective if we challenged this assumption? If there are many ways for the public and students to access scientific information, what our other motivations behind outreach? I also wonder if, in a way, the term outreach also limits scientists' thinking about these types of activities, classifying them as research extensions, as opposed to integral to a research program.

In Canada, the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) has not yet been built, but a science outreach program has already begun in the community of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut ( A research mandate has been set at the same time as outreach priorities, likely in hopes of building local support for the station as well as the training of a local workforce to support the stations' scientific activities once construction is complete. The function of the outreach is unique in this case, because the apparent goal is to foster two-way communication between the (soon-to-be) research station and the local community as opposed to showcasing specific scientific activities of the station. This may also go a long way to ensuring the transfer of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK).

As a member of the APECS Education and Outreach Committee- I obviously think that outreach is very important. There are an extraordinary number of well-planned and high-impact science outreach initiatives out there, and this blog will try to feature many of these in the polar context with coming postings. But the success of these programs should not preclude us from thinking critically about outreach and the relationships we create through the outreach process. I think there are few people who doubt that doing outreach is fun, and for many a young researcher, it may be just what is needed to get through another round of lab work, or a tough review on a manuscript. Sometimes, you might just feel like your research is producing nothing or not what it was expected to and spending a few hours in an elementary school classroom* reinvigorates your appreciation of science. The kids likely enjoy it too. But if we are to create thoughtful, genuine and sustainable outreach programs and experiences we really do need to continually challenge our understanding of outreach. I think about this a lot, because while I care about outreach, I also think that it can become a well-intentioned buzzword; one easily thrown around at conferences or on grant applications. This happens for many reasons: researchers are under pressure to increase the impact of their research, funding is available for outreach activities, local buy-in is necessary for community support of projects and because regardless of the format, outreach is fun. Our challenge as scientists is to use these reasons to educate ourselves about outreach, to understand the different ways outreach works, and to continually engage outreach participants for their feedback on what works and what needs improvement.

What are your experiences with outreach? Do you have a personal reflection you'd like to share? Submit your blog stories to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

*One of many examples of outreach activities.

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