IAP Externships: Bringing Science to the Masses

by Amy Marcott on January 25, 2012

in IAP, Science, Student Life

This is part of a series of posts from MIT students and alumni who are involved in the Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connects current students to alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. Alumni, learn how to get involved.
Guest blogger: Elizabeth Halliday, grad student in MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Biological Oceanography
Host: David Waggett ’81

Elizabeth Halliday

Elizabeth Halliday is a grad student in MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Biological Oceanography.

Minds Expanded.  That’s a catchphrase for the World Science Festival, and I think it’s a pretty succinct summation of how Allison Lee ’13 and I feel after the first week of our externship.  Following a fall semester where we both were intensely focused on research and coursework, the externship has helped us to rejoin the world at large, catch up on the news, and get excited about science all over again!

We’re working with a team of editorial producers to develop tons of mind-expanding programs for the public to experience May 30–June 3 in New York City.  The overarching mission of the World Science Festival, which was cofounded by physicist and author Brian Greene and Emmy-winning journalist Tracy Day, is “to cultivate a general public informed by science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future.” To do this, the World Science Festival brings together celebrated scientists, artists, journalists, innovators, and the cultural and scientific institutions of New York.

Programs have many formats and can feature anything from storytelling to symphonies but tend to bring together a panel of celebrated scientists to talk about a big idea.  They may be assisted by a moderator or by media-driven visualizations that help bring it all together for the audience.  Programs from previous years can be viewed on the web, and many feature scientists from MIT!

Allison Lee '13

Allison Lee '13

In the externship, we’re learning how to pull compelling ideas from huge bodies of research and how to effectively bring people together to make an idea for a program a reality. A typical day might have us researching questions like, How many countries are building cities dedicated to science and technological innovation? Or, Is science shaping policy in the new Egyptian government? Not to mention trying to keep track of the news on neutrinos. It is fascinating and fast-paced.

Of course, New York City is also a great place for mind expansion. The offices of the World Science Festival are in a beautiful building near Columbia University. My commute—depending on the day—takes me through Midtown, along Central Park, and on the subway.  I ride trains and buses and get to experience the swarms of people, each person like a cell belonging to a larger organism, funneled into and out of the ground, moving on with their lives.  On the weekends, I’ve been exploring the fantastic cultural resources—the famous public library, the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History, and the wild exhibition that’s currently hanging down the center of the Guggenheim.

It’s been a great experience so far, and we still have three weeks to go!

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