Calling All Scientists: Letters to a Pre-Scientist Needs Your Help!

Last year, 1650 students from across the US exchanged letters back and forth throughout the school year with professional scientists from around the world as part of the Letters to a Pre-Scientist program. Through the friendships formed between students and their scientist penpals, Letters to a Pre-Scientist helps kids see scientists as real people and empowers them to see themselves as future scientists.

Letters to a Pre-Scientist’s goal of demystifying science careers is important, because inequities in educational opportunities mean that students’ exposure to potential science careers is extremely uneven. Kids who grow up without much exposure to science professionals are less likely to see science careers as an option for themselves. Research shows that students with identities that are underrepresented in science careers—including racial minorities and students from low-income families—are less likely to aspire to a career in science. These students are more likely to attend underfunded schools and also less likely to be exposed to science professionals who can serve as role models.

For this reason, Letters to a Pre-Scientist aims to bring their program to schools where a majority of students are from low-income families. They connect students to a diverse group of science professionals who demonstrate that anyone can pursue a career in science.

Letters to a Pre-Scientist does a remarkably good job of pairing students with scientist penpals who are a good match for their interests and life experiences. I had the chance to be penpals with an awesome 5th grade student over the past school year, and I truly enjoyed all of our conversations about everything from fun nature-related activities to do over the summer to the importance of living in a kind community to tons of cool animal facts. I loved seeing her make the connection that her curiosity about the world and love of learning new things mean that she is already a scientist!

Sound good? Want to get involved? Awesome!

The sign-up to be a penpal for the 2020-21 school year will be open later this month. Sign up for the Letters to a Pre-Scientist email list to be notified when the sign-up is open, and in the meantime visit the Letters to a Pre-Scientist website to learn more about the program.

Letter opening day is exciting for both the students and the scientists! (Image credit: Letters to a Pre-Scientist, CC BY 2.0)

While waiting for the 2020-21 sign-up to open, here are some other ways to get inspired for the upcoming Letters to a Pre-Scientist season:

  • Browse the #SciencePenPals hashtag on Twitter for photos and stories from scientists and classroom teachers about their experiences with Letters to a Pre-Scientist. And while you’re at it, follow @LettersPreSci on Twitter, too!
  • Read Vanessa Bieker’s account of her experience as a scientist penpal here on Ecology for the Masses.
  • Check out some other great organizations that also seek to make science education more inclusive and accessible. For example:
    • Skype a Scientist connects scientists with classrooms and other groups of kids for student-friendly presentations and question and answer sessions.
    • Project Biodiversify is crowd-sourcing classroom materials for promoting diversity and inclusivity in science teaching.
    • Feel free to leave other suggestions in the comments!

Don’t forget to keep an eye on the Letters to a Pre-Scientist website for the opening of their penpal sign-up later in July, and sign up for their newsletter so you don’t miss it.

Caitlin Mandeville is a PhD student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology studying conservation applications of citizen science species occurrence data. You can read about her research here and see more of her writing for Ecology for the Masses at her profile here.

Title image credit: Letters to a Pre-Scientist.

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