Interdisciplinary PhD in Structural and Computational Biology and Quantitative Biosciences

IPiB Students Give Back by Volunteering at Wisconsin Science Olympiad

Graduate students performing science outreach

Students in the Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB) all love science — but also don’t forget how they came to love it. A group of IPiB students spent a Saturday in February helping judge the Wisconsin Regional Science Olympiad as part of an outreach event planned by the IPiB Student Faculty Liaison Committee (SFLC).

SFLC serves graduate students in the program and is a conduit for the students to provide input on the graduate program. However, they also recognize the importance of reaching outside the university. The three current outreach chairs — Joshua Mitchell (Mosher Lab), Katherine Senn (Dvinge Lab), and Josie Werner (Wildonger Lab) — plan and organize outreach events for IPiB graduate students and postdocs to participate in. They describe the situation as a win-win.

“I think it’s great to have a designated group to find and plan these events so students and postdocs can get involved easily and gain scientific outreach experience,” Werner says. “However, it’s also a huge benefit for the kids we are reaching and sharing science with. We look for events of all kinds, from elementary to high school kids.”

The Science Olympiad is the Olympics for science, where middle school and high school students get hands-on experience in science with everything from rocket building and bridge construction to forestry and molecular modeling, which is what the IPiB students judged. The competitors pre-built a protein model to bring to the competition, build another protein model on site, and take a written exam.

“It was awesome to see models that accurately showed a protein come together in just 40 minutes, and the test showed that the competitors actually understood the protein’s structure and function,” Senn says. “I could tell that the students had dedicated a lot of time and energy to preparing for the modeling event, which was only one of several events that they competed in throughout the day.”

The outreach chairs say that anyone should reach out to them to learn more about outreach opportunities like Science Olympiad, or even to coach a team for the event next year.

“Once you get into graduate school it can be easy to forget about outreach when you’re focused on projects in the lab but it’s important to think about what got you interested in science in the first place,” says Mitchell, who participated in Science Olympiad in Michigan while in high school. “It was likely an event like this!”