Crumbling Ph.D. Science Down to the High-School Level

By: Sathvik Iyengar: During Summer 2022, the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (IBB) at Rice University renewed its Summer Academy Program (SAST) for High School Students after a nearly 2-year COVID-induced lacuna.

Rice University

Academia-level science communication can sometimes be so mind-numbingly filled with jargon that we sometimes find ourselves in a pickle trying to explain the same concepts to a non-specialist. This was exactly how I felt when I had to break down complex concepts of my research to my high school student mentee, Edward Lee, through the IBB-SAST program. This wasn't the first time I felt this feeling; in fact, academics often find themselves trying to explain the layout of their Ph.D. thesis to a layperson on the train or bus, or even their own grandparents! Indeed, as Feynman would say, "If you can't explain it to your grandmother, you don't understand it well enough!".

With no time to waste, we got started off on the simple stuff-- Youtube videos, TED talks, demos, and non-jargon articles on anything related to 2D materials research. I was extremely fortunate; Edward was a brilliant student and caught on really fast. Next, breaking down the nuances of my research into smaller, manageable chunks, in a format that a high school student would be familiar with— subject classification, was my approach. It was a wonderful experience. In the midst of the summer research pandemonium, I got a chance to re-visit and re-explore my research area through a high schooler's wide-eyed and enthusiastic lens.

We ran experiments together, all the way from 2D materials synthesis and characterization to assembly and post-process testing, holding onto one resounding motto— Question everything, leave nothing! Sure running experiments is fun, but the immersion in science is what truly counts as a sublime experience, both for the mentee and the mentor.