Alumna Rabiah Mayas (PhD, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 2007) was on campus to participate in an alumni career panel for UChicago Weekend.
Jenna Christensen (PhD, Cell and Molecular Biology, 2016) and Matthew Tien (PhD, Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, 2018) interviewed Rabiah to learn about her professional choices and ask suggestions for students interested in a career in scientific outreach.
UChicago Weekend career panel. From the left: Mike Tessel, Sean Sheridan, Adam Koch, Rada Sarac, Wen Lu, and Rabiah Mayas.
Creating My Career in Science
Rabiah is the Ruth D. and Ken M. Davee Vice President of Education and Guest Experience at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), overseeing the the strategic direction of MSI’s groundbreaking Welcome to Science Initiative – a suite of education programs dedicated to removing barriers to science education. She will also be responsible for the guest experience, ensuring the Museum continues fostering science learning through MSI’s hands-on, interactive exhibits and experiences. She was previously the Director of Science and Integrated Strategies at MSI (2010-2017)
How did I get here? From PhD to MSI
Rabiah started off her PhD as many of us do, with a passion for scientific research, analytical thinking, and enticing biological questions. Around Rabiah’s third year, she started seeking out a larger social component to her graduate career. She was particularly interested in the perspectives and relationship between scientists and the general public. Fortuitously, down the street, a short-term position as director for one of MSI’s outreach programs, Science Chicago, opened up. As a part of Science Chicago, with its tagline, “Life is a Lab”, Rabiah was able to combine her background with the missing component of her graduate life. She joined the group as the team’s only scientist. Working with communications and public event professionals, she and her team worked with 140 partners and created programs to increase science education in Chicago.
One of Science Chicago’s major goals was to move outside of the museum setting, to seek out a broader audience by taking science directly to the public. Capitalizing on the fact that Chicago loves a festival, Rabiah and her co-workers created LabFest, a mix of hands-on experiments, interactive programs, and a fun fair-like environment to more than 15 locations throughout the Chicago area.
“Many people don’t choose to go and experience science activities because they’re simply not aware of them... LabFest took that idea and combined it with a festival concept and took science to the neighborhoods,” said Rabiah. The program culminated in one final festival in Millennium Park, an event that drew over 8,000 participants.
Between 2017 and 2019, Rabiah served as the Associate Director of Science in Society at Northwestern University, a research center dedicated to K-12 STEM education and community engagement, before returning to MSI in an executive capacity in November 2019.
Interested in a career in scientific outreach?
- Volunteer: Look for experiences where you can learn alongside others initially, without having to take on too many responsibilities. For example, programs where you can help teachers develop a curriculum or teach a single class rather than teaching a whole course on your own can help you gain experience while quickly determining if outreach is right for you.
- Network: Cold calling, while not always successful, is a great way to gain a different perspective on jobs that may interest you. Scientific outreach conferences often offer free or reduced price student admissions if you volunteer, and give you a chance to network.
- Use online resources: InformalScience.org connects museums, science educators, and scientists in a variety of disciplines. The website is a great resource for getting an idea of the current ‘scientific outreach landscape’, and includes job listings.