Caleb is a 14-year-old who enjoys playing video games and reading any book he can get his hands on – and in his spare time, he edits neuroscience papers for a scientific journal.
Frontiers for Young Minds is the first journal to bring kids into the middle of the scientific process by making them editors – and it’s free for everyone.
The idea came “from the depths of my mind, in a moment when I was bored at a scientific meeting,” says Bob Knight, editor in chief of Frontiers for Young Minds and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley.
This is one of many science outreach efforts that are trying to get youth excited about science, technology, engineering and math courses.
'70 to 75 per cent of the emerging jobs … will require a STEM background.' Bonnie Schmidt, president and founder of Let’s Talk Science
A preview version with 15 articles was released at the Society for Neuroscience conference on Nov. 11. The official launch of the monthly journal is planned for the U.S.A. Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C. in April.
“The kids have been great,” says Knight. “Their reviews are not filtered, they just tell you what they think.”
In an e-mail, one of the young editors said, “'Hey Bob, I have to tell you, I didn’t understand anything in this article. The words are too big and it’s too confusing,'” Knight recounted.
When Caleb was asked if he would edit an article for this preview, "it seemed like an interesting opportunity," he said, so he gave it a try.
He edited a piece about Facebook and what happens in your brain when you find out that someone thinks you’re cool. The authors discovered that when you discover that you have a good reputation on Facebook, the same reward pathway is activated in the brain as when you win money.
This article "wasn’t too hard to understand," said Caleb. “I enjoyed reading the first paper, looking at [it] critically.”
After reading the article and discussing it with his mentor, Caleb crafted his review of the paper and pointed out to the author that the reasons the study was considered important were not clear to the reader. “It’s all well and good to do a study, but you have to know why [you are doing it,]” he said.
Strong support from scientific community
The new Frontiers for Young Minds journal also tackles topics such as the brain and sports, examining how the brain controls body movement and coordination. It looks at the brain and allowance, discussing how we process topics related to money and finances.
Young people from eight to 18 years old can apply by e-mail to be paired up with a scientist-mentor who will help them through the process of editing a neuroscience paper.
Knight says support for this project from the scientific community has been strong.
“I approached 52 international scientists [to be mentors,]” said Knight. “Forty-seven out of 52 signed up.”
A typical science journal would be lucky to get 10 per cent of the scientists they approach to be editors.
Daniel Ansari, a professor of psychology at Western University, is among the 47 scientists who joined the project. “This is something worth investing my time in, even if it means that I’ll do it in the evenings or on the weekends,” he says.
Getting scientists involved in outreach projects is very important, but getting kids and teens who are preoccupied with smartphones and social media interested in reading scientific articles is another hurdle all together.
And yet, having a background in science and math is becoming crucial for many professions. For example, people need to know biology, health and safety to become an aesthetician, or have a basic understanding of engineering and math to be a real estate agent.
STEM courses for many jobs
“You don’t need science just for university anymore. You need it for college, you need it for trades,” says Bonnie Schmidt, president and founder of Let’s Talk Science.
The group is a Canadian charitable organization focused on bringing science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) courses into the classrooms in an understandable way. This year, LTS, and Amgen Canada, a biotech company, commissioned a report called Spotlight on Science Learning: The High Cost of dropping science and math.
The report showed that “70 to 75 per cent of the emerging jobs, or jobs that will be available over the next 20 years, will require a STEM background,” says Schmidt.
She adds that as the job market integrates STEM courses into more and more unlikely places, capturing the attention of young people and nurturing their scientific curiosity is important for both their future employment prospects and the future of Canada’s economy.
Caleb thinks that these neuroscience articles could help, and that they might be a good resource for teachers because they are all "easy to understand" and have been approved by other kids.
Like many teens, Caleb says he has "absolutely no idea" what he wants to take in university, but his involvement with the journal has given him an awareness of a field he'd paid little attention to before.
When asked if he was interested in pursuing science after high school, he said, “It’s definitely interesting - it might be a full career.”