|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [Hangout of NYLXS] Dino Docs
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Subject: [Hangout of NYLXS] Dino Docs
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Dinosaur Doctors: engaging the public in an unlikely environment
27 April 2017 by Tallulah Cherry
Shaena Montanari is a palaeontologist and former Newton International
Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She tells us about the motivation
for =E2=80=98Dinosaur Doctors=E2=80=99 an outreach program that saw her tak=
e a suitcase
full of fossils to The Royal Hospital for Children and Young People in
What is Dinosaur Doctors?
This is a program I ran for six weekends in 2016 during my time at the
University of Edinburgh as a Newton International Fellow. I designed
Dinosaur Doctors to bring palaeontology outreach to children=E2=80=99s hosp=
and cheer up children who are in the wards.
During a session, I would meet with a small group of children in a play
area or one-on-one at their bedside if they could not get up. I took
along a dinosaur-shaped suitcase full of fossils, both real and replica,
to tell them about and let them touch. I also used dinosaur toys which
were both fun to play with and gave the children an idea of what the
actual animal looked like. They always enjoyed the models of T. rex
teeth and coprolites=E2=80=94fossil dinosaur poo!
Why was this project important to you?
Image Credit: Sick Kids Friends Foundation
I love public engagement and like to find creative ways to bring new
audiences to science, especially ones who need it most. Museums and
universities do great outreach projects, but often these events
unknowingly miss certain parts of the population. Being in hospital is
not fun, especially for children, but also their families. Palaeontology
is a field that has nearly universal appeal so I thought bringing it to
a hospital would be a guaranteed success. Sometimes in science we don=E2=80=
consider physical barriers to getting involved in learning and we need
to think of other accessible methods of exposing the public to what we do.
How did you start this project?
I have had this idea for a few years, but shortly after I arrived in the
UK I saw the Palaeontological Association had a call for public
engagement grants. I was easily able to interface with The Royal
Hospital for Children and Young People in Edinburgh and their charity,
the Edinburgh Children=E2=80=99s Hospital Charity. I received an immense am=
of support and excitement about this project from the foundation which
After receiving the small grant, I was able to buy the supplies needed
for the program and develop the materials and plans. I had to buy fossil
casts that could be cleaned off for use in the hospital. The point of
the program was to be hands-on so I had to spend a few months preparing
for that. I printed activity books and custom Dinosaur Doctors backpacks
to give to the children after I left them so they would have a positive
memory of the experience, which was a big hit.
Image Credit: Sick Kids Friends Foundation
How did it go?
Over the six sessions of the program, it was extremely well-received. I
connected with patients and their families from all over Scotland, some
who had never been to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh or
had much exposure to any palaeontology education. On the other hand,
some children were dinosaur experts and wanted to be quizzed on dinosaur
At times, it was obviously difficult. Some of the children are very ill
but still are interested in a little engagement. I have to be able to
read the child and understand what level I should be interacting with
them on. Even in difficult times, it was very exciting to see a sick
child perk up a bit when they got to hear about dinosaurs or just touch
a real fossil. It was a different environment than I am typically used
to educating in, but definitely one of the most rewarding.
What is your advice to other scientists looking to engage with the public?
The goal of public engagement does not always have to be education in a
traditional sense. Dinosaur Doctors isn=E2=80=99t about performing well on a
quiz or a test or even trying to get young people into palaeontology as
a career choice (although that is always a possible side effect)=E2=80=94it=
about engaging and using science as a mechanism for distraction and
enjoyment. Arts in hospitals can heal, so why not science? My advice
would be to look for a community that scientists don=E2=80=99t often go to =
see if you can expand your reach there. These ventures can be funded by
professional societies that often have small engagement grants available
for basic outreach support.
For me, Dinosaur Doctors has been a life-changing experience that I am
working on making a more official charity outreach project in the United
States where I live. Fossils and dinosaurs bring excitement to many and
as a palaeontologist, I feel I should share that gift with any community
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