“Look beyond the lab,” alumnus urges science students
“After I graduated, I was doing lab work,” recalls McGill alumnus Sharon King. “It was okay but it wasn’t really what I’d dreamed of doing. Then one day, a friend saw a notice about a job working with kids and science. I decided to apply.” The company was Mad Science, the interview went well — and 19 years later King is the company’s Director of Research and Development.
Like so many science students, King was not sure what career path to follow when she graduated from McGill with a degree in microbiology and immunology in 1993. “I think most people who earn a science degree dream of being a doctor or a great research scientist,” she says. “I loved the end-goal, but I’m very much a ‘people person.’ With Mad Science I get to work in science education and communication. It’s a career path I didn’t even know existed – and it was perfect for me.”
Showing kids just how cool science can be
Mad Science, started by two McGill business alumni, is a global company, operating in 22 countries around the world. Its mission is to spark imaginative learning in kids through science. The company offers outreach programs within schools, and brings the thrill of science to birthday parties, summer camps and science shows . Kids participate in a range of science-oriented activities, from making “slime” to assembling solar-powered robots.
“When I joined the company as program developer in 1996, Mad Science was just starting to franchise,” King recalls. “They were looking for somebody with a science background and they were looking to expand. Since then, Mad Science has grown by leaps and bounds — and I get to use what I learned at McGill to interpret and promote science to an elementary school audience. Being able to communicate the appeal of science to children is my passion.”
Kids’ advisory board helps direct development
As Director of Research and Development, King leads a team of scientists and educators developing hands-on activities and experiments designed to show elementary school-aged kids how interesting science can be. The company has an in-house lab and an advisory board made up of children ages five to 12. Advisory board members are recruited from schools, children’s organizations such as the Guides, and of course the children of Mad Science employees.
“Input from ‘the kids’ is vital,” says King. “If at the end of the day they aren’t turned on by science then it doesn’t work. They show us what’s cool, what engages them and what they understand. At the moment, we are broadening our programs from generalized science to include more engineering. For instance, we’re about to launch a Lego-based program, that shows the cool aspects of mechanical, civil, electrical and aeronautical engineering.”
Although King’s focus is on elementary school science, she draws constantly on the strong grounding in physics, chemistry, biology she gained at McGill. “My degree definitely prepared me for this role,” she says. “It covered every aspect of science that I use today. A science education gives you a great general background. It’s like a huge toolbox. You learn to think critically, look for evidence, weigh arguments and understand process. Taking a science degree doesn’t mean that you have to walk directly into a lab when you graduate. Maybe you do, and that’s awesome if it’s the place you want to be — but it’s not automatic. When I talk to science students about choosing a career path, I tell them, ‘widen your angle a little bit. You have lots of options. Look beyond the lab.’”