U of G Grad Engaging Youth in Science

Posted on Monday, May 2nd, 2022

Headshot of Lia Formenti

We chatted with physics grad Lia Formenti about her experiences in science communication post-graduation.

Lia Formenti, a University of Guelph Physics grad (B.Sc., ‘19), is striving to engage youth in science and foster their curiosity for scientific concepts. She is working as the Online Events Coordinator, Youth and Volunteer Experience, in Montreal for Let’s Talk Science, a national charitable organization that provides programs and resources to educators and youth from kindergarten to grade 12 to support their engagement and education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Tell us about your work with Let’s Talk Science.

As Online Events Coordinator, Youth and Volunteer Experience, I work in the national office coordinating our Visionary Symposium Series. These are events for youth in high school designed to showcase the breadth of STEM careers available and the role of STEM professionals in society. I also support local coordinators who put on their own symposiums at Let’s Talk Science sites (mostly university campuses) across Canada. 

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I love that in this job I serve youth, educators and Let’s Talk Science site coordinators. I think youth need to be exposed to as many different experiences as possible so that they may find passions to give them confidence and direction; Let’s Talk Science programming can be one part of a mosaic of formative experiences. I hope that Let’s Talk Science continues to improve and evolve its programming to build positive science capitol and critical science literacy in youth that may serve them in their futures.

You graduated from U of G and then completed graduate studies elsewhere. Can you tell us how you got to where you are now?

Going into my bachelor’s, I had no designs on graduate studies. I wanted to contribute to society (a vague but earnest goal) and I didn’t see being a professional physics student as a way to do that. Several experiences at the University of Guelph changed my mind about graduate studies:

First, I was supported financially by scholarships. Second, for most of my degree I was in the co-op program and my co-op positions gave me experience as a researcher, and actually led me to work in the lab where I did my master’s. The co-op program taught me how to find opportunities. Third, the physics department put on graduate student panels to teach undergraduates about graduate school, which were helpful to shape my understanding of graduate school. Most importantly, the community in the physics department at the University of Guelph nurtured me as a physicist.

The professors in the physics department encouraged my curiosity by spending countless hours answering my many, many, overly-detailed questions. Honestly, looking back I was cocky and demanding and I’m grateful none of them put me in my place because they might have crushed my spirit. Thanks to the community, by the end of my undergraduate degree, there was still physics I wanted to learn and I felt like a physicist, so graduate studies seemed the right choice. The choice was fraught for me because I never used to see myself in graduate school and the field I was most passionate about, particle physics, didn’t feel important enough to work in compared to global challenges like climate change. Ultimately, after persistent validation from my professors that I should go to graduate school, I went.

Have you always had an interest in science communication?

No. I was introduced to the field in the then-available Inquiry in Physics course in the physics department at the University of Guelph, where we did projects to practice sharing science with the public. While I didn’t excel in that course, it introduced me to the field.

I also realized I enjoyed talking to people about physics by volunteering for open house days and doing physics demonstrations at College Royal! I started exploring science communication work in earnest in my master’s in an effort to be a public figure, serve others and explore another career path. I found my way into the field professionally with the job posting from Let’s Talk Science!

What motivates you to do the work that you do?

I think that science can provide a passion and a home to many, but not everyone gets the same exposure to science, especially when young. Science programming helps address that. For me, it’s not about trying to get as many people as possible into science, but about making sure that everyone has a chance to get their curiosity hooked.

I also want to help youth build critical science literacy and positive science capitol that will serve them in the age of misinformation. To me this encompasses teaching them the western scientific method, broadening the scope of science beyond the western definition, demonstrating the power of observation, establishing some base knowledge and having positive experiences with science and exploration! That’s definitely a lengthy list but I’m chipping away at it.

What advice do you have for students who will graduate soon?

Everyone is always telling young adults what to do with their time, and while the advice is usually good it’s overwhelming! So, I would say just balance your priorities – grades, friends, finances, family, etc. – in the way that feels right for you. Nonetheless, be sure to actually balance, remembering that balance is a verb so it too requires effort. Don’t let anyone else make you feel like your balance is not right and don’t get down on yourself! 

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