Ask Surly Amy: How Can I Help?

Hello Amy!

First off: I’m a long time fan of Skepchick and the SGU, you RULE! I work in a natural history museum, as an informal science educator. I see thousands of people, answer questions, explain basic science. When you talk about scientific illiteracy in the US, you get the news from survey data. I see it first hand. Every. Single. Day. I explain that the Earth goes around the Sun, that animals evolved, that fish are animals, etc. But I love my job.  I love making a complex topic accessible, the “wow” moment when somebody understands. I love it and I want to move beyond the narrow confines of my museum. I have no idea how. There is so much media available to people now that I feel like anything I might do is a tiny voice against howling ignorance. I feel powerless and lost. I’m hoping you’ll have some advice.  Thanks for reading.


Dear K.R.G.,

This is a question that we get asked rather frequently. And the answer I usually give is that every single person that is interested in educating the public or helping with humanism, atheism or organized skepticism has something to wonderful to offer. However, it is up to each individual person to figure out what they feel passionate about and in what capacity they feel comfortable helping.

For one thing, you should never feel that your voice is tiny. Every little bit helps and almost every loud voice of authority or of popularity once started off as a nobody. And with today’s media options a tiny voice can become louder faster than ever before.

My advice? First find an outlet that you feel comfortable expressing yourself in and then dedicate a regular chunk of your time to that. Maybe YouTube videos will be your thing, or podcasting or maybe it’s traditional blogging or perhaps you will want to tweet your words of wisdom or maybe you will want to build a nonprofit organization that sends women to science events or design a public art display that will educate and inspire – I could go on and on. Yes, the possibilities are quite vast. But whatever outlet you pick just remember to dedicate yourself to it so find what is most comfortable to you. Whatever it is you pick, you have to cultivate and love it like a baby. That means update whatever it is regulary. If you want to build an audience you have to offer something of value on a regular schedule.

Another bit of advice is that being an activist for social change or a public educator is a lot like running a business. You have to really love what you are doing because some days it will be hard as hell to get out of bed and keep at it. Nothing is easy. Even eating ice-cream everyday gets tedious sometimes. Whatever you decide to do you HAVE to keep at it. One of the pieces of advice I often give to people is this: Do something everyday to make tomorrow better. It could be something tiny but as long as you do a little bit of work on your project everyday it will make your tomorrow better and easier in the long run. If you follow that advice, you will have a good chance of building something great, be that a business, a voice or a movement. Dedication is important.

So my advice in a nutshell is, find a topic you love and an outlet you feel comfortable in and start speaking out or working on it on a regular basis. We need you!

If you come up with a specific project that you need our help with or have something you would like our input on please contact us in the future. We do love to help out when we can!

Thanks for writing in and I hope this was helpful.


Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.







Photos © Amy Davis Roth



Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Some disorganised thoughts:

    Blog for a month before you publish anything. That way you’ll have a month’s worth of posts to tide you over if you can’t make your regular schedule.

    Make some blogger friends in real life.

    Buy a book on writing. Stephen King’s aptly titled “On Writing” is quite good.

    Don’t spend an hour blogging and two hours promoting.

    Do solicit and participate in guest posts.

    Best of luck!

  2. Before Tim Farley comes in with an objection to the idea of starting a podcast or blog, I’ll add something in my agreement to Amy’s answer. Do whatever you think will make it the most fun for you. If you start a blog or podcast, chances are that not many people will listen/read to it for awhile (because there are a lot out there to choose from). But if you’re having fun do those things, then be OK with doing it for the small audience you will have (friends/family/colleagues/and their friends/family)…because if nothing else, you’ll find yourself developing a skill-set that can help you in other parts of your life and career.

    Another suggestion, start a monthly or bi-monthly meet-up for science enthusiasts in your area. And use the museum’s resources, such as researchers/colleagues to occasionally help out, in the form of providing a formal presentation or participating in an informal conversation.

    Good luck!

  3. At the very least, you could make sure to wear the very finest skeptical/atheist/etc. in SurlyRamics! (free plug, lol) :p

  4. Couldn’t agree more. This is why I launched my tumblr blog just a couple of weeks ago. As a scientist I feel it is our duty to try to as much outreach as possible in addition to our research. I also think Geoff’s point about blogging for a month without publishing is a good idea, to find your tempo and have a reservoir of content. Also I would add that sometimes the Nike approach of “just do it” can apply. Also, I like to reiterate that one should not get discouraged. I only have a few followers on tumblr, a couple on Pinterest, and apparently no one likes me on twitter :(, but to build a following takes time. Also you may start only as a drop in a bucket of science and skepticism, but with enough drops you can fill the ocean. Every little bit helps.

  5. Since you’re already a science educator, are there ways to help science teachers? Or teachers who have to teach bits of science but have forgotten lots and need help making the curriculum interesting or understandable. A blog, in person, whatever.

    Any science-based after-school programs or homework help for local kids in poorer areas?

    A science club that meets in a pub.

    I don’t know what’s out there, but you have skills beyond another blog that talks to people already interested in science!

  6. It would be awesome if you could organize an after-school science club or summer camp at the museum. I love museums, I would have jumped on that when I was a kid.

  7. hesterk mentioned helping a science teacher, but depending on your own education and personal strengths you could become a tutor. In January I became a tutor for the biochemistry and organic chemistry students at my local technical college. It was just the thing I needed to feel like I was making a difference in the scientific world. I get to help students who might otherwise fail the class and/or give up on science and their current major. I’m not saying you need to help college level students, you could start much younger. Let your local middle and high schools know that you’d be interested in offering tutoring for students that need a little extra help.
    Whatever you decide on, I wish you luck in your quest!

  8. I’m thinking pretty much the same thing as visionarymuse above. You could offer free tutoring to financially disadvantaged students or kids in your area. I guess that wouldn’t reach out as massively as something on the internet, but it’d be cool anyhow. If it were popular enough you could turn it into a bigger organisation with volunteer tutors etc Hard work, I’m sure, but you’d really be helping people.

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