Our Stories: Isabel’s Story: Finding fulfillment and a career path through science outreach

2014-10-17

Isabel volunteeringIsabel Deslauriers began volunteering with Let’s Talk Science just a few weeks after entering grad school at McGill University. “When I saw a Let’s Talk Science poster in the hallway, I couldn’t believe my luck – it was a perfect opportunity for me!”

Isabel had been an active Cub Scout leader during high school and CEGEP but was forced to give up the role when commuting to and from school for her intensive bachelor’s degree made volunteering too difficult to keep up with. The timing, it seemed, was right. “I was now ready to start volunteering with kids again and I was keen to share my freshly-acquired science and engineering skills,” Isabel explained.

Her first activity was rocketry with a sixth grade class. “As I set the classroom visit date with the teacher, I remember briefly wondering what I had gotten myself into. Did I really need another thing on my calendar?” She continued, “I remember thinking that I would never know until I actually tried it. What I didn’t know is that this activity would change my life.”

As the students fired Isabel questions about rockets and when a third of the class raised their hands at the end when asked if any of them were planning to be part of the next cohort of Canadian astronauts, she was hooked. “I knew I had stumbled upon an organization that was greater than its parts.”

As she progressed in her studies, Isabel would often reflect on the disconnect between the academic world and what people called “the real world.” Despite science institutions being physically located in the middle of large cities, they often seemed to her to be very remote from the community.

“I didn’t want people to be awed by my degree. I wanted them to ask me questions and puzzle things out with me. I quickly discovered through Let’s Talk Science that this would mean getting up to my elbows in goo and letting my basement be taken over by a kids’ robot club.”

As Isabel grew as a volunteer and then as a Let’s Talk Science Outreach site coordinator with the McGill University, she began to realize that this involvement might not be just a passing thing. “Maybe my passion for science outreach was a permanent affliction!” she mused. “I had found my place at what seemed like the interface of the science world and the real world – and I hoped to show kids that they were one and the same.”

Her career dream then changed from obtaining an academic position to finding a role in science outreach. As her graduate studies were winding down, she received an announcement that Let’s Talk Science was looking for a bilingual Assistant National Coordinator for its Outreach program. The timing, once again, was right.

“I applied to the position and got it. That was several years ago. I now work full time as the National Coordinator for the Let’s Talk Science Outreach program and lead the team that supports over 3,500 volunteers across Canada. I have already shared incredible experiences with them, from a trip to FNMI schools in Northern Manitoba and Nunavut to the birth of the first fully francophone sites at UQAM in Montreal and Sherbrooke”. And, Isabel added, “I’m happy to report that my basement is still full of Lego robots.”

The daughter of an elementary school teacher and a physicist, Isabel had always hesitated between becoming a scientist or becoming a teacher. “Science outreach must be in my genes!”

Let’s Talk Science is fortunate to count Isabel among its team of talented and driven staff, many of whom started with the organization as volunteers themselves.