Two Saturdays ago, ScienceTrain took its second ride on the NYC subway! Our numbers expanded a bit this time, with Renee Hlozek (Princeton) and David “Doddy” Marsh (Perimeter Institute) joining Jeff Oishi (AMNH) and myself aboard the C train. We also had a few science communicators in tow– Mike Lemonick (who wrote a nice piece about the day for Time.com) Amelia Schonbeck (who previously covered the Intergalactic Travel Bureau), and Steve Mirsky (who creates podcasts for Scientific American)– and my partner Michael Rau, who created another great video for us!
With two pairs of scientists in two adjoining cars, we got a chance to experiment with tactics a little– and by “experiment with tactics”, I mean Renee and Doddy have a totally different engagement style than Jeff and I! You can see this a bit in the video above, but to state it simply, Jeff and I let people approach us on their own, while Renee and Doddy actively announced themselves and talked to people directly. I think both approaches have their merits– as an introvert and veteran subway rider, I personally dislike it when strangers approach me, but there’s no doubt that a lot of people find that approach really engaging (and it helps that Renee’s enthusiasm is ridiculously charming!).
Ridership was better this round, which took place on a Sunday afternoon (rather than Saturday), in somewhat less temperate weather, resulting in more people talking to us overall. Last ride, Jeff and I supposed that having statements rather than actual questions on our “Ask An Astronomer” sign was perhaps discouraging, as many people told us they’d been trying to think of a question to ask. This time, we made signs that had direct questions, and gave the previous ride’s signs to Renee and Doddy to use. Interestingly, we still got the same comments– even when presented with a list of questions from which to choose, people felt they needed to come up with one of their own. When people made that comment (or alternately seemed to be showing interest but hesitating to strike up a conversation), we asked if there was a particular topic they wanted to hear about (e.g. “planets? black holes? galaxies?”). That approach seemed to work pretty well– when presented with a few options, they were often willing to just pick one and the conversation went from there. Perhaps a better tack to take on the signs would be topical suggestions? Maybe worth a try next time!
The #ScienceTrain will ride again in the near future, and if you’re a scientist (of any discipline, in any city with public transport) we would love to have you along for the ride! I’ve created a permanent sign-up page where you can provide your email. Emails will only be used for querying about which upcoming dates work, and for notifying you of upcoming dates for coordinated #ScienceTrain days. You don’t have to wait, however– all it takes is a sign, a train, and the willingness to talk about science, so if you decide to try it in your city I’d love to hear about it!