How to get students excited about science

When biology turns your world around

    I was never what you would have called a strong math or science student in elementary or high school. I struggled constantly with math, almost failing in grade 10.  I thought there would be no way I could pursue my growing interest in biology if I was so terrible at math, chemistry and physics. 

However, after spending the month of July in Ecuador and the Galapagos for grade 12 biology I realized that maybe I could.  My teacher was so encouraging and I realized that this was the kind of science that I understood, learning about the world and nature around us and the amazing animals we share this planet with.   However, I had no idea that there was an area of biology that would so capture my passion until I got to university and majored in animal behaviour, which combined biology and psychology, my two favourite topics in high school.  

    I decided to take the leap and get my bachelor of science, even though that meant taking calculus, physics and chemistry.  I struggled with these courses but with the help of my professors and tutors I got through and passed.  If you had told me when I was in grade 9 that I would end up becoming a scientist I would have laughed in your face. I did not think I was that smart or good at those topics but being exposed to areas of science that I did not even realize existed in high school made me realize I could.  
    

mountaingorilla

It is so important to show the current generation of students that they don’t have to be the typical math or science nerd to excel and do well in science.  There are many branches of the natural sciences, that while you need to have a background in general science and math,  focus more on what I think is an intuitive science.  I think most people when watching animals can relate and understand some of the underlying reasons behind their behaviour.  Whether it is a lion defending his meal from hyaenas or a baboon mother carrying her dead infant, mourning it in a way. This might be called anthropomorphic, but I think it is more of us realizing that we are more like animals than we want to think, not the other way around.
  

squirrel monkey primate science sanctuary

 Primates especially are so interesting to study as we all evolved from a common primate ancestor millions of years ago.  We all have opposable thumbs, which help monkeys and apes manipulate objects in their environment, just like we do.  Primates are not a group of animals that is taught in depth in schools.  I don’t remember learning much about them beyond the basics.  However, once I got to university, where we had a behavioural primate lab, I fell in love with the inquisitive capuchins, squirrel monkeys, baboons and macaques.  Looking into their eyes was just like looking into another person’s. I just knew there was so much going on in that head of theirs and I wanted to know more.  
  

Through Primate Tales my goal is to get more Toronto students interested in this area of biology.  Maybe they are students who struggle with calculus or just can’t wrap their head around chemical reactions or computer coding.   But maybe they are great at observing and recording behaviours but just don’t know that there is a field of science that thrives on that sort of intelligence.  
    

Getting more Toronto students interested at an early age in STEM fields, which includes biology, is so key to give them the confidence they need to pursue these areas later in life.  We need more compassionate and intuitive scientists who want to learn about and preserve our natural world more then ever now given how precarious the survival of so many species is at the moment.  It is great to encourage students to explore STEM fields, but with so much emphasis on the “harder” sciences of math, engineering and computers, the more “softer” sciences get left behind, when they are just as important to get students involved in.

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