John Benning is a PhD candidate in the Moeller Lab (PMB) involved in Market Science since its first season in 2013. He serves as a board member and volunteer. We caught up with him at the Nokomis Market at the end of July.
What’s been the most exciting thing to see over the past five years of being involved?
Just how much it has grown since it was started by three Plant Biology grad students in 2013. And how excited people are about it. Seeing the kids that are excited about it is awesome. Especially at Midtown. We have kids that come every Saturday and every session.
And seeing how individuals have responded. There’s this one guy that comes to Midtown all the time. At the end of our second season there he came up and said, “I love what you guys are doing. I’m going to pay for your booth space for all of next year,” which was really inspiring. So he wrote us a check and it paid for all of our sessions at Midtown the next season. And he still comes by frequently.
Collegiate support, and especially the support of Dean [Valery] Forbes, has been a huge boon in helping Market Science reach more people. We now we have a curriculum development team, a Working Board, an Advisory Board -- this organizational structure that makes participating in Market Science easy for everyone.
How has Market Science formed your ability to communicate science across audiences?
Not only does the public get a lot out of it, but the scientists who volunteer do as well. That is one of the super valuable things that Market Science does. The scientists have to distill complicated ideas down to messages that they can share with anyone. Sometimes we think about our research on one plane of inquiry because we don’t have to simplify it for ourselves. There are interesting subtleties that maybe we just don’t think about. Where if you have to explain why a tree and a fungus would actually interact to a kid there’s a whole other level of understanding that you have to engage with there to get the idea across. Because we take it as “Symbiosis are ubiquitous, they’re everywhere, let’s figure out how they’re affecting plants…” Talking to kids makes you think, “Why are they everywhere? What’s maintaining this mutualism?”
What’s the hardest part about leading activities?
A lot of it is getting around jargon. A seven year old has no idea what you are talking about if you say “symbiosis.” So you have to think about ways and use words like “friendship” or “partnership.” Even though there is this danger of losing the exact definition of what you’re saying … you are getting the major ideas across. You learn how to read signals (or simply ask) to see if they are following so you can adjust as you go. If you don’t do any outreach there is no impetus to interpret jargon-filled science for a broader audience.
I also really love talking to adults. With the adults you can usually talk more about the specific research because they’re able to ask more specific questions. So that is an opportunity as well. If you never have to explain your research to someone outside your discipline, you might find it hard to explain why your research matters. When someone asks about your work at the market, it forces you to think deeply about it and share why it matters.
Mark your calendar for upcoming Market Science days.