Sharp uptick in high school projects comprising: "email questions to some random expert on the internet" lately. Anyone else getting these?
— Drug Monkey (@drugmonkeyblog) April 1, 2014
The above tweet brought up something I have been seeing a lot of recently as well. At some point during the semester I will usually receive a good number of requests to answer questions as a . Sometimes it'll be two or three and other years I'll get up to ten such requests in a concentrated burst. Some are short "feeler" emails looking to get a response and others include the whole question package.
I hit delete.
I get the idea. And I get that some people might be inclined to help out. We all make choices about our time and I made a choice to spend my outreach time on coordinated projects that are backed by resources and people engaged in reaching a wide audience. I made this choice because I am regularly inundated with minor outreach requests. I could probably spend 40hrs a week, or close, on those efforts if I accepted everything and endeavored to do them well.
Obviously, that make no sense, so I prioritize. First and foremost are the Broader Impacts goals of my NSF grants. After that I sometimes take on opportunities that might lead to even better Broader Impacts projects. Once I've taken care of that, I'm pretty much tapped out. Responding to some form letter that a high school student is spamming me with ranks really damn low on the totem pole.
However, the discussion following that tweet did bring up one solution that might be food for thought: there's an opportunity here to engage the teachers who are giving this class assignment. Whereas I'm not responding to your spam, I am MUCh more likely to visit a classroom and engage the WHOLE class in an activity. Counter-intuitively, I would spend more time on something that students might actually enjoy than the 10 minutes it would take me to answer their cookie-cutter questions so they can say they did the assignment. Maybe that starts a collaboration with the teacher that continues on? Maybe that encourages a good student to apply to my university?
If you want my feedback and answers, let's make it worth both our time.