Summer Education Content Developer

Program Overview

Particle astrophysics is the study of the fundamental properties of the most basic building blocks of nature, and their influence on the evolution of structure in the Universe. The questions being addressed in this field are considered, world-wide, to be among the most important in physics today. Led by many of the scientists who developed the renowned Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) that grew into SNOLAB in Sudbury, Ontario, and theorists progressing models from the fundamental properties of dark matter to the imprint of dark matter on cosmological scales, Canada and Queen’s University have become a world leader in this field.

In this optic, Queen’s University applied for and was granted a major award from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) to create the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute, or the McDonald Institute (hereafter MI). This award has enabled Queen’s University and partner institutions to significantly build on their capacity to deliver a world-leading scientific research program in particle astrophysics as well as related fields, such as geochemistry, chemistry, material science, and engineering, while engaging industry partners, students, and the public.

The work performed at SNO and SNOLAB has led to several prestigious awards for both the team and the Director of the SNO collaboration, Prof. Arthur B. McDonald, including the recent co-shares of the Nobel Prize in Physics 2015 and the 2016 Breakthrough Prize. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in research intensity in the field of particle astrophysics. Queen’s University aspires for MI to maximize the scientific, innovative, and long-term economic output of SNOLAB by providing resources focused on the highest priority areas within the particle astrophysics community. MI will enable unprecedented opportunities to shape the development of particle astrophysics in Canada, promote scientific excellence, provide unparalleled training opportunities, and engage youth and the general public through targeted outreach programs. This engagement will also ensure a sustained influx of scientific and diverse talent to astroparticle physics and the broader sciences, maintaining Canada as a world-leader in astroparticle physics. This proposed summer position sits within this focus of training and engagement of students and educators in addition to awareness and promotion of Canadian science and scientists.


Significance of Project to Science, Society, and Queen's

The present generation of experiments are predicated on new theoretical models, and improvements in the fields of geochemistry, engineering, and material science, and their corresponding technologies. During the seven-year CFREF funding period, several of these experiments are world-leading in sensitivity of weakly interacting particles. These experiments have the capability for the first direct observation of dark matter particles or neutrinoless double beta decay. The direct detection of dark matter particles could tell us the completely unknown nature of this form of matter that comprises 84% of the mass in our Universe. The observation of neutrinoless double beta decay can determine the neutrino mass and the nature of this fundamental particle, thereby contributing to an understanding of the creation of matter in the early Universe. Other constraints on dark matter come from improving theoretic models and their implications in astronomical and cosmological contexts. This area of physics is a top priority worldwide, and discoveries of this magnitude would sustain Canada as a global leader in this area of scientific research. Positioning and maintaining Canada as a leader in this area requires sustained support of science in the Canadian public, training of younger scientists, and exposure of astroparticle physics and science generally to young and aspiring researchers in addition to students and educators.


Job Description

Working with the Manager for Education & Public Outreach (EPO), the McDonald Institute Summer Educational Content Developer (MI Developer) will be responsible for both scientific communication writing for online educational resources, and educational resources for training elementary, middle, and high school teachers and students. The MI Developer’s time will have half their time structured around reviewing, improving, adding to, and creating educational science content for the Science & Education section of the MI website and other MI digital spaces. The other 50% of time will be spent co-developing (a) teacher resource(s) that corresponds to the MI Developer’s interests and experience level that incorporates the online science content. The resource(s) will target Canadian astroparticle physics concepts, experiments, and/or techniques and will be scalable for elementary, middle, and high school classrooms and students. The MI developer works on their writing, user experience and interface designs, and teacher resource development primarily with the manager of EPO, but will also work with scientific researcher staff and faculty who are experts in the area of choice for the educational resource. All aspects of the work will include a focus on accessibility, scaffolding, and user experience. The summer would begin with a review of what resources and content currently exist and are planned, what content and resources are priorities, and the teacher resource(s) of most interest to the MI Developer. Interim deliverables and milestones are outlined in the “Learning Plan” section below, and will include weekly update meetings and monthly milestone presentations. The summer would conclude with the MI Developer presenting their science education work to the MI administrative team and affiliated researchers and, if possible, leading a training session with interested teachers and educators on the use and implementation of their teacher resource.


Desired Qualifications:

The skills listed below are a wish list, thus we respect individuals will use this role as a way to develop these skills and demonstrate their growth throughout the job.

  • Preference would be given to those pursuing an education degree with sufficient courses (e.g. at least 1 second year course) in physics, engineering physics, astronomy, computer science, mathematics, geology, material science, or chemistry. Those who have completed at least 2 years of study in a major for any of the subjects listed above may also be considered.
  • Preferred to have knowledge of Canadian science curriculum, and/or experience teaching, tutoring, or mentoring within a Canadian school setting (public, private, independent, external third-party or home-school)
  • An interest in physics, astronomy, geology, chemistry and/or material science, and science research, outreach, communication, and education.
  • Strong written and oral communication skills.
  • Ability to work independently with strong skills in setting priorities and time management.
  • Ability to work as part of a team, work well with others, and accept guidance.
  • Serve as an ambassador in a manner that provides a positive reflection of the McDonald Institute’s vision, goals, and mission.
  • Support efforts to advance equity, diversity, inclusion and Indigenization in a learning environment.

Learning Plan

This is an exciting role that provides the student an opportunity to work on science communication for a range of audiences in multiple mediums, perfect for an individual interested in pursuing a career in science education, communication, or outreach. The individual will receive hands-on mentoring from the Manager for EPO, as well as the Communications Officer and other experienced science communicators and researchers. They will gain experience developing an educational resource for public school students and educators while improving their understanding and communication of science. Over the course of the summer, the incumbent will have space to develop stronger communication skills for both internal (administrative team) and external (public) execution. They will also grow their overall communication skills, in both a team setting as well as with the public.

Here we enumerate the skills that will be developed, and what specific activities will incur this development. Note, through the E-L wrap-around program we also establish a personal learning program for the MI Developer and identify activities and opportunities to develop skills not listed below.

1. Proficiency of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigenization (EDII) principles.
– The MI Developer will create content for a diversity of audiences and work with a range of experts in the MI administrative and science communities, bringing in unique experiences that will help develop an EDII lens through which to implement content.
– The MI Developer will develop multi-modal content that incorporated different learning styles and/or indigenous ways of knowing, ensuring accessibility and inclusion for the different personal contexts and possible individual barriers.

2. Improvement of science content knowledge, to be prepared for translating complex concepts to a range of audiences and proficiently teach the material:
– The Manager for EPO will begin the summer guiding the MI Developer through literature, texts, and exercises to master background content. Meetings with affiliated faculty and researchers working at Queen’s University and other Canadian institutes may be coordinated.
– The MI Developer will then share the material for 1-2 main concepts with a personalized approach to the Manager for EPO assuming elementary level, middle school level, high school level, and educator level to showcase the ability to translate complex concepts to an appropriate level depending on audience. This presentation will occur no later than week 4.

3. Mastery of science educational program and resource development, using traditional and non-tradition learning instruments and environments.
– The Manager for EPO will guide the Developer through a reflection on education experiences and the current literature on education methods and techniques for STEM in addition to the Ontario science curriculum requirements during the first quarter of the position, after or in conjunction with the science content review. The MI Developer will then design an educational resource(s) for elementary school students using their demonstrated skill in mastery of science content and chosen education technique(s). The Developer will provide critical analysis on their choice(s) of topic and technique, relating to proven education techniques and the Ontario science curriculum.
– This resource(s) would be either a digital or physical classroom kit, that encapsulates at least one main science component of Canadian astroparticle physics for students at the various school levels and fits with the required Ontario science curriculum. This resource will provide background content, classroom teaching materials and prompts, demonstration resources and guides, and suggested in-class and take-home activities and assessments.
– The Developer will provide a weekly update on progress, providing critical analysis of education content and technique choices, to the Manager for EPO. At approximately week 8, the Developer will demonstrate the resource and showcase their mastery of science educational programming and resource development, first at the elementary level, and then how it can be expanded to middle and high schools.

4. Mastery of science communication skills, both written and oral.
– The MI Developer will plan and lead a teacher webinar and/or workshop on the intended use and applications of the educational resource they have developed. This will include conversations with teachers on where the resource may fit within their curriculum and how to scaffold the resource for their students’ ability and interest. Active listening, quick pivoting in concept delivery and level, and ability to answer synchronous, possibly unexpected questions when addressed would be the primary skills improved by this experience.
– Creation of digital educational resources and the presentations on this content, both orally and in writing, will strengthen their science communication skills. This primarily includes providing justification and intent for stylistic and writing choices, translating complex concepts to specific and varied audiences appropriately, and empathetic analysis on what aspects of a concept that are relevant to those audiences.
– In support of independent learning, the MI Developer has access to recorded materials as part of the Professional Development Opportunities series and will be encouraged to asynchronously participate when possible.

5. Advancement of user experience analysis and educational digital resource interface design
– During the review of education material in the first quarter of the position, the Manager for EPO will guide the MI Developer in EDII considerations for digital STEM educational content.
– The MI Developer will consider the accessibility and experience of each digital resource and the educational teacher’s kit as they develop and design. They will consider the level and difficulty of content for educators and students alike in addition to ensuring the resources are accessible to all members of the community. “Accessible” here means understandable and appropriate for the intended audience as well as actively incorporating EDII perspectives. This includes but is not limited to alternative text for images, adding tactile, visual, and auditory aspects to the same elements where possible, and incorporating resources and information from diverse researchers and authors.

6. Bolstering of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
– In mastering the science proficiencies outlined above, the MI Developer will simultaneously develop critical thinking skills for assessing the user experience and alternative perspectives of their resources and use these to create and implement novel solutions.
– The Manager for EPO will push the MI Developer to critically analyze their choices in content, techniques, and layout for the teacher resource as well as digital science education pieces during weekly meetings and in presentations of their work at monthly milestone meetings. In receiving feedback, the MI Developer will need to re-evaluate and improve their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

7. Advancement of time management and project organization and management.
– The MI Developer will work through the summer simultaneously developing dynamic digital content on the MI digital spaces and preparing teaching resource(s) and a training event (online or in person) as the deadline.
– Digital content will need to be sorted in terms of priority and time commitment, such that it is clear what the MI Developer is working on at any given time to prevent accidental overwriting of material. This prioritization will be led by the Developer in close consultation with the Manager for EPO.

The MI Developer will have the unique opportunity to experience science communication and education development at the cutting edge of science research. This position allows for clear impact on the local and national community by creating accessible resources for educators and students alike. In addition to working with a team of world-leading scientists that includes the co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics, Dr. Arthur B. McDonald, the successful candidate may have the opportunity to visit exclusive research facilities such as SNOLAB during their stay with MI (travel will be dependent on prevailing conditions due to COVID-19 provincial and institutional restrictions). The incumbent will be supported by an award-winning administrative team (Principal’s Staff award 2019), will report directly to MI’s Education and Outreach Officer. The student will have opportunities to meet with MI’s Scientific Director, Dr. Tony Noble, and Managing Director of External Relations, Edward Thomas. In addition to direct internal personnel interactions, they would have access to a suite of Professional Development programing to enhance their summer experience. Finally, there would be financial support available to have the MI Developer attend the Canadian Astroparticle Physics Annual National Meeting in August 2024 and at least one other conference (e.g., ASP, STAO) to present their work, likely in the Fall or Winter of 2024-2025.


How to Apply

Applicants to this SWEP position should include a CV or résumé, an unofficial transcript, and a 1 page cover letter, submitted through MyCareer referencing posting 141965. The cover letter must explicitly describe why this position is of interest to them, and how it fits with their current career plan or interest. We encourage applicants to reflect on any experience in a teaching/supervising role of younger students and speak to this experience in their application materials.