For science communicators and entertainers, there is one currency: emotion. As a travelling STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) presenter and co-host of a national children’s science show, I have had the privilege of demonstrating exciting experiments to kids of all ages. Whether I’ve presented to a live audience or to a studio camera, to one child or to a large crowd, audience reactions are the yardstick by which I measure my performance.

When you pull off the perfect STEM demonstration that a child has never seen before, you are paid in an exciting display of emotion. Reactions I’m accustomed to are:

  • Surprise 
  • Curiosity 
  • Creativity 
  • Collaboration
  • Enthusiasm

These feelings give immediate value and feedback to a presenter. They also represent something many adults have lost: the ability to comfortably express emotion in our professional lives.

“You do not need to be a STEM entertainer to experience the value of children’s emotion. You just need to watch how they view the world and remember you used to see the same things they do.”


Here are my suggestions of how adults can apply the above examples of emotional expression to our workplaces.

Photo by Pete Wright on Unsplash
Don’t hide your surprise 

Children happily show their surprise when they are shocked. They do not feel embarrassed, because life so far has taught them that surprises are a good thing. After their shock has registered, children cannot wait to share their wonder with others. 

As adults, we pretend not to be surprised at new knowledge or experiences, as we are afraid this might make us look naïve. Yet, surprises are opportunities for bonding and learning. When we are surprised, we will physically freeze for 1/25th of a second. This pause allows us to focus all our attention on the moment and shift our feelings and perceptions to understand what is happening. 

When we allow ourselves a surprise, our emotions increase by up to 400 per cent. This increase means surprises, good or bad, intensify our feelings at that moment and cause the immediate need to share what we feel. Even in bad surprises, we are more cognitively aware of what is happening, increasing our ability to learn something new.

Next time something shocks you in the workplace, take the opportunity to show your surprise without embarrassment. You and the people around you may have found a new opportunity for professional learning and progression. 


Foster your curiosity

Because most experiences are new to them, children are naturally curious and they are always questioning. They are not afraid to ask questions because not having answers yet is part of childhood, and no one will judge them. Unlike adults, children aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

Adults are paid for their skills and knowledge. Saying “I don’t know” comes with feelings of inadequacy and fear, as failure to answer correctly could cost us our jobs. We also face competition in professional stages, so we practice arrogance and allude to knowledge we don’t have. 

Research has shown that curiosity in the workplace has a myriad of benefits. Using curiosity during problem-solving means less bias and stereotypes corrupting final decisions. Curiosity can also help us to think deeply and brainstorm more innovative and positive answers. Research also shows that leaders who allow curiosity and creativity are trusted more by their employees.

In the workplace, you can practice curiosity by merely asking questions. Strive to learn new things and think creatively about problem solving. As a leader, you can encourage a curious culture by allowing these traits in employees, and helping them seek out professional development opportunities. 


Embrace your creativity

Children will always want to take ideas further. Why? Because it’s fun! Have you ever done a science experiment with a child? They never want to stop, and they always have suggestions. Their creativity gives them the ability to think critically about situations and apply changes. For our professional careers, especially in research and STEM, this is a necessity. 

I often hear adults say they’re not creative, but I think this is wrong. Emotional development and expression have evolved alongside humans. STEM professionals seem to be specifically caught up on their lack of creativity. But creativity is not limited to the decorative arts. STEM and creativity go hand in hand because without imagination how would any experiment ever occur?

Research shows that distance from a problem or experience causes you to think abstractly (or creatively) about that situation. By changing our perspectives and approaches and thinking more critically about teaching, research and mentoring, we have been creative. 

For adults, stress is a more common occurrence – especially in the workplace – which can be a creativity killer. The good news, however, is that psychologists claim that creativity can be cultivated. By recording your ideas, adding collaboration to projects and accepting new challenges, you can practice being creative.


Collaborate and make others feel great

Collaboration is not a feeling. What I mean by this is children desperately need to share their feelings with others. They will share their surprise and ideas with those around them with the sole purpose of making someone else feel great.  

This is what is so amazing about collaboration and why it is pivotal in professional settings. When we involve others in our ideas, we make them feel included. Now, many people are being creative about the same thing, producing more innovative options. 


Be enthusiastic

Finally, after all sentiments have run their course through a child’s brain and body, they want more. Their appetite for learning is endless and infectious. This partly comes from knowing that there is always something else to learn. 

As we age, we become the teachers and forget our willingness to be taught something. As we settle into our professional lives, being the teacher is normal, and being the learner can take us out of our comfort zones. 

Children do not have defined and therefore restricted comfort zones. The sooner we accept this as adults, the easier it will be to face new challenges and learn new lessons.

You do not need to be a STEM entertainer to experience the value of children’s emotion. You just need to watch how they view the world and remember you used to see the same things they do. Practising these emotions may lead to a surprising new currency in the workplace. Something that adds value not only to yourself but  your relationships with others. By keeping curious, creative, and open to surprises, we can increase our professional development, be more innovative and question current standards. Using emotion as currency might even give adults and our jobs more worth than they had before.


This article was originally published on the Professional Learning Hub (PL Hub) The PL Hub is the university’s platform for developing and delivering bespoke professional development programs for organisations. 


Clare Van DorssenClare Van Dorssen is a Knowledge Translator and Impact Coordinator with the Healthy Primary Care team in the School of Allied Health Sciences. With a Master’s in Science Communication Outreach, Clare has experience in creating interactive STEM demonstrations to entertain audiences of all ages.

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