Science Wednesday: Explaining Children’s Health Research

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With the new school year, I’ve gotten to meet a bunch of my kids’ new classmates. And now that my kids are a bit older, I am getting better at answering when their new friends ask me what I do.

The first time a kid asked me that I blew it—big time. I had gotten off work early and decided to swing by nursery school to surprise my daughter. It was a warm, fall afternoon, and her class of four-year-olds was the outside at playground. “Daddy!” my daughter squealed and sprinted over to meet me at the fence, followed closely by a posse of half a dozen or so little people.

“My daddy works at the zoo,” she announced. It was true. Before coming to EPA I worked as an exhibit writer at the National Zoo. “Wow, that’s cool!” a little girl yelled. “What am-inals do you feed,” demanded a boy, a full head taller than the other kids. I felt a flash of pride. “I’m not a zookeeper; I write the words for the exhibits,” I exclaimed.

Wrong answer. The kids stared up at me. Blinking. Expressionless. My daughter looked down and made a circle in the dirt with her the tip of her shoe. Then, the tall boy declared: “He doesn’t work at the zoo!” And just like that, the gaggle of kids turned and sprinted back to the playground.

“You should have just told them you feed the pandas,” the teacher said, snickering.

image of the author standing next to a panda in a cageWhile a class of four-year-olds would be even less impressed with my current job (EPA science writer), I am happy to work for a place where children’s health has always been a major priority. That focus has resulted in some important findings. Last year, for example, the Agency published A Decade of Children’s Health Research, a research summary report highlighting findings from ten years, and some $127 million worth of investments in STAR grants on children’s environmental health.

The report is just one of the many EPA science initiatives on developing a better understanding of children’s environmental health. All that focused research gives me plenty to write about, and lots to talk about as we celebrate Children’s Health Month here at EPA. But just the same, next time a group of four-year-old nursery school kids asks me about my job, I think I’ll just tell them I feed the pandas.

About the Author: Before joing EPA’s Office of Research and Development as a science writer, Aaron Ferster spent ten years as an exhibit writer and developer at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. He is the editor for Science Wednesday.

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