The first day of ComSciCon-Triangle 2015, a science communication workshop for graduate students, was amazing. The speakers were engaging and inspiring, and my fellow participants created a supportive and encouraging atmosphere. Needless to say, I was pretty excited about the second day. As if things couldn’t be any better, the second workshop was held at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, a science nerd’s dream.
The first panel of the day focused on communicating through non-written media and included communicators who have operated through documentaries, radio, photography, and even comedy! What I particularly appreciated was that the majority of the panel was made up of people who had also gone to graduate school, cared deeply about their science, but also prioritized communicating it and those of others to the public. I found all of the participants incredibly relatable and encouraging. A few of my favorite quotes:
-It took me a while to find my niche and find my…perpetual side project.
-Sincerity goes a long way….reach out to your idols.
-Science is the most influential cultural institution.
-I’m the poster child for a circuitous route to science communication.
-I’m not a doctor but I play one in the broken dreams of my parents.
-Scientists who are already the best communicators are the ones most interested in constructive criticism.
The final panel of the workshop focused on communicating science throughout your career. The panelists were primarily professional writers, coming from either a purely journalistic or scientific background. The fourth panelist was Dr. Mark Kruse, a physics professor at Duke who is also the Outreach and Education Coordinator for US ATLAS, a collaborative particle physics project. I loved hearing from someone who is an academic that has made outreach and communication a key part of his research program. Dr. Kruse spoke of his graduate and post-doc career as one that did not involve outreach, and he described his academic community as one in which outreach is generally not encouraged. He has now taken on a position in which he heads outreach efforts related to part of his research program. I hope that the growing emphasis on broader impacts from funding sources like the National Science Foundation and increasing interest in science communication among my fellow graduate students (the ComSciCon national workshop got close to 1000 applications!) may indicate that communication may become more of a priority in research programs moving forward.
The most memorable part of the day was a working lunch focused on receiving expert feedback on articles we had written for a public audience. Karyn Traphagen, co-founder and former director of ScienceOnline, worked with my group and gave us helpful and targeted feedback on our pieces. It can certainly be rough to receive constructive criticism of your writing, and I definitely know that I sometimes find the vulnerability that comes with it to be challenging/terrifying. However, this was an incredible learning experience. I have never written formally for a public audience, and at this workshop, I had someone who does so professionally giving me personalized suggestions and edits. Karyn worked through each piece methodically, and I learned not only from hearing her thoughts on my own article, but also hearing what she had to say about other articles. Among other things, I learned that you need to know what your pitch for a story is and let that focus your writing. Additionally, you should try to predict how parts of your writing could be misinterpreted.
I feel very lucky to be located in an area where a local ComSciCon workshop was hosted, as well as to attend such a workshop so early in my graduate career. I have become part of a local community of researchers interested in communication and outreach that I hope to maintain moving forward. I would like to prioritize reaching out to the public with my research, and ComSciCon-Triangle gave me a foundation to hopefully do just that.
If anyone is interested in the ComSciCon workshops, I am happy to speak more about it or answer any questions. Feel free to check out their website and sign up to receive notifications when applications to future workshops are open!