ComSciCon-Triangle: DAY TWO

The second day of ComSciCon-Triangle was on Saturday, May 21 back in the Frontier at Research Triangle Park. For a summary of the first day of the workshop, feel free to read my post from last week.

My day started with picking up our keynote speaker, Joe Palca, and his intern, Maddie Sofia, to bring them to the workshop. Can’t say I ever expected to be driving an NPR science correspondent in my luxurious blue mini-van (or, as I like to call it, the suburban assault vehicle), but it was pretty cool to get to interact with them before the workshop started. You should definitely check out Maddie’s podcast, the Bench Warmers, to hear stories about what it’s like to be a graduate student in science.

The workshop itself started with more pop talks, of course. I never get bored of hearing the cool research that everyone is doing in the area, and it is fun to hear how they make their research accessible to a broad audience. Our first panel of the day was on developing your online brand and included Eleanor Spicer Rice, senior science editor of Verdant Word, Craig McClain, editor of Deep Sea News and Deputy Director of the Triangle Center of Evolutionary Medicine (which funded my fellowship this past semester!), Matt Shipman, public communications specialist at NC State Communications, and Jamie Vernon, editor-in-chief of American Scientist magazine. Evident from their titles, the panelists all come from different backgrounds within/including communication, but even with different backgrounds, you could hear common threads of advice from all of them. It was really interesting to hear them talk about the future of social media, with some predictions about what platforms may become really popular (Facebook Live?). Additionally, they had great advice about blogging (some specific pieces mentioned below). I think it’s easy to blog without a guiding mission (other than just writing), but they really emphasized thinking about the purpose behind a blog is. That’s something I would really like to think about moving forward.

Some specific advice and thoughts from the panelists:

  • There is intentional work you could do to build brand but there are serendipitous moments you should take advantage of. –Matt Shipman
  • What is the true part of yourself that you want to be outward-facing, and that is your online brand. Be yourself. –Matt Shipman
  • I felt like I was part of the public and scientific community so I blogged to increase trust in scientists –Eleanor Spicer Rice
  • You don’t have to be afraid to learn from the people doing what you love! –Eleanor Spicer Rice (regarding tweeting at people)
  • The brand of Deep Sea News is built on the fact that the contributors are scientists in the trenches of the research –Craig McClain
  • You need to blog with a mission just like you do science with a mission –Craig McClain
  • Find someone whose online brand you like, figure out why, and try to echo it –Craig McClain
  • Find a unique angle in your blog posts. Find your signal in all the noise that’s already out there. –Jamie Vernon

Following more pop talks, our second panel started, focusing on science communication outlets in North Carolina. Our panelists were Mary-Russell Roberson, a science writer, Joshua Hall, Director of Science Outreach and UNC PREP at UNC, Kate Maddalena, Assistant Professor of Professional Writing and Technical Communication at UNC Wilmington, and Kathryn Pietrosimone, a medical/regulatory writer on clinical trials at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Opportunities ranged pitching posts to existing blogs to local outreach events (like being an ambassador for DNA Day, organized by Joshua Hall!). During the question and answer session, there was also a debate about the role of academic journal articles and whether or not the current journal model needs a rethink. Folks brought up the fact that articles are often hard to follow if they are not from your field, and others pointed out the benefit of jargon, enabling colleagues to interact and communicate with each other more effectively. During a conversation about how to inform a broader audience about current science more readily (e.g. including lay summaries), I thought about how the Genes to Genomes blog does a good job addressing this with blog posts written for a broad biological audience on recent studies in Genetics and G3. I’m glad I was able to be involved with that blog last year!

Some final pieces of advice from this panel:

  • Be a scientist, but be a communicating scientist. –Kate Maddalena
  • Memorizing facts is not science. Students need to DO science to learn it. –Mary-Russell Roberson
  • Education needs to get students thinking critically to avoid students being bored by science. –Joshua Hall
  • You wouldn’t start a magazine if you wanted to write a magazine article. Try writing a post and pitching it to a blog –Kate Maddalena

The day finished with a closing keynote address from Joe Palca. It was hard not to get too distracted during my introduction of him when I saw in the corner of my eye that I was becoming a the target of a selfie. Best souvenir from ComSciCon?

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Joe has been at NPR since 1992, and his main focus has been on “Joe’s Big Idea” which produces segments on the stories behind scientists and their innovations.He spoke about how the integration of science in the news may be more likely to interest the folks who usually find science boring. Like all of the participants, Joe comes from a science background, with a PhD in psychology from UC Santa Cruz. His career path, like many of the other participants, was somewhat serendipitous, taking opportunities in local television, Nature, and Science before ending up at NPR. His story further emphasizes how important it is to seize opportunities fearlessly.

Some of his other thoughts:

  • Find the people who are getting paid for what you like, see what they’re doing and try to copy it
  • I’m doing what journalists think is a good job on science communication, but what matters is what the public thinks
  • Say yes to every opportunity, you don’t know what will come of it.
  • Never apologize for being interested in science. Approach every story like it’s the most amazing thing in the world
  • How can scientist better communicate science? 1. Show up. 2. Communication is not 1-way

Following the keynote, the workshop concluded with a happy hour, complete with ComSciCon-Triangle pint glasses! I think this was a great addition to the workshop, enabling participants to interact with each other during a less structured time. The unstructured time even allowed for a round of informal pop talks on the science outreach opportunities participants organize to encourage people to work together on similar projects! I think the overall workshop was a success, in large part because of fantastic panelists and engaged participants. I’m excited to see what the future for ComSciCon-Triangle holds, and to continue to develop relationships with the great people I met this weekend!





One thought on “ComSciCon-Triangle: DAY TWO

  1. I can’t agree more with your love of the pop talks. I could have listened to them all day: from asphalt that changes color in places that will form potholes, to drugs that are latent in the body until they are activated in precise places by laser pointers, to using the energy being produced when freshwater rivers meet the saltwater sea to produce power… When experts talk about what they do in languages and contexts I can understand, I am rapt.


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