Eating Our Own


Last week, an article was published in STAT magazine about how scientists need to do more outreach. A few exasperated tweets complaining about the article’s tone and content soon morphed into a full-on hate-fest, with buckets of vitriol raining down on an innocent graduate student who had dared to try and expand on the article’s premise. The attacks, led by a parade of well-known science communication personalities, went way beyond the bounds of civil debate. As someone who uses Twitter to engage in these types of academic discussions all the time, I was angry with the entire situation but I wasn’t sure how to respond.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about things, I’m still angry. I’m angry with the “venerable” online science community. MY supposed community. My community of peers who are actively involved in doing and promoting science outreach and communication. Is this the way to draw more people into doing outreach and communication? By shutting them down when they try to engage? By using their naiveté and inexperience as weapons against them?

I find this entire course of action by those who chose to denigrate and shame a person who was genuinely looking for information and guidance disgusting. Even worse, it is entirely antithetical to the goals of this movement around public engagement with science that we are all, collectively, trying to engender and support and promote.

We in the science outreach community already have a hard enough time getting scientists to spend some of their scant free time out of the lab doing outreach and communicating about their research. Not when their adviser is demanding to see experimental results. Not when their department chair is expecting them to be securing a steady stream of research funding. Not when their dean is holding a tenure decision precipitously over their head. Now we have to overcome the barrier of having those who are already “in the know” telling them they are doing it wrong? Telling them that they need to get a Ph.D. in outreach before they even start? When did this become a situation of us versus them, where some communicators and outreachers are more equal than others?

Full disclosure- I happen to know this graduate student. She’s taken our online training course, “The Art of Science Communication.” She now volunteers her precious time (as a junior graduate student) to help teach the course. She does outreach and wants to do more. She’s walking the walk, and I want to help her do it. Because that’s my job — getting scientists involved with outreach.

I want every scientist to communicate. To engage. To throw off the stigma and tradition and stereotype of the loner scientist locked away in the lab. To put themselves out there in public. I’ve heard over and over that not every scientist should be a communicator. I could not disagree more. Every scientist should be a communicator. Communication and outreach should be compulsory for a scientific career. I’ve dedicated myself to help every scientist to communicate. I work every day to help pave that way. I want the entire world to see who scientists are and what they do.

In two months, we are all going to march for science. Are we going to start deciding who can attend that event, who is allowed to speak for science? Or are we going to use this opportunity, this incredible platform, to engage with everyone we can, gain support and show what science is and how it’s used?

Let’s stop the pointless bickering and online yelling and start facing the same direction. Because if we don’t all stand together, we’ll fall apart.

Sign up for “The Art of Science Communication”


The next round of our online training course Course logo“The Art of Science Communication” starts in early June. If you are interested in improving your communication skills or getting advice and instruction on how to effectively present your science for a non-expert audience, all from the comfort of your home (or lab), then this is the course for you. But don’t just take my word for it. Here are what some of our previous course participants have had to say:

“I wanted to have a better idea of good communication principles that apply specifically to science. I enjoyed the course and learned a lot; I am glad I took the course.”

“I hoped to learn to communicate science better. The course exceeded my expectations.”

“It was great to get advice from people who actually value science communication and have experience with it.”

“As someone educated with very limited formal instruction in science communication this was something that was long overdue. Even with a vast experience of presenting my research, this class has immediately helped me improve my presentations to a science audience. It was also very effective in helping me develop skill and a talk to give to a lay audience. In addition, I think that this course has helped focus my message when writing grants.”

Want more proof of the effectiveness of the course? 85% of our past participants would recommend the course to a friend or colleague, and 90% say they feel better prepared to give a presentation to a non-expert audience.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up today to reserve your spot! Applications are being accepted through Friday May 20.

Questions? Email us at

2016 Broader Impacts Summit


Scientists are finding it harder and harder to get money from the federal government to support their research. Success rates have plummeted. Competition is fierce. And on top of all of this, there is increased oversight of the spending done by scientific funding agencies. The National Science Foundation in particular has come under scrutiny from Congress, with the House Science, Space and Technology Committee taking an uncomfortably close look at how the agency spends its allocated dollars. While the motivation for the committee’s specific interest in the agency’s granting process can be debated, the fact that it is happening at all points towards to a broader need for scientists to show how the funding they receive is being used properly and effectively.

Such is the impetus behind the Broader Impacts requirement for NSF grant proposals. Since 1990, applicants to the NSF have been instructed to include a description of how their proposal will have the “potential to benefit society.” While this criteria is supposed to be given equal consideration to the scientific intellectual merit of the proposal, the quality of Broader Impacts proposals are unfortunately highly variable, as is the process of reviewing these ideas.

NABI sign

The 2016 Broader Impacts Summit was held in Philadelphia, PA

Hoping to provide some level of guidance to the scientific community, the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI) has, since 2013, organized an annual Broader Impacts summit that brings together outreach department directors and managers from institutions across the country (and beyond!). At this year’s summit, which took place April 20-22 in Philadelphia, PA, program officers from the NSF repeatedly emphasized that grant reviewers are becoming increasingly sensitive to the idea that Broader Impacts be taken into consideration when determining the merit of a proposal. This point was accentuated by Dr. Suzi Iacono, head of the NSF Office of Integrative Activities, who showed striking data indicating that grant panel reviewers spend more effort discussing Broader Impacts in their reports than applicants do in their proposals. However, she cautioned that the data shows high variability across the agency’s eight directorates in terms of the type and quality of Broader Impacts proposals, suggesting that there is still work to be done in order to establish a community standard.

NSF Program Director Karen Cone gives one of the keynote addresses at the 2016 Broader Impacts Summit

NSF Program Director Karen Cone gives one of the keynote addresses at the 2016 Broader Impacts Summit

During the conference, several attendees presented about ground-level efforts related to Broader Impacts, such as how to start a Broader Impacts office at an institution, and how to get involvement and buy-in from different stakeholders, including faculty, students and administrators. Other sessions focused on approaches for engaging with the local community via creation of two-way dialogues that incorporate perspectives from outside the scientific community. The ASBMB, which is a member partner of NABI and one of the summit sponsors, was represented in the form of a session co-chaired by Manager of Public Outreach Geoff Hunt on defining the role and scope of Public Engagement professionals. Other popular sessions included a breakout session on evaluation of Broader Impacts activities, and several discussions on broadening participation in STEM fields by including underserved communities.

Moving forward, the summit will continue to serve as a locus for building a community of investigators and outreach managers dedicated to strengthening and standardizing Broader Impacts. NABI is also looking to expand upon their efforts by developing resources that can improve the quality of Broader Impacts. The group recently published a freely-available guide to writing and reviewing Broader Impacts, and is in the process of developing live training workshops that can help scientists implement these recommendations. One potential place for such a training that has been discussed is at the ASBMB Interactive Mentoring Activities for Grantsmanship Enhancement (IMAGE) grant writing workshop.

Want to get/stay involved? Sign up for NABI yourself here!

ASBMB at the USA Science & Engineering Festival


When you think of a skeleton, most of your thoughts are likely related to things like death, or Halloween. Very little thought probably goes into the actual composition of the bones that make up the skeleton’s rickety frame. But far from being a static object, the skeleton’s orderly collection of bones is actually a dynamic system of cells, proteins and chemicals that is in a constant state of growth and repair.

The ASBMB “Bone: It’s Alive!” booth at the USA Science & Engineering festival

Looking to showcase the living biochemistry of bone, the ASBMB presented “Bone: It’s Alive” as an exhibit demo during the third USA Science and Engineering Festival, which took place April 15-17 in Washington D.C. Run by ASBMB staff and local members, the ASBMB booth welcomed thousands of visitors, who got a chance to learn about the process of bone growth, and even make their own bone from the basic chemical ingredients (calcium chloride and sodium phosphate). However, the true star of our booth was our beloved skeleton, Oscar, who posed for selfies as graciously as a Kardashian.

Selfies with our skeleton Oscar were a big hit

The ASBMB was one of thousands of organizations presenting at the three day festival. Groups came from across the country to showcase all sorts of science: robotics, 3-D printers, plants, glowing fruit flies, live penguins, and even a couple of fighter jets from festival main sponsor Lockheed Martin. The festival also featured live stage shows that featured explosions, bubbles and lasers, along with performances from They Might Be Giants (whose volume overpowered the entire convention center).

While the visibility of the current version of the USA Science & Engineering festival pales in comparison to the initial version (which was held outside on the National Mall in 2010), this year’s festival amazingly still drew over 365,000 attendees inside the Walter E. Washington Convention center over the course of three beautiful spring days. Attendees even lined up outside of the festival before each day’s opening. Says something about the draw of science. Or maybe they all just wanted a picture with Oscar.

A step-by-step instruction guide to the “Bone: It’s Alive!” demo can be found here.

“Meet the BioArtists” recap


Art and science are intimately intertwined. A great example of the intersection of these two topics is the BioArt contest run by our colleagues at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology [FASEB]. Since 2012, FASEB has handed out awards to the most inspiring, creative artistic images of scientific phenomena, ranging from fungal infections to nutrient uptake by plants to neuronal cell signaling.


BioArt images were displayed on the walls of the Karl Strauss Brewery in downtown San Diego

Though scientists may be accustomed to such stunning images (and videos), the public at-large has traditionally not experienced the same level of exposure.To bring BioArt to the masses in a truly public venue, the ASBMB recently sponsored “Meet the BioArtists ” at the Karl Strauss Brewery in downtown San Diego. Images submitted by previous BioArt contest winners were printed and hung on display in the brewery for several weeks in April, enveloping patrons with plant stem cells, nerve fibers and even the Ebola virus.

While the brewery staff made a valiant effort to point out the science-themed art, it was difficult (if not impossible) for any of the viewers to make the connection between the image hanging on the wall in front of them and the science that it was inspired by. This passivity is one of the problems with art. Engagement happens only at the discretion of the audience, removing the face-to-face interactions that lead to deeper understanding: you don’t get to ask Picasso how he painted that picture, or Mozart why he wrote that musical piece. Given the overarching goal of science outreach to connect scientists and non-scientists, it is important for such events to take place in situations that allow for direct interactions between the two groups.

Nat Prunet describes his winning BioArt image for attendees

So to add that extra touch of engagement, on the evening of April 5 BioArtist winners Bryan Jones, Nat Prunet and Clarence Wigfall came to the brewery to present their science-themed works of art for the local San Diego community, as well as attendees of the EB conference. Donning white lab coats, the BioArtists mingled with customers, talked about their motivations and artistic inspirations, and described the science behind their images for nearly four hours. The constant flow of engaged visitors coming to talk science on a Tuesday night was impressive, especially considering that a Padres baseball game was taking place a few blocks away. Outreach and engagement, all at once.

After the success of the “Meet the BioArtists” event, the ASBMB is contemplating how to continue bringing science art to the public by potentially developing a BioArtists road show that can visit cities across the country. After all, these days everyone deserves to get a chance to interact with art (and science).

Pictures from the event can be found here.

ASBMB Wikipedia Edit-a-thon


Outreach from home? It’s actually not an oxymoron. Done properly, science outreach using only a computer can be incredibly effective. A number of scientists have actually had great success using different social media platforms to share their research with the greater public. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is particularly tailor-made for scientists. Open for editing by anyone, all you need is an internet connection (and hopefully some scientific knowledge) to make a substantial contribution to Wikipedia. The site is increasingly being used by researchers and students alike as a legitimate source of reference material. Which means that Wikipedia is always in need of more content.

Edit-a-thon image

ASBMB members tackle Wikipedia editing

To focus effort on generating this content, organizers have started hosting edit-a-thons that bring together beginner and expert Wikipedians for a set amount of time that is dedicated to a specific topic area. On April 4 at the San Diego Convention Center (during EB2016), the ASBMB hosted its own Wikipedia edit-a-thon, where students and faculty attending the meeting came together to work at improving the quality (and quantity) of Wikipedia articles focused on biochemistry and cell biology. Despite some severe competition from the concurrent ASBMB Game Night, the edit-a-thon had a respectable turn-out from meeting attendees.

As of April 25, the event had resulted in:

  • 5 articles created
  • 45 articles edited
  • 180 total edits
  • 259,000 page views (!)

Even more exciting is how the edit-a-thon was able to inspire attendees to use Wikipedia in their own efforts going forward. “I’m more excited than ever about using Wikipedia in my classes!” exclaimed ASBMB member Sandi Clement from Cal State Poly, San Luis Obispo after attending the event.

Sponsorship for the edit-a-thon came from the Simons Foundation, who has helped to put on edit-a-thons at numerous professional society meetings over the past year, including those of the American Society for Cell Biology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as the Wiki Education Foundation as part of their “Year of Science” (you can read more about the “Year of Science” here). As such efforts continue, even more members of the scientific community will be willing and able to get involved and start doing outreach, even if it’s just from their couch.

Science outreach- April event recap


There is no one way to do science outreach. Depending on the intended audience, the location, and the personality and interests of the organizers, outreach can come in a staggering number of varieties. The ASBMB has been involved with several different outreach events this past month that cover a wide range of formats. All this week, check out the Cellular Culture blog for recaps from these different activities:

ASBMB Marketing Brochure FINAL

Join ASBMB at the USA Science & Engineering Festival


Held every other year, the USA Science and Engineering Festival is the one of the largest (if not THE largest) science outreach happening in the country. Over 300,000 attendees, from kids to parents to teachers, are expected to attend this year’s event, held April 16-17 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C.

USA SEF logo

The three day festival features an overwhelming array of activities, including dynamic stage shows from NASA and the Mythbusters, meet and greets with science celebrities such as Bill Nye and Peter Agre, and, this year, a STEM-based musical performance from They Might Be Giants. But the festival’s centerpiece is the staggering array of hands-on exhibits, presented by over 1000 different groups and organizations. In the past, these have included robotics demonstrations, 3D printers, and even a full jet fighter!

BoneThe ASBMB will join in on the fun this year with “Bone: It’s Alive!”, our exhibit that explores the biochemistry of bone. Designed by the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee, the exhibit is a hands-on demonstration of the roles biology and chemistry play in the development of our bones.

Never been to a science festival before? This is a great chance to experience what outreach is all about. Who knows, you might just get hooked! If you are really interested in getting involved, we are looking for volunteers to help staff our booth during the weekend. Please contact if you want to help out. It doesn’t matter if you are a student or faculty, we want you to be involved!

See you in DC!

Meet the BioArtists


The Experimental Biology (EB) meeting has been a frequent visitor to San Diego. And every time we come to town, the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee puts on a unique outreach event that brings science to the local community. At EB2012 in San Diego, we organized (in conjunction with the San Diego Biotechnology Network) a science-themed tweet-up at the Mission Brewery. Two years later, we worked with the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center to put on an interactive science café at Southpaw Social Club that gave attendees a hands-on look at FoldIt, the protein folding video game.

So how do we top ourselves in 2016? This time around, we’ll be focusing on art. Anyone who has worked in a lab will immediately appreciate the beauty of the natural world and the creative, artistic ways that researchers showcase the wonders of science. To highlight these efforts, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) has, since 2012, sponsored the BioArt competition, which invites scientists to share “captivating, high-resolution images and videos representing cutting edge, 21st century biomedical and life science research.”

Ou 2015

One of the winning images from the 2015 FASEB BioArt contest, by Xiawei Ou, Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) and ACH Research Institute, and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR

Now for the first time, we are bringing BioArt to EB. Winning images from the past several years will be displayed on the walls of the Karl Strauss Brewery, one of downtown San Diego’s hottest brew pubs. Even cooler, on the night of April 5, we will have several of the actual BioArt winners there in-person to talk about their entries and how they were motivated to translate their research into art. This will be a great chance to see for yourself the intersection of art and STEM (commonly referred to by the acronym “STEAM”).

So if you’re in San Diego looking for something to do on a Tuesday night and want to see what science has to offer, come on down and join us! As anyone who has come to one of our outreach events before can attest, you are guaranteed to have a fun time.


Outreach Sessions at EB2016


Science cafes. Social media campaigns. K-12 classroom programs. There is a whole world of outreach going on out there. The challenge for anyone looking to participate in an outreach event or even start their own outreach program is sorting through this morass to find the opportunity that is right for them. Luckily, the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee has organized a series of events during EB2016 that will showcase and highlight several of these programs that will give you the chance to figure out which type of outreach activity is right for you, and how to go about getting involved.

We’ll start with “Building Your Outreach Program from A To Z” on the morning of Saturday April 2. During this session, we will hear from recipients of the ASBMB HOPES seed grant program, as well as individuals from other community outreach programs, who will talk about how they organize their activities and what scientists can do to get involved. These presentations will give you the opportunity to ask the questions about outreach that you’ve never gotten answered, and to form some real collaborations with others in the audience who are (or have been) in your shoes.

One of the biggest challenges with outreach is how to go from a good idea to a functional, sustainable program. That requires funding. One source is the National Science Foundation (NSF), which requires any proposal to the agency to include a section describing the broader impacts of the proposed scientific endeavor. Traditionally, the Broader Impacts requirement has been a challenge to navigate, so to help you out we have lined up a panel of experts who have extensive experience with the NSF funding process. The panel includes individuals who have been successful in obtaining NSF grants, former NSF program officers, and a university official whose job it is to help researchers prepare their grant applications. This lively discussion will help walk you through the process from start to finish, and provide insight on how best to go about constructing your proposal.

Poster session

If a formal session is too intimidating, or if your travel plans mean you won’t arrive at the meeting until later, no worries. Grab a drink and come hang out during our outreach poster session during the ASBMB Opening Reception on Saturday night from 7 – 9 PM. This informal event will be a great chance to casually interact with members of the ASBMB community who are currently involved in outreach. We have lined up nearly 20 different presenters from around the country who have posters that describe their individual programs, giving you a chance to get your questions answered in a one-on-one setting. Come see the variety of programming that the outreach community has to offer!

These outreach sessions are a great way to kick off your meeting in the right way. See you there!