The Art of the Elevator Pitch

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Giving a talk? Presenting a poster? Networking with potential collaborators or future employers? Communication will be everywhere at EB2016. That means it is vitally important to be prepared to talk, at any moment, about who you are and what you do. And with so much happening at the meeting, you have to be engaging before whoever you are talking to runs off to the next event.

But how can you do all that while still being accurate about your science? This is a challenge for any scientist who wants to communicate, especially in situations when time is limited. So to help prepare EB attendees, the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee has put together an in-depth training workshop that focuses on a specific type of communication interaction: the elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is exactly what it says: introduce yourself and describe your work in the time it takes to ride an elevator down from your hotel room. This type of pressure-cooker situation forces you to focus on what is really important in terms of content and delivery, and realize what can be discarded. Importantly, these lessons can then be applied to any type of communication venue, whether it be a professional presentation or a casual conversation with friends.

For our highly interactive training session on Saturday April 2, we will give you everything you need to pull off a successful elevator pitch by providing insight into all of the key elements, including:

  • What makes a good elevator pitch
  • Things you should NOT do
  • How to know if you made a good impression
  • Ways to follow up

Leading the workshop will be several expert communicators, including members of the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee, so you know you’ll be getting quality advice. The best part of the workshop is that you will get a chance to try these techniques out for yourself before you set off for the meeting proper.

This workshop is a spin-off from our online course, “The Art of Science Communication,” which provides in-depth training on presenting scientific topics to non-expert audiences. If you like what you see during the workshop, we hope that you’ll consider signing up for the full “Art of Science Communication” course to learn how to apply these (and additional) lessons to a whole variety of situations. The next version of “The Art of Science Communication” will run this summer and there are a limited number of slots available, so as an added bonus, attendees of this workshop will get priority when applying!

See you in San Diego!

Details:

Date and time: Saturday April 2 from 12:30 – 4:30 PM

Location: San Diego Ballroom C of the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina.

Registration: Sign-up is required for this workshop. Click here to register.

Join the ASBMB Wikipedia edit-a-thon at EB2016

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Finding information on Wikipedia is similar to paying for a car wash: the service is only worth as much as the detailing. With new discoveries in science happening daily, it’s important to not only have a Wikipedia page about a subject, but also to make sure it’s as thorough as possible. Unfortunately, not all pages are created equal. While pages on subjects like DNA or photosynthesis are well fleshed out, many topics are merely given a brief overview and a picture, a few citations, and then published and left to become outdated. For example, the page on the lipid transporter protein Flippase was created in November 2006 and is still only 8 sentences long.

Enter Edit-A-Thons: ambitious gatherings of amateurs and experts with the singular goal of improving the quality of topic-specific articles. These events are not limited to science: the 2012 World War I Edit-a-thon in London created 7 new articles and improved 25 more, while the 2015 Art+Feminism Edit-a-Thon in New York saw approximately 1500 participants in 75 locations (spread across 17 countries on four continents) generate nearly 400 new articles and significantly improve 500 more.

ASBMB will host our own Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at the 2016 Annual Meeting in San Diego, sponsored by the Simons Foundation as part of the Wiki Education Foundation‘s Year of Science 2016. This session will take aim at improving biochemistry and molecular biology articles on Wikipedia. We invite all attendees of Experimental Biology to join us as we tackle a range of topics, including (potentially) cytoplasmic streaming, immunocytochemistry, and of course, flippase. Or submit your own below!

Edit-a-thons are not meant only for experienced Wikipedia editors; at most edit-a-thons, experts are merely on hand to teach novice participants everything they need to know about editing Wikipedia. In fact, Wikipedia has even developed resources on how to best edit specific subjects for beginners. At the ASBMB edit-a-thon, we will have table leaders who are experienced in Wikipedia editing and experts in various fields of biochemistry and molecular biology to guide participants through the event. We are still looking for participants to join us! To learn more and to sign up to participate visit our website.

Post by former ASBMB Outreach Intern Travis Radford

K-12 STEM Outreach: A New HOPE(S)

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Developing instructional STEM curricula for deaf students. Using sports to teach STEM concepts to high schoolers. Organizing a C.S.I.-themed research project for 5th graders. The eclectic range of projects being undertaken by this year’s batch of awardees from the ASBMB Hands-on Opportunities to Promote Engagement with Science (HOPES) seed grant program showcases the myriad creative approaches to improve STEM education for K-12 students across the country. In 2015, the seed grant program received 27 applications, of which a total of nine were ultimately funded. To read more about this year’s HOPES recipients, click here.

Now in its fifth year, the goal of the HOPES program, which offers grants of up to $2000 for STEM partnerships between academic researchers and K-12 teachers, is to foster the development of sustained, mutually beneficial outreach partnerships that will enable educators and community leaders to leverage the resources and expertise of scientists from local colleges, universities, and industry as a means for engaging students and members of the public in active, stimulating, and informative STEM experiential learning activities, regardless of their background or level of experience.

This year saw the introduction of two new twists to the HOPES program. Awardees are now able to apply for a second year of funding from ASBMB, in order to help ensure the sustainability of their project. One of the main drawbacks pointed out by previous recipients was that, while the funds provided by HOPES were great for setting up a pilot project, ensuring that this project continued on in subsequent years was difficult without guaranteed funding support. Tacking on a second year to the award will help alleviate this issue by providing a short yet significant level of sustainability, thus allowing for buy-in from other potential stakeholders such as local companies and private foundations, or even school systems.

A second twist was holding the annual HOPES workshop outside of the confines of its traditional home within the Experimental Biology (EB) meeting, in order to increase the geographic diversity of HOPES participants beyond San Diego and Boston, which have between them hosted the past four EB meetings. This year, HOPES PI Regina Stevens-Truss led the interactive workshop, in which attendees hear from previous HOPES grant recipients and get a chance to network with potential partners, during the ASBMB Transforming Undergraduate Education in Molecular Life Sciences special symposium, held at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, MO.

Moving forward, the HOPES committee (Dr. Stevens-Truss, Dr. Peter Kennelly [Virginia Tech] and Dr. Ray Sweet [Janssen Pharmaceuticals, retired]) aims to expand the reach of the HOPES program by presenting the workshop in a diverse set of geographic locations and venues, including  meetings such as those for the National Science Teachers Association and National Association of Biology Teachers. The committee is also collaborating with a professional evaluator to assess the efficacy of the programs supported by the seeds grants, as well as the HOPES program overall. Moreover, the committee is constructing a public interactive network of former recipients, current awardees and potential applicants that will provide a platform for sharing of information, ideas, resources and opportunities. Currently included on this website are project descriptions and activity manuals that can be used by anyone to help enhance the STEM experience for their students.

As a model for improving the K-12 STEM educational experience, five years of the HOPES program has proven an unqualified success. The next five years promise even more.

Click here to see data from the past five years of the HOPES program

 

Science for the Public

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Education or entertainment? That was the major question facing attendees at the fourth annual International Public Science Events Conference (IPSEC), held June 1-2 on campus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Frustratingly, two days of discussion and debate failed to deliver a clear answer.

For years, those involved with organizing public outreach activities like science festivals and science cafes have fretted about what the goal of such efforts is (or should be). Certainly all event organizers and participants intend to provide content and information during their programs that educates audience participants. However, organizers are increasingly turning to unique cultural approaches that entertain first, and educate second, hoping to draw in bigger, more diverse audiences. Successful examples include You’re the Expert, a science-themed comedy show, and improvscience, a theater-based approach to public science engagement.

The issue for organizers then becomes how to reconcile such seemingly conflicting approaches, a theme that influenced all of the various sessions at IPSEC, from those on how to organize and execute an event, to how to recruit volunteers and market to target audiences, to evaluation and reporting.

In an attempt to directly tackle the tug of war between education and entertainment, one of the IPSEC sessions featured a mock debate between Darcy Gentleman (thirstDC) and Kishore Hari (Bay Area Science Festival), with each arguing in support of one side. Unfortunately, their facetious attempt to convince the audience as to the absolute benefits of entertainment or education was in vain, as the consensus was that the best approach was to aim for a balance between the two. However, no one seemed able to agree on what that balance actually should be, though there was agreement on the need for clearly defined goals for public science events in order to help reduce such conflict.

Attendees also sought to wrestle with this issue by considering the bigger question of the role science is trying to play in society, a point brought up by Story Collider founder Ben Lille. For some, public events are an attempt to integrate science within societal culture, much like the arts or sports. Such events therefore lean more towards entertainment, providing audience members the opportunity to interact with a scientist and thereby develop an interest in, or at least an appreciation of, science. A different viewpoint, espoused in particular by Meri Jenkins, Program Manager for the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Adams Arts Program, holds that science is a necessary component of policy making, providing a pathway to robust economic benefits. Science events, therefore, should be seen as critical educational outlets that amplify formal efforts and provide a far-reaching societal impact.

Finding a middle ground between such extremes will undoubtedly be a challenge for those in this burgeoning field. Yet even though attendees left the conference with this debate unresolved, almost everyone was confident in the overall appropriateness and worthiness of their different approaches to putting on events. Moving forward, some organizers will continue to just try different ideas, figuring out what works and what doesn’t as they go. Others will rely on research and data to carefully construct the most impactful, efficient activities. Regardless of the methodology, any and all public events will definitely achieve the goal of bringing science to the public. And maybe that’s good enough.

Come Together

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For those involved with public outreach, a major challenge is often just finding other people like you, even if they are at the very same institution. Last week in Arlington, VA, the Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) hosted a convening to bring these individuals together. The goal of the two day conference, born out of the last summer’s NSF Advancing Informal STEM Learning PI meeting, was to facilitate collaborations both national and regional, and allow for the sharing of ideas and best practices. A majority of attendees were education and outreach directors from NSF-funded centers and facilities, including several from NSF-supported Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSECs) and Centers for Chemical Innovation (CCIs), while others in attendance came from professional societies, national networks, and even the NSF itself.

Meeting facilitators began the convening by identifying a set of “knowns” and “unknowns” in the field of informal science education (ISE), as a way to nudge attendees towards developing action items that could be used to strengthen the “knowns” and turn the “unknowns” into “knowns.” Using this framework, participants then spent the rest of the meeting engaged in loosely-structured interactive discussions, focused on four primary topics:

  1. Designing and Evaluating Education and Outreach Programs at Centers and Large Facilities
  2. Working with ISE Institutions and Networks
  3. Current and Past Productive Areas of ISE Research
  4. Implications for ISE from Recent Science of Science Communication Findings

From these discussions, a prioritized list of needs was generated in order to determine actionable next steps. A lot of interest focused on the NSF’s Broader Impacts requirement for grant applications, something that will likely be a hot topic at the upcoming Broader Impacts Summit. Participants felt that it would be extremely beneficial for the community to develop resources, standardized guidelines and event trainings for Broader Impacts statements, which would not only help applicants but also reviewers and program officers.

Attendees additionally pushed for the development of a centralized repository that would allow for aggregation of all things outreach. This would include successful public engagement models and examples, resources such as evaluation tools, and potentially a map of existing networks and programs involved in any type of outreach, science communication, public engagement or informal science education. Several existing websites, including the informalscience.org website, the AAAS Trellis website and the ASBMB outreach website, are attempting to do just that.

Another area of need identified by meeting participants was the continued development of common spaces and venues that would allow for informal science professionals, STEM researchers, science communication experts and social scientists and evaluators to connect and develop activities and programs jointly. Similarly, there was much discussion of finding a way to lessen the divide between informal and formal STEM education, perhaps by working in conjunction with groups such as the National Science Teachers Association. Professional society meetings would seem to be obvious locations for such interactions, while CAISE is also looking at ways to host additional convenings.

Two of the major needs identified by participants that unfortunately lacked specific actionable items were increasing both funding resources and programmatic sustainability, common themes for those involved in the field.  However, attendees felt that building of networks and personal and institutional connections could at least help the field start coming up with solutions to these issues.

ASBMB will continue to work with groups like CAISE to help improve the practice of informal science education and expand the field of those involved with the public outreach. If you have questions about how to get involved, get in touch with us at outreach@asbmb.org.

ASBMB Responds to NIH Request for Comments on Science Education Strategic Planning

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The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has responded to a request for information from the National Institutes of Health regarding strategic planning for the Office of Science Education and the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program, both located within the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs.

ASBMB is supportive of the types of programs supported by SEPA that “promote and improve the scientific training of pre-kindergarten to grade 12 (P-12) teachers, students, and the general public.” However, given such a potentially broad scope, we urge NIH to come up with a more-clearly defined mission and distinct goals for the SEPA program, so that its efforts are maximally effective. In addition, given the relatively small budget with which SEPA operates, ASBMB recommends that the SEPA program work with other programs within NIH, as well as external stakeholders within other federal agencies, state and local governments, and private organizations, to coordinate and streamline overlapping efforts, in order to minimize redundancy.

ASBMB encourages its members to submit their own responses. The RFI is open until March 16, so use this link to submit your own feedback before then.

You can read the full response from ASBMB here.

Strengthening Teacher-Scientist Partnerships

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Ask a scientist what “outreach” means to them, and the majority will mention something about working with K-12 students. Unfortunately, these types of interactions tend to be sporadic, poorly executed, and bereft of quantitative assessment and evaluation, depriving those involved of any true, long-lasting benefit. To rectify this situation, a disparate group of programs has sprung up across the country, each aiming to create substantial, sustainable partnerships between the scientific research and K-12 education communities.

ITSP Program CoverSeveral of these programs were on display at the second International Teacher-Scientist Partnership Conference, held February 11 and 12 in San Francisco, CA. Hosted by the UCSF Science and Health Education Partnership, the meeting brought together various stakeholders, including teachers, students, researchers and administrators, to share best practices and identify areas for improvement.

Highlighting the conference were the two keynote addresses, the first a discussion between former National Academies of Science President Bruce Alberts and Shirley Malcom, Director for Education and Human Resources Programs at AAAS. Both speakers applauded the formation of such partnerships, and emphasized the need for teachers and scientists to learn from each other. Malcom even went so far as to point out that implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) necessarily required such collaborations.

On the second day, Helen Quinn, former Chair of the National Research Council’s Board on Science Education, talked about the need for three-dimensional science learning that incorporated facts, practices and concepts, an approach that informed the development of the NGSS. Echoing Malcom, Quinn pointed to teacher-scientist partnerships as a necessary tool for implementing the NGSS, pointing out that the standards imposed new demands on science teachers that would be impossible to meet without the provision of additional, novel support and professional development.

The bulk of the conference was filled with overlapping sessions and workshops that showcased different approaches to forming and sustaining partnerships. Despite the differences between programs, several consistent themes did emerge:

  1. Defined roles and outcomes

Oftentimes, the biggest failing in these partnerships comes from the fact that the goals, objectives and intended outcomes have not been agreed upon by both sides beforehand, leading to confusion and ineffectiveness. All presenters pointed out that their success stemmed from jointly working with both scientists and teachers (and their students) to resolve these issues in advance of any activities, so that everyone was able to be on the same page. A second point of emphasis was that for a particular partnership to be successful, scientists need to act as resources and role models, rather than as instructors. In this way, scientists can greatly increase the accessibility students (and teachers) have to the research enterprise, helping to remove the barriers between these groups.

  1. Local, bottom-up approach

While expressing support for a concerted, national support network (such as the soon-to-be extinct NSF Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) Program), almost all presenters and attendees spoke about the need to develop programs and collaborations locally. Though all in attendance were in support of a concerted effort to effect broad change in the education system, there was a general agreement that focusing effort on working with individual classrooms, schools and even school districts allows for more fluid partnerships that are more easily able to steer clear of the messy politics so often responsible for impediments to reform in education.

  1. Sustainability (resources, participation)

Funding was a major issue for all involved, as financial support for non-traditional education activities is sporadic. Presentations from the West Virginia Health Sciences & Technology Academy and the Integrated Science Education Outreach (InSciEd Out) program at the University of Minnesota highlighted their ability to successfully raise funding from a wide variety of local sources, both big and small, again pointing to the need for local connections. Attendees added that another difficulty was in maintaining participation by both scientists and teachers, and suggested establishing pipelines that would funnel both towards each other.

  1. Evaluation and Assessment

Recognizing that assessing the impact of a particular activity or program is inherently difficult, most presenters were nonetheless able to point to a proven track record of improved STEM learning and performance for students, thanks to the ability to follow students throughout their primary education. More qualitative feedback from scientists and teachers demonstrates a nearly universal benefit in terms of professional development and willingness to engage and participate.

 

The conference will be held again in 2017, by which point even more programs will have undoubtedly arisen. In the interim, ASBMB will be using our connections and resources to increase awareness of, and participation by, our members in such partnerships. If you are interested in finding out more about these partnerships, contact the ASBMB Public Outreach Office at outreach@asbmb.org.

 

More information about the conference, including a list of participating programs, can be found here.

A summary of tweets from the meeting is available here.

Undergraduate Outreach- Round Two

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This past spring, the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee initiated a grant program for chapters of the society’s Undergraduate Affiliates Network, providing resources and funding up to $500 to help support science outreach activities. Due to overwhelming demand, we opened the program up for a second round of applications this fall.

Following an extensive application and review process, we are now pleased to report that two additional UAN chapters have been approved for funding from this program:

  • The University of Arizona chapter will use funds from ASBMB to help support BlastOff!, an annual science camp that provides a “free, hands-on opportunity to experience the thrill of being engaged in scientific exploration through field trips, experiments that they conduct themselves with the guidance of our Chapter members serving as mentors, and analyzing data.”
  • The University of Texas, San Marcos chapter will engage in both a STEM Outreach Field Trip to local elementary schools, and a Science Camp week on campus, both of which will introduce students to hands-on science activities.

It is especially heartening to see that the undergraduate members of the individual UAN chapters are the ones responsible for the organization and execution of the various outreach activities. Whatever they may lack in experience they more than make up for with their dedication, energy and passion that will guarantee the success of their local outreach efforts.

These awards bring the total number of UAN chapters funded through the POC-UAN Grant Program in 2014 to nine. You can learn about the activities from all of these chapters during our Science Outreach and UAN Activity Poster Session at EB2015 on March 28 at the Boston Convention and Events Center.

If your UAN chapter is interested in applying for this award, we will be accepting applications next spring. Stay tuned for the announcement!

Read more about the program here.

An Update on ASBMB Seed Grant Recipients

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In 2013, ASBMB instituted an Outreach Seed Grant Program, intended to “help fund novel, innovative science outreach programs that require modest financial support in order to get up and running.” Six different individuals received awards of up to $2000 annually, for a period of three years.

One year later, the recipients have reported back to us on the progress they made over the previous year, describing the events and activities that they sponsored and showing how their programs have encouraged greater participation with science within their local communities. Below are brief summaries of each of their programs:

Bob Ekman (Rockville Science Center):

The Rockville Science Center used ASBMB funding to build upon their existing science café program. Working with the city of Rockville (MD), the Center founded a monthly café event at the Rockville Senior Center specifically for senior citizens. In addition, the Center collaborated with students from the Universities at Shady Grove and Montgomery College to develop a young adult science café, targeted towards local high school students.

Teresa Evans (University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio):

Dr. Evans used ASBMB funds to found Teen Meetings Outside the Box (Teen MOB), a young adult-focused spin-off of the high successful Trainee Meetings Outside the Box mentoring/outreach program at UTHSCSA. In collaboration with the San Antonio Voelcker Biosciences Teacher Academy, TeenMOB was able to sponsor Science Night, a graduate student-run interactive event that featured booths highlighting various health and science-related topics for local high school students and their families.

Kelly Hallstrom and Ana Maldonado (University of Massachusetts, Worcester):

Science Cafe Woo organizers at Touch TomorrowScience Café Woo, a science café program founded in 2013, used funding from ASBMB to greatly expand their programming. In addition to increasing the attendance at their monthly science café series held at EcoTarium, the local science museum, organizers Kelly Hallstrom and Ana Maldonado were able to develop a number of science exhibits that showcased science for the greater Worcester (MA) community. These included the Science + You exhibition at EcoTarium and Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s annual Touch Tomorrow event. Further events are planned for 2015, starting with “You’re the Expert,” a science-themed comedy podcast.

Edwin Li (St. Joseph’s University):

Science on the Hill flyerDr. Li used funding from ASBMB to institute “Science on the Hill,” a science café series in West Philadelphia. The program hosted four events in 2014, covering topics such as climate change and microbial infections. 2015 will see an expansion in the size and scope of the program.

 

Lisa Scheifele (Loyala University):

Funds from ASBMB sponsored ten memberships to the Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS), a community laboratory open to members of the public. The new members were then able to participate in both a public lecture from Dr. John Glass of the J. Craig Venter institute, and the “Build-A-Gene” course, a “hands-on course to create your own synthetic DNA” taught by Dr. Scheifele.

Garner Soltes (Princeton University):

Working with the Princeton Graduate Molbio Outreach Program, Mr. Soltes was able to use ASBMB funding to institute a number of events, including a science pub quiz and tasting tours that focused on the science of brewing coffee and beer. ASBMB-sponsored activities at public events, such as the Princeton Harvest & Music Festival, had the added benefit of including participants not just from the greater Princeton area, but also from as far away as Philadelphia.

ASBMB is proud to be a sponsor of all of these programs, and looks forward to their continued development in future years.

The Public Outreach Committee is currently looking to build upon this success by further developing the ASBMB outreach network through additional events and funding opportunities. Take a look at our website to see how you can get involved!