Revenge of the Nerds

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Dominant Lethals

The author shows off his hitting skills

I have been a sports fan since my dad first took me to a baseball game, way back in 1987 (I still remember Wally Joyner hitting two home runs for the California Angels that day). As anyone who knows me can attest, I devour anything related to sports. If there is a competition that involves a ball of any sort, I will be interested in watching, playing, reading or talking about it.

But I also got good grades and genuinely liked learning. My involvement with sports was therefore always in conflict with my persona as the smart kid. I was intimidated by the regular “jocks,” and had a hard time relating to them as teammates, yet as an athlete, I had enough street cred to hang out in the presence of the cool kids that my more studious brethren could never approach. I lived in a grey area between these two worlds, a stranger in both, at home in neither.

Thus it was with great pride and satisfaction that I got to write about Boston Red Sox pitcher (and fellow smart guy) Craig Breslow in this month’s ASBMB Today. Like me, he studied biophysics at an Ivy League institution. Like me, Craig was an athlete (ok, maybe a slightly better one). And like me, he had battled against perceptions that athletes can’t be smart, and that smart people can’t play sports. Telling his story was an exercise in nostalgia and catharsis for me.

Craig Breslow

Craig Breslow during his college days. Image credit: Yale Athletics

Craig’s story is part of a recent trend that has seen science (ever so slowly) creep into the realm of athletics. Data-based sabermatic analyses now dominate sports. Science is a regular on the front of the sports page, providing critical evidence for stories about performance-enhancing drugs, or the potential links between neurodegenerative diseases and head trauma suffered by athletes, most notably those in the National Football League. ESPN’s “Sport Science” is a regular feature on Sportscenter, and draws hundreds of thousands of views online.

While my athletic dreams may not have worked out the way I imagined (I probably won’t end up hitting that home run to win the World Series), my academic ones are continuing to grow. When Craig’s baseball career eventually winds down, I hope that he will be able to pick up where he left off with his academic ones. Even if he doesn’t, he has already provided inspiration for those who thought that intelligence and athletics couldn’t mix. That’s the best kind of revenge.

Sci-Com in the Classroom

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Raise your hand if you took a communications class in school. Probably not too many palms in the air. Formal training on how to be a good communicator, especially for those studying a scientific discipline, is rare. However, as the science communication movement continues to gain momentum, examples of such ventures are becoming increasingly common.

The July issue of ASBMB Today highlights one particular science communication course taught at the University of California, Riverside by Dr. Tom Baldwin (who also happens to chair the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee). The article lays out Dr. Baldwin’s blueprint for training his students in the art of science communication, distinguishing ways to connect with both professional and non-expert audiences. In addition, Dr. Baldwin describes how he breaks down communication into some of its most basic components, such as storytelling and presentation style.

Students from the course also present their perspectives, describing their motivations for taking the class and highlighting what they learned. While the students came into the course with different interests and expectations, they all left with an understanding of the importance of being an effective communicator. Several mention a meeting with Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA) as being particularly insightful as to how good communication can impact real-world outcomes.

Thankfully, Dr. Baldwin’s course is not unique. Institutions around the country are increasingly offering formalized communication training for scientists, either incorporated into regular science courses (such as that taught by Professor Ricky Cox in his biochemistry course at Murray State University) or as stand-alone courses (for example, the “Science and Me” course at the University of Missouri organized by Hannah Alexander).

While such courses are great for current and future students, what kind of training is available for scientists who are at more advanced stages of their careers? To serve as broad an audience as possible, the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee is developing an online science communication training course for ASBMB members of all ages that will be available come 2015. Even better, Dr. Baldwin has lent his expertise to help develop the course. So if you like what you read about his course, you’ll soon be able to experience it for yourself. That’s something that will make you throw your hands in the air.

Read the article here.

Click here to learn more about the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee