Sign up for “The Art of Science Communication”

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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 outreach@asbmb.org

Science Outreach Events at the 2015 ASBMB Annual Meeting

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If you have ever struggled to explain your research to a family member, you know how difficult it can be to effectively explain science to the lay public. Communicating clearly about your work can be tricky even when you’re talking to another scientist. The ability to communicate effectively is also a critical skill when applying for grant funding. Figuring out how to make a meaningful connection between your outreach and your research can be particularly difficult when crafting a Broader Impacts statement as part of the application for NSF funding. Luckily for those planning to attend the 2015 ASBMB Annual Meeting, the Public Outreach Committee has organized several events to address all of these issues.

The first outreach event of this year’s meeting is the “How to Incorporate Science Outreach into Your Portfolio – Best Practices and Broader Impacts” session, running from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM on Saturday, March 28th, in room 252B. This session will start with talks from previous HOPES, Outreach Seed Grant, and UAN Student Chapter Grant winners, showcasing ASBMB’s various funding mechanisms. An informal poster networking session will be held from 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM, followed by lunch and a group discussion until 1:00 PM. Please join us! Register here so we know how many people to expect and how much food to order.

Our next event is the Science Outreach Poster Session, held during the ASBMB opening reception on Saturday evening, March 28th from 7:30 – 9:00 PM in the third level foyer. Come see all the great outreach efforts our members (and others!) are leading across the country, and learn more about how you can get involved in your own community. More information on this session can be found here.

If you have been working on a Broader Impacts Statement, bring a draft to one of our Broader Impacts Workshops. These will be held Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday from 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM outside room 252. Mentors who have successfully won NSF funding have volunteered to help you improve your drafts and show you how to distinguish yourself from other applicants. More information on these workshops can be found here.

Our last two outreach events showcase the fun side of science. The first is the unique and highly interactive session “Improv for STEM Professionals: Creating Engaging Conversations.” Dr. Raquell Holmes, founder of improvscienceTM, will lead this session on Monday, March 30th from 12:30 – 2:00 PM in room 253B. Performed interviews, collaborative storytelling, and other exercises will help attendees learn how to create rapport with and to listen to an audience, making them more engaging speakers both in outreach activities and in professional talks.

Our final outreach event is, appropriately, open to the public. Dr. Raquell Holmes will lead “LIvE: the Living Improv Experiment” at Ned Devine’s Irish Pub, 1 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Quincy Market Building, at 6:30 PM on Monday, March 30th. This living experiment is focused on defining how exactly improv can help science? Can it help everyone communicate more clearly? Can it be useful for starting public discussions? Come find out! Please invite your friends and colleagues, both in and outside the laboratory, to join us. This event is going to be a lot of fun, and to get the most of out it you should prepare to be very actively involved. We’ll start with group exercises and then move on to small groups, so that everyone gets a chance to practice and learn! Use this link to register.

For more information about all of our outreach events, please click here. We hope to see you in Boston!

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

Use Your Words

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By Shaila Kotadia (@shpostrapheaila)

Imagine stepping onto the turf at CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, engulfed by the loudest crowd in the history of sports, and trying to get them to cheer for their arch-rival, the San Francisco 49ers. That was essentially the situation in which science personality Bill Nye found himself earlier this week, when he ventured into the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY for a debate on evolution with Museum president Ken Ham. Beyond the ramifications for evolutionary biology, the debate presented a fascinating example of an effort to communicate science to a non-expert audience.

Many within the scientific community criticized Nye for even participating in the first place, pointing out that he is not an expert on evolution, and that by agreeing to debate Ham he was justifying the position of creationists. Nye, however, relished the debate as an opportunity to communicate about science, pointing out that he hoped to “draw attention to the importance of science education here in the United States.” His performance serves as an insightful guide for how those interested in science communication can perform under the most difficult of circumstances.

Given that the event featured back-and-forth statements without interjections, it was difficult for each participant to react to opposing viewpoints. However, Nye gave a master class in how to keep cool in the face of hostility: rather than reacting negatively, he listened to what the other side had to say and responded in a level-headed manner with confidence and facts that reinforced his position. Nye also made good use of his delivery, throwing in colloquialisms and jokes, and using intonations that engaged the audience. This kept the tone of the debate relaxed and friendly, removing the aggression that sometimes overshadows intellectual components.

Furthermore, Nye was able to use examples from his own life to make his presentation more relatable. Both scientists and non-scientists have loved ones who have been diagnosed with cancer or heart disease or diabetes; making a personal connection is an effective approach to softening the nature of the audience, helping to persuade them to be more objective and eliminating unrecognized biases.

In the end, Nye both won and lost the debate. While his points were made with fervor, he tried to fit a lot of science into minimal time, likely making it difficult for the average viewer to really digest all of the facts. When explaining complex scientific concepts, it is best to keep it simple and to the point, and then fill in details as questions arise. Nye also faced a difficult opponent who refuted his arguments with a “if you can’t see it, then you can’t believe it” attitude and constantly referred back to the Bible when asked questions about unsolved scientific problems. Given such stubbornness, scientists need to recognize when there is difficulty reasoning with the other side, and do their best to lay out their story clearly and concisely.

But from an outreach perspective, Bill Nye was a clear winner. Whether or not creationists were converted to evolutionists or vice-versa is immaterial. Scientists are often told that they must communicate their science to the public. Refusing to engage with different audiences leads to confusion, mis-information and distrust, all of which make our jobs as scientists even more difficult. Take the opportunity to learn from Bill Nye about how you can use your words to help others understand the beauty of science.  If more scientists stood up to promote and defend science, then this debate might not have even been necessary in the first place.

Worth A Thousand Words

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, the beauty of science is often confined to the eyes of those who do it, hidden behind mounds of technical data and impermeable prose. Yet visual scientific imagery represents the most direct form of science communication, one that can have a powerful impact on both scientists and non-scientists: consider the famous picture of Earth taken from the surface of the moon, or the intricate complexity of the DNA double helix.

The BioArt competition, launched by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) in conjunction with their centennial in 2012, aims to bring the artistic side of science out into the open. Scientists submit images or videos generated in the laboratory that are both visually magnificent and scientifically significant. To emphasize the theme of science communication, each entry must include a caption that describes the image or video in language relatable to a general audience. An important caveat is that each entry demonstrates research supported by federal funding.

The 2013 winners consisted of ten images and two videos, developed using both classical and state-of-the-art imaging technologies. Included are two entries from ASBMB members.

William Lewis from Emory University School of Medicine won for his image of an amyloid plaque viewed via polarized spectroscopy.

FASEB BioArt Entry From William Lewis, Emory University School of Medicine

Image courtesy of FASEB

Meanwhile, Douglas Cowan and James McCully from Harvard Medical School, were recognized for their fluorescence image depicting the cellular architecture of rat cardiomyocyte cells.

FASEB BioArt Entry from Douglas Cowan and James McCully, Harvard Medical School

Image courtesy of FASEB

The winning works of art have been displayed at several public locations, including the Visitor Center on the National Institutes of Health campus.

NMHM Science cafe poster

They were also highlighted during the Medical Museum Science Café this week in Silver Spring, Maryland, an event sponsored by the National Museum of Health and Medicine. Other opportunities for public display are currently being developed.

So are these images beautiful? See them with your own eyes.

For a full list of winning entries, please visit: http://www.faseb.org/About-FASEB/Scientific-Contests/BioArt/Winners.aspx

Thanks to Shaila Kotadia (@shpostrapheaila) for help writing this post!

National Academies host sci-com workshops

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Science outreach relies on effective communication. On that point, there is widespread agreement. Unfortunately, there is otherwise little consensus on how to best make scientists effective communicators: What is the best model for science communication training? How is “effective” defined? Are scientists even that bad at communicating?

To try and bring some focus this debate, the National Academies of Science in Washington D.C. recently brought science communication experts and thought leaders together for two separate workshops focused on science communication training.

As part of their Public Interfaces of Life Sciences roundtable, the National Academies of Science hosted a workshop titled “Sustainable Infrastructures for Life Science Communication.” Speakers, panelists and audience members discussed existing platforms and programs for science communication that serve as part of the broader scientific infrastructure. Some of the highlighted speakers included Nalini Nadkarni and May R. Berenbaum, both previous winners of the AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology, as well as Sonny Ramaswamy from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture program. The discussion also featured insight from social scientist researchers, who presented research showing the professional impacts of science communication efforts. Sadly, a snowstorm caused the second day of the workshop to be cancelled, denying participants the chance to gain insight from funding organizations.

IMG_0238Taking a different approach, a second workshop, titled #GradSciComm, focused on identifying and (hopefully) rectifying deficiencies in existing training efforts. Hosted by COMPASS, the workshop grew out of a desire to address the unmet need for science communication training for graduate students, recognizing how this deficiency impacted professional development and career options for STEM trainees. Participants worked to map out potential pathways to help identify science communication core competencies and integrate them into STEM graduate student training, coming up with approaches to overcome significant obstacles like lack of institutional support and poorly defined evaluation metrics.

So after three full days of discussion and deliberation (with one more to come), what were the take-aways? One major outcome from the workshops was the chance for key stakeholders to finally put their heads together and collaborate on collective efforts, rather than continuing to toil in isolation. The discussions and debates that took place will springboard efforts to bring awareness to individual programs, helping to establish a national network that will help to legitimize and standardize science communication training through both bottom-up, grass-roots and institutionalized, top-down approaches.

Participants were also able to tease out several common themes related to the specifics of communicating that came up repeatedly during the workshops. These included: messaging, framing, delivery and context/understanding of the audience. More work is needed to distill these themes into specific criteria that can be used when designing, operating and evaluating current and future training programs.

Finally, the mere existence of these types of workshops demonstrates the growing attention that is being paid to the issue of science communication. The more opportunities that scientists have for practicing and training, the more willing they will be to participate in outreach activities in their local communities. ASBMB is part of that effort: in 2014, we will be launching a comprehensive science communication training program that will help imbue our members with the skills necessary to become expert communicators. We will also be hosting a science communication-themed workshop at EB2014. Stay tuned!

 

MORE INFORMATION

Sustainable Infrastructures for Life Science Communication workshop:

COMPASS #GradSciComm: