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Sharing Our Science

In this post, the FeminaSci team discusses how we share our science and why it is imperative to communicate the role of science in our everyday lives.

What are some creative ways that you share your science?

Ashley: Last year, I participated in a research slam similar to the University of California’s ‘grad slam’. At ‘slam’ events you present your research in 3 minute TED-style talks, with each talk scheduled one right after another. Essentially you must come up with your ‘elevator speech’, but for the general public (no jargon!). I found the task of creating a captivating, informative, and effective speech in such a short period of time extremely challenging. I learned that I have plenty of room for improvement when it comes to effectively communicating my science, and I don’t think I’m alone. I aim to better my verbal, written, and visual communication skills in order to make my science more approachable to the layperson. Joining Toastmasters International and blogging with FeminaSci are my first steps towards improving my communication – what’s yours? Agreed! Audience-centered presentation and delivery is crucial, but what’s next in communication, beyond simplification and jargon-less talk?

Sheila: My science communication takes on many forms (e.g., writing newspaper articles, making videos, volunteering at science museums, sharing my research with non-scientists), but I am just starting to think about how to nurture two-way conversations. I support movements to actively engage communities in water resources research and wonder how to expand these efforts. Community focus groups may enlighten and refocus technical, science-based efforts (e.g., here and here). Other participatory processes such as envisioning projects may focus the needs/expectations of a community while providing a framework for feedback before and after technical solutions are developed. Art-science collaborations and story-telling training may provide more inclusive venues for scientists to share their research. Finally, I was recently introduced to the concept of “reflective listening”, which may prove helpful for scientists who wish to improve their communication skills. If we cannot learn to listen, how can we expect others to listen in return? Are there examples of other people's work that you’ve been wow-ed by?

Ashley: I’ve always admired scientific TED talks, Radiolab (science podcast), and info-graphics that can effectively communicate complex information in condensed nuggets that make it easy for the layperson to understand.

Armanda: I also have always admired the folks who can take the complexity of science and turn it into something simple and fun to understand. My favorite high school teachers made science engaging: eating mealworm rice krispies to understand the importance of alternative protein diets, taking a dip in a wetland on the eastern shore of Maryland to understand nutrient cycling, injecting baby chicks with testosterone and estrogen to understand hormonal growth effects. Engagement in science is hard, sometimes frustratingly intangible, and many times insular. The rise of citizen science projects in recent years has encouraged ordinary people to channel their scientific curiosity and desire for discovery. Some of my scientific role models include Jane Goodall and Rachel Carson. Jane Goodall is a pioneer in animal behavioral studies and is now a leading international advocate for conservation. Rachel Carson, in her book Silent Spring, championed the modern environmental movement/Environmental Protection Agency through her activism against chemical companies. Sharing scientific data in a meaningful way, as these woman have done, is no small feat. I believe creative visualization is one of the best tactics to share science with the public, through diverse media avenues like comics (e.g., xkcd), documentaries (e.g., Chasing Ice), and photography (e.g., Chris Burkard Studio). It’s a lot of work to produce material for various audiences beyond the scientific research community. Why do it? Why share your science? Ashley: I feel now, more than ever, that it is imperative all scientists strive to communicate our research to broader audiences by any means necessary. The data derived from our research informs how we create policy and how we live our daily lives. With an administration that functions under ‘alternative facts’, we have our work cut out for us.

Sheila: I recently read a scientific article that discussed using “big data” to improve global water resources management. This article also suggested that failure to connect global solutions to local farm operations may result in misleading recommendations from scientists to farmers. I interpreted this to mean that technical solutions (i.e., solutions recommended by scientists) must also incorporate local knowledge and circumstances to be truly practical. I agree. I believe tackling complex issues of water quality and quantity must be done in conjunction with the communities that rely on these resources. This is why I share my science. The success of improving water resources for humans and ecosystems depends on it. Armanda: This coming year I will be dedicating time to actively engage with non-scientists and people outside my academic bubble in an effort to create excitement about the unknown and curiosity driven questions and hypotheses. I will be working at the nexus of art, photography, writing, audio/video, and hands on activities in a hope to foster the idea that everything is connected and that everyone can make a difference.

Meet the Panel:​ Ashley, Sheila, and Armanda