Straight from the Scientist: Chelsea Rochman

Chelsea Rochman

This post is co-authored by COMPASS Program Associate Sarah Sunu.

Earlier this fall, I attended the Our Ocean conference held by the State Department in Washington, DC. I was fortunate enough to be selected to cover the event on social media and had a first row seat to hear amazing speakers like President Obama, Secretary John Kerry, and other world leaders, and witness global commitments to ocean health.

I was blown away by Chelsea Rochman’s presentation on plastic pollution in the ocean and caught up with her to talk about her science communication experiences. Chelsea is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, and her lab focuses on the sources, fate and impacts of plastics and associated chemical contaminants in the environment. [Read more…]

Thankfulness

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This holiday season, we are thankful for so many things—a strong organization, a great team, a mission that motivates us, and all of you to inspire us. Thank you for all that you do; the world needs you, and we’re eager to support you as you navigate your own pathways to engaging in your communities and with society more broadly. [Read more…]

Navigating A New World

Sunrise at Snowbird, 7:23 AM MST, November 9, 2016

On election night, the COMPASS team gathered together in a sports bar in Snowbird, Utah, where there is scarcely a skiff of snow, for our annual retreat.  We’ve spent the week planning next year’s activities, the transition of our beloved Executive Director, and eagerly watching a long-anticipated historic transition. Our exuberant discussions about the future fell silent as we stared at our phones, watched the returns on the big screen, tracked the predictive Nate Silver, and slipped outside under a dark Utah sky to phone home to loved ones. In the turbulence of the night, we each processed, in our own ways, the meaning of this turn of events. [Read more…]

Love It Or Hate It – Scientists And Journalists Need Each Other

Marina Joubert. Photo by Loretta Steyn

Marina Joubert, guest author of this post, researches science communication at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science, and Technology at Stellenbosch University, and launched the first-ever online course in science communication in Africa. She also serves on the scientific committee of the global Public Communication of Science and Technology network and is on the editorial boards of Science Communication and the Journal of Science Communication. We’re excited to share her insights in this post, as this is a topic that our team thinks about a lot (for more, see this post or this post). [Read more…]

Finding My Place In Science

Annaliese Hettinger

At COMPASS, we encourage scientists to share ‘why’ they do what they do, in addition to sharing their science. This week’s post is by Annaliese Hettinger, a NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Oregon State University, a Science Communications Fellow at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and a science writer. We’ve crossed paths with Annaliese a number of times – we helped her prepare to engage with decisionmakers on Capitol Hill, and she was a panelist for “Engaging with the Wider World: True Tales Told Live” at the 2016 Ecological Society of America Conference. We’re excited to share her story here. [Read more…]

COMPASS Transitions: Looking Back to Look Forward

Brooke Smith

Fifteen years ago, I sat in Jane Lubchenco’s office at Oregon State University asking for career advice. Jane’s office is a reflection of her – full of accomplishments and warmth. There are stacks (and I mean STACKS) of manuscripts and journals around the office, awards both on the walls and piled up on top of each other, pictures of her family (by blood and by lab genealogy), and keepsakes from Africa to the Arctic. Even though Jane’s reputation intimidated me (and still does), she was warm and welcoming (and still is).

I wiped my sweaty palms on my legs, took a deep breath, and said, “I would love your career advice.” Here was my privileged dilemma – I was considering two great job offers. I could accept a prestigious Knauss Fellowship in Washington D.C. for a year, or I could accept an advocacy position at an ocean conservation non-profit.

I asked Jane what she thought I should do. She listened intently to my rambling and reasoning. Then, of course, she asked a question. This is something that we teach at COMPASS – to listen; ask; listen; share. Even if you (especially if you) already have an opinion, listen first. Her question was simple: “What do you want to do?” After a heavy sigh, my response was: “I’m unsure exactly what IT is.” I went on to explain how I love science. How I love the environment. How I love to connect people and ideas, think big, and try new things. How my previous work experiences in Washington D.C. helped me understand the public policy process and culture – including the surprising lack of science at the table during decision-making. I didn’t feel like either of these job opportunities were the right choices for me. I wanted to find a way to bring in the science, but in a way that made it relevant to all these people, audiences and communities – policymakers, NGOs, the world… but where could I do that?

Jane said, “Let me tell you about this thing a few of us are starting called COMPASS.”

She explained the frustration she and other leaders in the science, communication, policy, and philanthropy worlds felt around the disconnect between scientists and the real world, especially on ocean issues. “What we know about how oceans work, how they are changing, and the benefits and consequences of those changes,” she explained, “is not reflected in how people think about oceans or in our policies and practices.” We went on to discuss how scientists were not well equipped to get out in the world and talk with people about what they know. In fact, sometimes they are even discouraged from doing so. We also discussed how there were not enough efforts to elevate knowledge instead of institutions – and how co-founder Vikki Spruill was working to address this in the social sector, and bringing her innovative thinking to science communication. COMPASS was born as an experiment – a way to help scientists fulfill their social contract. I wanted in.

I started with COMPASS that week. Four years later, I became the first Executive Director. And at the end of this year, I’ll be leaving, secure in the knowledge that COMPASS is stronger and more vital than ever.

That’s because over the past fifteen years our mission has only grown more needed and our work has only grown more impactful. Our vision and goal: to help more scientists to get out in the world and transform, frame and accelerate critical conversations about the environment. Our shared belief: that scientists should have a seat at the tables where public agendas about the environment are set and advanced, but they need help getting there and being effective once they are. Our core competencies: training scientists, and connecting scientists to influencers of the public discourse. Our amazing team: we all love science, and especially scientists. We care deeply about the environment. We want to make a difference. We thrive on thinking big, making connections, and generously supporting others.

The COMPASS team

The COMPASS Team – our biggest asset in supporting scientists to engage in the world.

We found our ‘special sauce’ in our collective experiences in policy, science, media and communication, which blend together to inform our work and help us achieve our mission. We continue to tweak and update our recipe – evolving and changing in response to the world around us. And, wow, the world certainly has changed. We used to have to motivate scientists to get out into the world. Now, scientists want to engage. The research about science communication has exploded. New media channels are dismantling old information sources. The political pendulum has swung back and forth, and players have come and gone. And our environmental challenges – from climate change to water availability to ocean acidification – have become more urgent.

In response to these changes, we expanded our scope beyond ocean science to include water, fire, climate, energy, ecosystem services and other scientific topics about the environment. We developed ways to help scientists and journalists meet and learn from each other. We pioneered new ways to reframe scientific conferences to be more relevant to the world, by hosting journalist fellowships or including policymakers as part of these conferences. We’ve created space for scientists and policymakers – from the White House, to Congress, to state legislatures – to share, discuss, and learn from each other. We’ve created communities of confident scientists prepared to engage around topics like fire, ocean acidification, or marine protected areas. And with partners like the Leopold Leadership Program, the Switzer Fellows, the Wilburforce Fellowship and others, we’ve empowered new cohorts of scientist leaders.

As we navigated the rules of scientific engagement, our organization evolved too. We began as a project incubated at Island Press and then SeaWeb. We started with a single funder, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, that not only shared our vision, but was willing to invest in the long term to give us space to try, learn, and grow. Now, we are an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit with a diversified revenue portfolio, including both foundation grants and earned revenue. Our budget grows each year. We’ve built a strong operational, financial and administrative base, ensuring that our inter-disciplinary team is supported to do its great work.

We teach a lot of things in our training sessions; one important lesson we teach scientists is to push themselves to a place of discomfort – that’s where we all learn and grow. So, after 15 years at COMPASS, I’m taking our own advice – and pushing myself to a place of discomfort. My decision to step down from COMPASS at the end of this year was a hard one and an emotional one. In some ways, I could happily stay at COMPASS forever – the people, mission and work embody that hard-to-define “IT” that I was searching for in Jane’s office years ago. Being able to leave an organization during a time of strength is all too rare. I’ve learned it takes strength to do it. I’m proud to have been part of building and defining what this experiment has turned into. Some recent personal events, though, have starkly reminded me that life is short. I believe in new experiences; there’s still much for me to learn, try, and do.

Someone recently said to me, “I can’t imagine COMPASS without Brooke.” I can, without hesitation. COMPASS is stronger and more needed than ever. The opportunities for continued success and growth are enormous. The team is a remarkable collection of intelligent, innovative, and passionate people. We get more requests for our services than we can handle. We have ideas and opportunities waiting to be pursued. We have money in the bank and committed donors. Our board – a remarkable combination of scientists, communicators, and political appointees (Democrats AND Republicans) – is engaged and ready to help COMPASS transition to its next leader. I can imagine COMPASS without Brooke, but it’s a bit harder for me to imagine a Brooke without COMPASS. I’m both nervous and excited (“nerve-cited” as we say at COMPASS) to figure out what that looks like.

My first order of business will be to give my husband and two amazing daughters, who have had to share me with COMPASS for many years, my full attention over the holidays and the New Year. But after that? Much like fifteen years ago, I don’t know exactly what “IT” is – but I know it’s going to continue to be about my love for science and scientists, connecting them to society, facilitating changes that allow for more scientists to engage, and working toward a world where both environment and society can thrive.

Our search for COMPASS’ next Executive Director begins immediately. We’re looking for someone passionate and energetic, aligned with our mission, and eager to lead COMPASS as it continues to grow and support more scientists to engage in the public discourse about the environment. The Board has retained Explore Company to serve as our search partner. Click here for more information, including a job description and Explore Company’s contact information.

Coaching, Community-Building, and Communication Confidence: How Our Trainings Help Scientists

The 2015 Wilburforce Fellows, with trainers and journalists, at the training in Seattle. From Left to right: back row- David Malakoff, David Mildrexler, Ben Alexander, Chris Parish, Matt Williamson?, Michael Quinn, Brian Harvey; middle row- Michelle Nijhuis, Sergio Avila, Nancy Baron, Melissa Lucash, Jonaki Bhattacharyya, Matt Williamson?, Jeff Burnside, Aerin Jacobs,

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been sharing stories from the 2015 Wilburforce Fellows about the role the fellowship has played for them over the past year. If you’re considering applying to be a 2017 Wilburforce Fellow, we hope these stories have motivated you to get started (remember, applications are due by this Friday, September 30!). If you’re considering hosting a training or fellowship, we hope these stories inspire you to explore how to make that happen. Individually, they are powerful arguments for the value of training scientists to communicate; collectively, they’re a call for more scientists to have the kind of opportunity the Wilburforce Fellowship provides. More people telling their stories, and more opportunities for scientists to participate in trainings and support networks, can contribute to the culture change many of us are seeking – one in which scientists are supported and empowered to get out into the world and engage. [Read more…]

Meet a Wilburforce Fellow: Erin Sexton

Erin Sexton, 2015 Wilburforce Fellow

The Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science provides researchers with a unique opportunity to gain skills in science communication and leadership to further their conservation goals. Fellows from the 2015 cohort are sharing their experiences; applications to be in the 2017 cohort are due Friday, September 30. To learn more and apply, click here.

Erin Sexton is a Research Scientist and Regulatory Affairs Manager with the Institute on Ecosystems, at the University of Montana. Erin’s research focus encompasses the international landscape known as the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem, with an emphasis on aquatic ecology and conservation biology in the transboundary watersheds between British Columbia, Alberta, and Montana. [Read more…]

Meet A Wilburforce Fellow: Kyle Artelle

Kyle Artelle, 2015 Wilburforce Fellow. Image by Howard Humchitt.

The Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science provides researchers with a unique opportunity to gain skills in science communication and leadership to further their conservation goals. Fellows from the 2015 cohort are sharing their experiences; applications to be in the 2017 cohort are due Friday, September 30. To learn more and apply, click here.

Kyle Artelle studies the ecology and conservation of wildlife, with a focus on black and grizzly bear population dynamics in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, bear-human conflict throughout the province, and wildlife management in general. He works to democratize ecological decision-making by sharing the best available knowledge and science with managers and the broader public. He is a biologist with Raincoast Conservation Foundation and a graduate student in the Earth2Ocean research group at Simon Fraser University. [Read more…]

Meet a Wilburforce Fellow: Aerin Jacob

Aerin Jacob, 2015 Wilburforce Fellow

The Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science provides researchers with a unique opportunity to gain skills in science communication and leadership to further their conservation goals. Fellows from 2015, the first cohort, are sharing their experiences; to learn more and apply to be in the 2017 cohort, click here.

Aerin Jacob is a Liber Ero Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Victoria. Trained as an ecologist, she works with managers and Indigenous communities on marine and coastal planning in British Columbia, Canada. [Read more…]