Setting Sail Toward A Science Communications Career

Poster used with permission from Nerdfit on Tumblr.

Last week, I stumbled across a profound and lovely advice column about big decisions in life.  The blogger, Dear Sugar, opens by referencing a poem by Tomas Tranströmer. It ends with:

Without really knowing, we divine; our life has a sister ship, following quietly another route. While the sun blazes behind the islands.

She goes on to say, “I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”  Does it get you too? I feel this poem in my bones.

For me, watching the ship that was my career in research science sail over the horizon was exulting and excruciating all at once. Because it was such a turning point in my life, I don’t take it lightly when I’m asked for career advice now. So if you’re struggling with what you want to do, and you think science communication might be part of it, this post is for you. [Read more…]

Catalyzing Science: A Lab Protocol

Catalyzing new science, like attempting to catalyze a new chemical reaction, requires an understanding of what's been done before, appropriate resources, communication and, sometimes, a healthy dose of patience.  Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

A greeting card hangs above my desk that reads: “If I were a scientist working in a big lab, I’d shout ‘Eureka!’ every so often just to boost morale.” I keep it there to remind me of those moments of inspiration that not only boost morale, but drive the whole of science. To me, those “Eureka!” events aren’t just reserved for medical breakthroughs or discovering new species, but perhaps even more importantly, are for making surprising connections among seemingly unrelated ideas to tackle a complex problem. Although some scientists have an innate ability to do this, others can start with just curiosity and a willingness to ask their colleagues, “What if we were to combine this with that?” After all, regardless of how much experience you have, solving complex problems requires dialogue across disciplines and perspectives.

It’s a bit like experimental chemistry – at first the bottles on the shelves just seem like a dizzying array of options for endless combinations – but eventually you come to know enough about classes of molecules to understand how they are likely to behave in a reaction. This ability to see patterns (whether among molecules, methods, or ideas) allows for informed creativity that can serve as a catalyst to move science forward. But of course, just knowing which chemicals you want to combine isn’t enough… so here are a few more steps in my own lab protocol for catalyzing science: [Read more…]

Divide And Conquer

COMPASS is a distributed organization with staff located on both coasts.  Photo courtesy of NinJA999 via Flickr.

A little over five months ago on my first day at COMPASS, I shook hands with my new office mates, Chad and Erica, sat down at my computer, and was introduced to the rest of my co-workers: a gaggle of disembodied heads in a Skype window.  Though physically distant, throughout the days and weeks that followed my co-workers would ease me into my new role, guiding me through my responsibilities and the inner-workings of COMPASS via screen-sharing, phone conversations and a flurry of online chat discussions.

COMPASS is a small, non-profit organization.  We are 12 dedicated individuals who work with scientists to help them communicate their science ­– clearly, succinctly, and efficiently – to a variety of audiences.  And, central to how we function, is the fact that we are distributed widely around the United States.

The COMPASS team holds Monday morning scrum meetings over Skype.

It’s more than just our desks… which are located in offices throughout California, Oregon, Washington and Washington, DC… we are constantly on the move: giving workshops, attending conferences, meeting with scientists and policymakers.  At times, this distribution can be so comically vast we once considered creating a “Where in the World is COMPASS?” interactive map resplendent with blinking indicators or a bunch of little Waldos lost on a rotating globe. [Read more…]

Takes Two To Tango

The dance of scientists and policy.  

Photo courtesy of DrJohn2005 via Flickr Creative Commons.

This post was co-written by Policy Director Chad English.

Science clearly has a critical role to play in informing policy. Congressional staff, governors’ resource advisors, and dedicated science advisors all spend countless hours distilling science into its most policy-relevant nuggets. But what about the scientists themselves? What can scientists bring to policy discussions beyond their knowledge?  COMPASS’ Directors of Science and Policy weigh-in: [Read more…]