Sharing Our Stories Of Scientific Engagement


At the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver B.C., I attended the “Good Science, Good Communication: Talking to the Media and the Public“ session. I was uncomfortably squished between two attendees, but we were lucky to be on the inside. People were five rows deep in the hallway, shushing passersby, in desperate attempts to hear the speakers. (Overflowing rooms in science communication talks at the major conferences we attend seems to be the rule rather than the exception these days.) The discussion period opened with what felt like half the hands in the room shooting into the air, waving with urgency and enthusiasm. One of the few lucky enough to be called on made a powerful statement: “I know it’s hard to do this, to find the time or even the courage to communicate outside academia – but if there is one thing we can all do, it’s to be supportive of our peers that do choose to communicate, and choose to get out there.”

We agree.

We support you.

2013-02-15 14.13.05

View from the stage in our 2013 AAAS session “A New Social (Media) Contract for Science”. These overcrowded rooms show the enormous appetite for conversations about science communication. Please jump in online this week with your questions, experiences, and insights. #reachingoutsci. Photo: Karyn Traphagen, 2013

Effectively engaging outside of academia demands considerable time, commitment, and practice. For the past decade, COMPASS has worked to support scientists who are ready to make that investment. We know it’s scary. We also know that increasing numbers of you want to do it. And we know, for those of you already involved, that it is rewarding. It makes a difference.

Today, the COMPASS team published a paper in PLOS Biology called “Navigating the Rules of Scientific Engagement”. It traces our own arc of supporting scientists from ‘outreach’ (simply broadcasting a clear message) to meaningful, multi-directional engagement. Ultimately we believe that engaging outside academia is rewarding, but also that it should be rewarded. [Read more…]

4/26/13 Link Round-Up

Photo courtesy of 'Ravages' via Flickr.

It’s a been big week for environmental awareness efforts, kicking off with Earth Day on Monday and ending with Arbor Day today. While highlighting “going green” and environmental protection for one day or one week can be valuable from a marketing perspective, many of us work year-round to help connect decision-makers and stakeholders to the best available sustainability science. So Happy Earth Day today and every day! Check out the science and sustainability links that caught our attention this week… [Read more…]

Staying Afloat In A Sea Of Information

When you're overwhelmed by data, there are several tools you can turn to, to help you sort through the deluge.

Photo courtesy of Intersection Consulting via Flickr Creative Commons.

As a research scientist, my attention to detail and obsession with being thorough were clear assets. Every project was meticulously planned and every data point double-checked. But now that my job involves being able to track the latest science across a huge range of topics, in addition to shifting policy and social contexts, these assets can sometimes weigh me down. I’ve had to come up from the depths and get better at skimming the surface (in marine biology terms, more snorkeling and less SCUBA). But with an unwieldy amount of information coming at me from a variety of outlets, even navigating the surface waters can be tricky. So this year, I’ve decided on a plan of attack to get my personal information management (PIM) in order. [Read more…]

4/19/13 Link Round-Up

Photo courtesy of 'Ravages' via Flickr.

It’s been a rough week. Our thoughts and hearts go out to the victims, families, and all those affected by the events in Boston, as well as the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas. Our internal COMPASS dialogue has echoed shock, sadness, concern, empathy, sympathy, and more. We tried to take a collective pause to appreciate what’s important in life, to hug those close to us, and to express our emotions in our own way. So, in the spirit of focusing on the good in the world and to embrace the normal rhythms of life, we’re continuing our routine of the link round-up. Today, we focus on some positive stories to come out of Monday’s tragedies, as well as some other relevant articles this week.  [Read more…]

Happy Birthday, COMPASSBlog!



Today we celebrate our first year of blogging and our 100th post – no small feat! [Read more…]

Plastic Pollution: Scientists Engaging To Make A Difference

Plastic pollution litters a beach in Welgelegen, St. Maarten.

Photo courtesy of Fabi Fliervoet via Flickr Creative Commons.

Persistent plastics pose problems for the planet. (Say that five times fast!) While many groups and organizations have been working to document and combat the problem, it wasn’t until recently that several scientists took a bold step. By identifying a gap between existing science and outdated policy, the scientists were able to suggest a policy change that might really help the persistent plastics problem. By labeling some plastics as hazardous, they said, society will be forced to look at, manage, and treat plastics differently.

Behind this argument lies a story of two scientists – Ph.D. candidate Chelsea Rochman of UC Davis and Postdoc Mark Anthony Browne of NCEAS– and their journey of engagement and outreach that may ultimately help change the way that international and federal agencies approach the challenges of debris in the environment. [Read more…]

4/12/13 Link Round-Up

Photo courtesy of 'Ravages' via Flickr.

Anniversaries are celebrated in a myriad of ways. Some people host huge parties for even the smallest milestones, while others will let a truly momentous occasion slip by without even batting an eye. One anniversary that deserves celebration is the US National Academy of Sciences. They are getting ready to celebrate the anniversary of their very first meeting– 150 years ago! Whether you are on the celebratory wagon or not, 150 years is quite remarkable! A few other things we’ve found remarkable this week are rounded up below: [Read more…]

Our News And Information Diets: The Problem With Picky Eaters

Prior to each of our communication trainings, COMPASS asks the participating scientists, “Where do you get your news?” It’s an open-ended question*, but the answers are almost always the same – they listen to NPR, read the New York Times, and watch the Daily Show. (*to clarify: asked in a confidential written survey)

Fair enough! NPR was the exclusive soundtrack to my years at the lab bench, what about you?
Wordle [Read more…]

4/5/13 Link Round-Up

Photo courtesy of 'Ravages' via Flickr.

There’s something about a gripping story that really pulls you in. Whether it’s because of detail, plot, or even the personality of the storyteller, I’m willing to bet that you’ll remember a well-told story much longer than a bland one. We’ve talked previously about the role of storytelling and narrative on this blog (for example, in this post and this post), and this week we have a collection of links that follow that theme: [Read more…]

#GradSciComm: How COMPASS Is Answering The National Demand For Science Communication Training

Journalist Jon Hamilton helps to facilitate a COMPASS workshop for School of Global Environmental Sustainability Fellows at Colorado State.

This post is co-authored by Liz Neeley and Erica Goldman.

With all of the speculation about the sequester’s possible impacts on science, one sobering conclusion feels clear: young scientists will be hit hard by cuts to federal science budgets. While new faculty may have some buffer, those dependent on the grants of others – like graduate students and postdocs – are already suffering a loss of projects and career opportunities. Paired with a job market where less than 20% of new science PhD’s can expect to find a tenure-track job, and it is a grim picture indeed. While much of this is far outside the control of an individual researcher, there is still an important role for personal action. Investing the time and energy to fine-tune communication skills not only makes scientists more competitive, but can also equip them to engage in critically important discussions about our most urgent social priorities. Now, more than ever, next-generation scientists on all career trajectories need to be effective communicators and advocates for why their work matters. (You can read some of our related blogs and articles on this topic here, here, and here.) [Read more…]