Giving Thanks

It’s the time of year when many of us pause to take stock of all that we’re grateful for. Behind every effective communicator, there are inspiring teachers, careful editors, constructive critics, generous mentors, and enthusiastic cheerleaders. This year, we asked the COMPASS team to share their thanks for those who helped them along their communications path.

ThanksgivingBrooke Smith, Executive Director: I am incredibly thankful for two women leaders and mentors — Jane Lubchenco and Vikki Spruill. Jane and Vikki were two of the founders of COMPASS, none of us would be doing what we do here at COMPASS without their vision. Jane’s classic piece about a social contract for science in Science and Vikki’s classic piece in the Chronicles of Philanthropy, about building brands around issues not institutions, together encapsulate the spirit of COMPASS. I am also grateful for the entire COMPASS team and Board. Everyone on the team has brought new ideas and innovations to how we can support more scientists engaging with society. It’s a privilege to be surrounded by such passion, diligence and creativity.

Karen McLeod, Managing Director: I am especially grateful for two mentors I first got to know as a graduate student — Jane Lubchenco and Andy Rosenberg. As Brooke mentioned, Jane is one of COMPASS’ founders and Andy, a former COMPASS Senior Scientist, is the director of the Center for Democracy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. Both have dedicated their careers to making a difference in the world and fostering stronger connections between scientists and society, inspiring me to do the same.

Nancy Baron, Director of Science Outreach: I had the privilege of working intensely with Vikki Spruill and Jane Lubchenco — the founding grand dames of COMPASS. Vikki gave me enormous independence, but she was available when I needed her take on something tricky. We were there to make waves with marine science — and after the splash — there was often backlash. We tried to reach across boundaries and engage with critics even when it was tough.  I’ll never forget Jane wearing a flak jacket when we went to the World Aquaculture meeting in Hawaii.  Our work was sometimes nerve-wracking but always exciting and fun. It still is today, working with the talented COMPASS team, and for that I am grateful.

Chad English, Director of Science Policy Outreach: I’m thankful for Robert Baldwin, former English teacher at Crescent Valley High School, for helping me appreciate that good writing (and, I’ve learned, good communication of all kinds) doesn’t follow a formula, and is the result of an individual expressing an idea in a way that is true to themselves and their experience of the world.

Heather Galindo, Assistant Director of Science: I was lucky to spend my research career with two people who are outstanding scientists and fantastic communicators: Ginger Armbrust, who taught me that having meaningful conversations about ideas is as important (if not more so) than doing the research itself and that I never need to apologize for having an opinion, and Steve Palumbi, who taught me that being an effective communicator takes courage and a willingness to risk that you might not always get it right.

Liz Neeley, Assistant Director of Science Outreach: Vikki Spruill and Julia Roberson are pivotal people in my life and career. I was stubborn and naive when I left graduate school, with a narrow view of science communication and a dim opinion of non-scientists. They demolished that worldview and laid the foundations for how I think about influence, ideas, journalism, and politics. And while they changed how I think about the world, they are also notable for how they move within it: with formidable intellect, impeccable style, and profound warmth.

Erica Goldman, Assistant Director of Science Policy Outreach: I am grateful to Deborah Illman, my first mentor in science writing at the University of Washington, who inspired me and gave me skills to move toward a non-academic career path. I am thankful for David Malakoff’s early support, when I was an intern at Science learning the ropes of both science journalism and policy, as well as his continued inspiration and guidance today. From my years at Maryland Sea Grant, to Jack Greer, Michael Fincham, and Jon Franklin, I share my gratitude for teaching me the tools of narrative and story craft, skills that I continue to try to nurture and share with others.

Heather Reiff, Outreach and Trainings Associate: Selina Heppell, my graduate advisor, is a role model when it comes to communicating her science to non-scientists and teaching and encouraging her students to do so. I also garnered a deep appreciation for the importance of communicating science through my work on the marine reserves process with the Oregon Coastal Management Program. Seeing scientists actively striving to communicate their science in a policy relevant way underpinned how important that role really is.

Erin Moomey, Operations Manager: I’m thankful for Emily Brew (and the Nike Foundation), for underscoring the impact of great communications when you’re trying to be, as Gandhi said, “the change you want to see in the world”. I felt like a sponge, soaking up effective ways of communicating stories in different mediums when we worked together. I was privileged to be part of the launch of the Girl Effect, and if I ever become half as good of a storyteller as her, I’ll consider myself happy.

Heather Mannix, Science Engagement Specialist: I’m thankful for the many colleagues I had working on the Census of Marine Life;  Kristen Yarincik, Sara Hickox and Darlene Crist in particular who led the program management and communications strategy with such thought and care. I learned a lot from that experience and was fortunate to work closely with such talented people at such an early stage of my career.

Leslie Rutberg, Writer and Development Specialist: I’m thankful for two great professors: Thomas Farber, who wrote On Water and Carol Ann Bassett who wrote Galapagos at the Crossroads, and the writer W.G. Sebald — all of them taught me about the cut-to-your-heart poetry of people and landscape.

Karmel James, COMPASS Coordinator: I’m thankful for Dr. Leanne Giancarlo — my undergrad P.Chem professor and her feisty green pen. While it’s painful to see so much green on paper (even years later), she taught me the importance of writing with the reader in mind. Will they know why that number is significant? When did you tell them that theory that explains the data? And most importantly, why do I care about what you’re writing (or presenting)?

Megan Dearden, Administrative Assistant: I’m thankful for Mark Edwards, my professor, who showed the importance of finding your own voice. And Dawn Gidner, a coach and mentor, who taught me invaluable lessons on communication and life.

Sarah Sunu, Research Assistant: I’m thankful for getting to work with Scottee Cantrell, Tim Lucas, and Tawnee Milko in the Office of Marketing and Communications at the Duke Nicholas School of the Environment. Together they taught me to find the story in the science, and share it!

Family gatherings are a great excuse to field test new ways to share your work, whether you are a seasoned communicator or just getting started. This holiday, we hope you’ll practice talking about your science over the turkey, and share with us in the comments who helped you become a better communicator.

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