Next week, over 2,200 scientists will come together in San Francisco, CA for the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals—and this year, they will be joined by an impressive group of fourteen journalists. These journalists have been awarded COMPASS travel fellowships to attend the conference and be a part of an intense week of engaging with scientists, hearing the latest research about marine mammals as sentinels of ocean issues, and ultimately sharing these stories with the wider world.

At COMPASS, we believe that journalists and scientists both gain a lot from spending time together. Scientists can provide journalists with exciting stories, and journalists, as professional question-askers, can help scientists hone in on the ‘so what’ of their work and why people should care. Large conferences, that bring together top researchers around a topic like marine mammals and related science, provide unparalleled opportunities for scientists and journalists to interact and build relationships that can spark new insights and lines of inquiry for both groups.

San Francisco, image by Michael Caven (CC BY 2.0).

San Francisco, image by Michael Caven (CC BY 2.0).

Navigating a large conference can be overwhelming though, for scientists and journalists alike—and that’s why we work hard to integrate our journalist fellows across the conference in a variety of ways. For full program details, see the conference website.

Our favorite way to kick off a journalist fellowship at a conference is to begin with the end in mind, and frame the conference with a communications mindset. At SMM 2015, we’ll be doing this with a lively panel of leaders from the worlds of both science and journalism. This year, the “How To Make Your Science Matter” panel at 4:30 PM on Monday, Dec. 14 will include:

  • Nick Gales, President of the Society for Marine Mammalogy
  • Charles Littnan, Lead Scientist, Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Project at NOAA Fisheries
  • Jane Lubchenco, U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean
  • David Malakoff, Deputy News Editor, Science Magazine
  • Marcia McNutt, Editor-in-Chief, Science
  • Ken Weiss, Independent Journalist, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Moderator: Nancy Baron, Director of Science Outreach, COMPASS

On Tuesday over the lunch hour, we are offering a hands-on training entitled “One Minute To Impress: How To Sell Your Science To Anyone,” led by Nancy Baron. This training is designed to give attendees practice with the Message Box and their elevator speeches.

We are also working with the conference organizers to set up opportunities for scientists and journalists to socialize and get to know one another more informally, at the post-plenary reception on Monday evening and at a Marine Mammal Media Mixer during the poster session on Tuesday evening. Scientists will have a fun opportunity to practice their freshly honed elevator speeches and pitch story ideas to the journalists who are there – incentivized with free drink tickets.

Throughout the conference, we’ll be making introductions for scientists and journalists and helping them connect. COMPASS staff and the fellows will also be tweeting from the conference, so follow them here and keep an eye on #MarMam15 to track what’s going on.

We’re very excited to be bringing these Journalist Fellows to the Society for Marine Mammalogy Conference, and are looking forward to a fascinating week of marine mammal science!

About Sarah Sunu

Sarah Sunu is a Program Associate at COMPASS, supporting the team across all of our programs, with an emphasis on research in key areas for our work (including the most recent science on environmental issues and the science of science communication).
When she's not delving into exciting things for COMPASS, she enjoys exploring (particularly parks, marine labs, and the coast), taking pictures, reading, conversing, and making things.