About Brooke Smith

Brooke Smith is the Executive Director of COMPASS. She spends a lot of time thinking about the friction - yet incredible need - for science to be closer to society. She is in awe, and appreciative, of the scientists that are paving the way by getting out there and sharing their science, knowledge and insights with the wider world. It motivates her to ensure COMPASS continues to thrive, to support scientists to find their voice, and to join the most relevant conversations.

‘The Why’ before ‘The What’

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At COMPASS we spend a lot of our time helping scientists engage outside of their comfort zone. We know that speaking well about your work in an unfamiliar context is intimidating, and occasionally we get a simultaneously discomfiting and reassuring first-hand reminder of that experience. 

Last week I had the privilege of participating in my first Startup Weekend: an event that brings together diverse talents and new collaborators to work towards launching a startup in 54 hours.  In a room full of brilliant coders, software developers, and designers, I overheard conversations about the oculus, and assumed they meant the recent horror movie. I thought to myself, “I am out of my league.” What do I know about developing technology? [Read more...]

Building a Metro for Science Communication

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“Doors Closing. Please stand clear of the doors.” For anyone who lives, or has spent time in Washington, D.C., you recognize this as the announcement just before the Metro pulls away from the station. The Metro is one of the things I miss most about living in Washington, D.C. Even in a commuter-friendly place like Portland (which I now call home), the bike lanes and MAX simply can’t move as many people to as many destinations with the efficiency of the Metro. The Metro provides something critical to a buzzing, busy city – people-moving infrastructure. [Read more...]

Building Infrastructures to Support Scientist Engagement

Courtesy of Chad English via Twitter.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Roundtable on the “Public Interfaces of the Life Sciences” (which I have the huge honor of serving on), convened a workshop to explore “The Sustainable Infrastructures for Life Science Communication.”  While our title is a mouth full, this topic is near and dear to my heart and COMPASS’ soul.

Our general premise: scientist engagement does not just happen. It takes work, support, policies, help, mechanisms, resources, and cultural acceptance, among other things. Additionally, there are barriers that make it challenging for scientists to engage – from lack of funding, to an antiquated promotion and tenure structure (at most institutions). With this in mind, our Roundtable members, invited speakers, and guests came together to explore all the things that help, support, allow, incentivize… and equally disallow or dis-incentivize scientists from engaging with various audiences or publics.

Day 1 of our gathering focused on sharing data and stories about these sustainable infrastructures for life scientists’ ability to engage. We had a full and intense day. I invite you to scroll through my Storify of  Day 1 of the Roundtable (also below) – to learn what was presented and discussed. [Read more...]

Persuasion and Influence: Dirty Words in Science Communication?

Last week we shared insights from the National Academy of Sciences’ Sackler Colloquium on the Science of Science Communication. The premise of this gathering was: if we rely on evidence for our research, why do we rely on hunches to communicate it? With this in mind, the organizers assembled a stellar group of scientists who shared data about how people process information, which is all immediately useful in effective communication and engagement. While I shared my summary of take homes last week, I wanted to also share something else the organizers did brilliantly. By bringing in speakers from business, network thinking, and consumer choice theory, they pushed our thinking about science communication. People were equally as interested as they were uncomfortable. [Read more...]

More than a Hunch: Insights from Sackler Colloquium on Science of Science Communication

If scientists rely on evidence for their research, why do they rely on hunches when they communicate their research?

This was the challenge that framed the kick off of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Sackler Colloquium on the Science of Science Communication. Known to many of us as #sackler, for three days last week, over 400 people gathered in person at NAS’ historic Constitution Ave building, while thousands watched and participated online, to engage in a discussion about science communication.

The Sackler Colloquium (captured on this short video) was a unique convening: 1 part scientists that study communication, cognition, attitudes and opinions, + 1 part practitioners of science communications (like us!), + 1 part scientists eager to communicate, + 1 part social media and network gurus, with a pinch of powerhouses from business marketing and public relations mixed in. Over the first two days, we heard from a hand picked group of scientists that study, measure and observe how we individually and collectively digest information, along with a hit-it-out-of-the-park group of experts in how information is transmitted and shared. [Read more...]

Shaking the Money Tree: How to Fund Your Outreach

As we’ve described in many places, including this blog, we love supporting you in communicating, sharing, and discussing science outside your labs, classrooms, and the field. We know this isn’t easy and the practicalities of engaging aren’t always, well, very practical. I’ve worked hard to find funding to support our boundary organization so that our services, trainings, and asks of each of you are financially feasible. We’ve all seen the huge demand and appetite for science communication, but the funding sources to support your time and efforts to do this are scarce and patchy. Yet, they do exist! Here are some tips and tricks we’ve seen others use to support communication and outreach: [Read more...]

The Inspiration – and Frustration – of Change

Inspiration doesn't come easy. Photo courtesy of the Gerald W. Williams collection via Flickr.

Last week, I boarded a plane at Washington, DC’s Reagan National Airport headed home to Portland, OR. I sank into my seat, rested my head against the window, and closed my eyes. But as soon as we reached cruising altitude, I couldn’t help but open up my laptop. I had so much I wanted to share with my colleagues and teammates. I was equal parts exhausted and motivated after spending two days at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) participating in the first gathering of a new Roundtable called “Public Interfaces of the Life Sciences.” ­

I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, I was thrilled that NAS was taking this on given the enthusiasm and controversy surrounding the recent buzz about scientists engaging. Some conversations are about ‘why bother’ engaging. Others on how to engage. And others on initiatives to support better engagement through education reform (like NIH’s Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) or NSF’s Graduate Education Challenge). Taken together, there’s a lot of momentum out there. [Read more...]

Benchley Pride

Nancy Baron accepts her Peter Benchley Award for Excellence in Media. Photo by Brooke Smith.

This week we received a great honor. Nancy Baron and COMPASS were the recipients of a Peter Benchley Award, an award that celebrates outstanding achievements that lead to the protection of our coasts, oceans, and the communities that depend on them. We were awarded this distinction for Excellence in Media. [Read more...]

Sharing Our Stories of Scientific Engagement

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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.

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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...]

Embracing Change to Stay Relevant

Juliet Eilperin interacts with scientists at a COMPASS training. She recently announced she'll be leaving the environment desk to cover the White House for the Washington Post.

I once heard healthy organizations are constantly changing. This means effective leaders are not only agents of change but are also change managers. As the Executive Director of a science communication organization, this philosophy has become a mantra for me as I strive to keep our organization healthy. Because we operate at the nexus of the quickly moving worlds of science, media and policy, recognizing that embracing and adapting to change is the norm means that it’s OK that this is part of our daily work too. Embracing change has liberated me. [Read more...]