About Erica Goldman

Erica is the Director of Policy Engagement for COMPASS. She has “cross-trained” in the worlds of science, science journalism, and science policy and she loves life at the intersection. Though she'll "suit up" for her forays in the DC policy world, she still pines for the flannel shirt and hiking boots of her grad school days.

Making Your Science Relevant To Policymakers: Pondering Advice From Newt Gingrich

Reach out and schedule a coffee or lunch, or drop by an office when you're in town. Build relationships and policy relevance. Image by Meg Gilley

I recently heard Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and an academic historian by training, address an audience of environmental and health scientists at the annual conference of the National Council on Science and the Environment.

Gingrich, a staunch right-wing conservative whose relationship with science has been described as “complicated,” addressed a silent and visibly tense audience at a lunchtime plenary. He began with, “You can hunker down and decide you want to be oppositionist and that you are going to hate everything and life will be terrible, or you can dig in and work with the administration.”

His remarks struck a chord. Ever since, I have been reflecting on what this means for those of you who want to engage with policymakers. [Read more…]

Tales From The Sea: Scientists Take A Storytelling Journey

Telling stories of science and conservation at IMCC3.

As we sat in an unadorned classroom at the University of Glasgow, Kyle Gillespie helped us hear the sea at night, the sounds of clacking crabs and whistling worms, amplified by the sudden darkness after a broken dive light left him sightless in 20 feet of water and revealed to him a powerful way to understand the relative health of marine systems. Delphine Rocklin transported us through a fish’s life cycle beginning in a port in North Africa and moving through the Mediterranean Sea, showing us why it is so important to consider connectivity when we manage fisheries. And Skye Augustine  introduced us to her community, the children and elders of Stz’uminus Nation in the Salish Sea, as she helped them embark on a path of discovery to connect their ancient methods of resource management to an uncertain but hopeful future.

These are just a few scenes from stories that scientists worked to craft at a two-day storytelling workshop before the start of the third International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC3). This workshop was a collaborative effort between Stephanie Green, a Smith Fellow at Oregon State University (OSU), Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, also at OSU and with PISCO (the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans), and COMPASS. Our scientist storytellers hailed from all over the world, France, Spain, Germany, Australia, Colombia, Canada, and the United States. They also spanned a range of career stages, from Ph.D. candidate to senior scientist. But this diverse group was united in their effort to embrace a challenge and learn new ways to communicate their science. [Read more…]

Balancing Act: Finding A Place For Policy Engagement

balance2

Academics are hearing the message loud and clear that society needs what they have to offer. In Nicholas Kristof’s recent provocative column, “Professors, We Need You!,” he admonishes professors not to “cloister yourselves like medieval monks,” but at the same time, acknowledges the real challenges posed by “a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.”

At COMPASS we often hear a sincere desire from scientists to make their work relevant in societal dialogues. But we also hear that the nature of many academic jobs often makes that engagement an add-on, rather than an integral part of their workload and process for review and promotion. As Chad wrote in his last post, scientists can learn how to make the most of the time they spend engaging, honing their skills to maximize the value they can bring to policy dialogues once they’ve begun. But the problem remains, how do you balance expectations of academic culture with the time it takes to make a valuable contribution in a policy space? [Read more…]

How Do We Know If Science Communication Training Is Working?

ruler

“Don’t blame the ruler.”

Now a few weeks out from the AAAS meeting in Chicago, the punch line of Rick Tankersley’s talk at our #GradSciComm session still niggles in the back of my mind. [Read more…]

Know Thy Policy Audience

Mark Nechodom (left), Director of the California Department of Conservation, starred in masterful role-playing scenarios for Switzer Environmental Fellows at the COMPASS policy and communication training on October 5th. He's depicted here at a 2012 conference, signing a Memorandum of Understanding, with Jim Kenna of the Bureau of Land Management, to coordinate operations in California for oil and gas industry oversight.

“Know thy audience. Know thyself. Know thy stuff.”

We offer this quote by the late Steve Schneider in COMPASS’ communication trainings as a guiding principle for scientists preparing to share their science with the wider world.  Schneider, one of the first climate scientists to work as an active adviser to policymakers in the White House and federal agencies, passionately believed that scientists have a social responsibility to communicate what they know and that “staying out of the fray is not taking the high road, it is just passing the buck.” His messages to scientists both challenge and inspire.

But there’s a lot of nuance in learning how to communicate effectively with policymakers. Chad delved into this issue in his recent post, “A Policymaker Walks into the Forest.” But I found myself thinking more deeply about Schneider’s first instruction, “Know thy audience,” as I prepared, earlier this month, to lead a COMPASS communication and policy training for Switzer Environmental Fellows at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. [Read more…]

#GradSciComm Update: Sharpening Our Focus

Clear

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

From 20,000 feet up, the approach to Washington, DC’s Reagan National Airport is a fuzzy blotch of green and blue – fingers of the Chesapeake Bay creeping landward in dendritic patterns. As you get closer, green patches become dense stands of trees and blue-green waters give way to marshy shorelines. In the final miles, just before the runway comes into view, docks and small marinas resolve so close that you can make out people working dockside.

When Liz Neeley and I were working to prepare for a recent talk for the National Science Foundation on the COMPASS #GradSciComm work (see document below), Liz landed on this visual metaphor for our process. Typically, being able to rapidly cover a lot of ground quickly trades off with being able to see features at fine resolution… at least at first. For our inventory of the players involved in science communication trainings for graduate students, this meant we first assembled a rough picture heavily influenced by generalizations and standout features. But, as we’ve gathered more and better data, the details and topography of the whole landscape is beginning to emerge. [Read more…]

Complications And Resolutions: Why Scientists Should Learn Story Craft

Main Ave Fish Wharf, where Erica sought out a story in fishmonger Clarence Goodman's personal tale.

We can all recognize a good story when we read one. Most of us can narrate stories about our own life fairly seamlessly, and do so all the time to our families, friends, through social media, or on the phone. We can step back and recognize that our days are filled with meaningful actions – twists and turns of plot that lead us to new points of insights and resolutions – some big, some small. But as Karen pointed out in her blog post last week about her Santa Fe experience, many scientists struggle with how to bring science and story together… and whether it is even appropriate to do so.

Why the uneasy relationship between science and story? [Read more…]

Navigating Forks In The Science Career Road

Sometimes the relationship between advisor and student is more similar to parent/child than student/teacher. To leave the path of straight academia that the advisor chose for themselves can be alienating.

The realization that I might not want a traditional career in academic science started as a slight nagging feeling that wouldn’t go away. I didn’t want it to be true. After all, I had already invested so much in academia. And, more importantly, many eminent scientists throughout my undergraduate and graduate training had already invested so much in me. How could I let them down? [Read more…]

Field Notes: Reflections From The Policy Front Lines

The 2003 Knauss Fellows interviewed for this post in 2003 with then-NOAA Admiral XXX, clockwise from top left: Barbara Piechel, Rachel Feeney, Bridget Ferriss, and Sunshine Menezes.

When Chad and I prep scientists to participate in policy briefings, we often share our own experiences of entering the policy arena for the first time as Knauss Marine Policy Fellows.  Chad talks about finishing his dissertation on a Friday in 2005 and showing up the following Monday in the Senate Commerce Committee, bright-eyed, bushy tailed, and expecting to bring the latest scientific discoveries to members of Congress. Only then he discovered that Congressional offices don’t have direct access to journal articles (or even read academic papers). I tell scientists about the time I spent on the Hill in 2003, helping to draft bill language for reauthorization of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the House Committee on Resources – I was suddenly expected to be an expert on marine mammals and on how to write arcane legislative language… neither of which were part of my actual skill set at the time.

Chad and I have both incorporated insights from our Knauss fellowship experiences into our current work with COMPASS at the intersection of science and policy. When COMPASS does communications and policy trainings for scientists, we talk about the idea that understanding these cultural differences is the key to making effective connections between the two worlds. I’ve been especially curious to hear what others experienced when they stepped out of science and into the policy world, and since it’s been nearly 10 years since I started my fellowship in the Subcommittee of Fisheries, Oceans, and Wildlife in the House Committee on Resources, I decided to ask some of the other legislative fellows in my cohort.  Through a brief series of questions, I asked a few of them about the lasting take homes they see from their fellowship experience, how it has shaped their worldview, and to reflect on what they saw as key differences between the culture of science and the culture of policy. [Read more…]

Communicating Risk Vs. Communicating Science

Residents received orders to evacuate before Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in coastal New Jersey. Shown here is the ravaged amusement park in Seaside Heights. Photo from the National Guard.

“Don’t be stupid, get out.”

Governor Chris Christie minced no words when he issued the mandatory evacuation warning to the residents of New Jersey’s barrier islands as Hurricane Sandy made her approach. To anyone thinking about staying behind, he cautioned, “If I turn out to be right, and you turn out to be dead, that’s not a great equation.”

This is a clear example of a public official communicating risk and asking the public to act based on that statement. To arrive at the decision to evacuate, Governor Christie weighed scientific projections of the storms impact, along with information on the integrity of infrastructure, traffic flow, social behavior, and other factors. But Christie’s blunt statement left little room to question that he held ultimate responsibility for making the public call-to-action. [Read more…]