About Heather Galindo

Heather Galindo put down the pipettor to become the Assistant Director of Science at COMPASS in 2010. Since then she has greatly enjoyed learning about a dizzying array of research from numerous amazing scientists.

A Briefing Debrief: Scientist Tales from a Day on The Hill

Dr. Drew Harvell presenting at "Sea Sick: A science briefing on understanding the causes of marine disease and consequences for coastal communities," July 9, 2015. Image courtesy of the Office of Rep. Denny Heck.

This post is co-authored by COMPASS Science Engagement Specialist Heather Mannix.

Last week, COMPASS brought a team of scientists to Capitol Hill to participate in “Sea Sick: A science briefing on understanding the causes of marine disease and consequences for coastal communities.” As part of their pre-briefing preparation with the COMPASS team, these four scientists worked hard to understand their audience, coordinate their remarks, and make sure their science was clear, compelling, and relevant. With last year’s high profile sea star wasting disease epidemic on the West Coast likely to occur again this summer, and pending legislation on marine disease in the House of Representatives, this was an ideal time to bring the science related to these events to the forefront. As with all COMPASS policy events, our goal was to create an opportunity for the scientists to share what they know – and why it matters – with policymakers and to build relationships as trusted resources going forward.
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Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Whether for a scientific paper or a news article, titles and headlines have a pretty tough job. They need to grab your attention and make you want to know more, while also avoiding false pretenses that leave you feeling betrayed by time you are halfway through reading. Many scientists often view these things as an add-on, but studies have shown that headlines can significantly influence readers. And we have found that thinking about headlines can actually be a useful way to take your Message Box to the next level. Of course, scientists don’t get to choose headlines for news stories about their work – in fact, that task usually goes to the editor of the piece – but thinking about what you would like the headline to say can be a useful exercise in distilling your science down even further.

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Packing It All In

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Before I started traveling more often for work, I used to pack for trips by thinking about all of the things I wanted to bring with me…and then stuffing as much as possible into my allowed luggage. Who knows, I just might need three different pairs of flip-flops! But as this chore became more frequent, I realized how often I didn’t really use most of what I brought, and that my packing method was exhausting both to execute and lug around airports. And so, like any good scientist, I re-examined my method and realized that I should focus on just the things that I thought would be the most useful. Those extra pairs of flip-flops would be waiting when I returned home, and I could always purchase something I needed on the road in a pinch.
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Taking Meetings From Painful To Productive

COMPASS Fire Workshop 2014

From one-hour conference calls to multiple-day workshops, meetings are all too often considered a necessary evil. Although bringing people together can be critical for building consensus or tackling problems that involve multiple stakeholders, many of us see meetings as stealing time from more engaging and rewarding efforts, like conducting research, writing papers, or sharing your science with new audiences. However, with a little more investment upfront, most meetings could be much more efficient and – better yet – productive. [Read more...]

Why Did the Scientist Cross the Road?

Although crossing the road can be a daunting task, is it made easier by the company of colleagues, some infrastructure to guide the way, and the promise new opportunities on the other side.
CC BY-SA-NC-SA by Khaz on flickr

During the past few weeks I had the opportunity to attend two conferences that had related themes and took place literally across the street from each other, but in other ways were worlds apart. First was the Ecological Society of America’s Annual Meeting (#ESA2014), which was dominated by ecological scientists sharing their research. The following week, government officials, land managers, city planners, and NGO representatives met at the first ever California Adaptation Forum (#CAF14). While both conferences explored the possibility of finding solutions by forging new connections, there was still clearly a gap between those talking about the latest research on one side of the street and those trying to figure out how to implement it on the other. [Read more...]

Sleuthing Science: Getting the Lay of the Land in a New Discipline

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One of the things I loved most about being a PhD candidate was the ability to dig deep into the details (I could tell you more about barnacle genetics than anyone really should know). But there are times when it might be necessary to quickly get a handle on a scientific field beyond your own. You might be interested in finding new collaborators for an interdisciplinary project, or need to figure out where your science might fit into a slightly different theme for which there seems to be an abundance of funding opportunities. In either case, trying to assess a new scientific landscape can feel overwhelming…especially when you think about all of the work it took to master understanding of your own field. But there are ways to meet this challenge and also occasionally eat and sleep. In fact, this task of sleuthing a scientific landscape is a big part of what many of us do here at COMPASS. Hopefully, some of our collective lessons learned could make your job a bit easier:

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How To Make Yourself Presentable

Taking a new approach to your scientific talk could win you hearty applause from your peers. Photo credit: open hardware summit

Over my three years working here at COMPASS, I’ve come to witness a curious, repeated phenomenon. A significant part of my job involves engaging with scientists through trainings or helping them prepare for conference symposia, policy briefings, or media outreach. For the most part, scientists take on with gusto the task of more effective communication to non-science audiences – diving in headfirst to think outside the box and become better at sharing their research with the wider world. But then…it happens. I see that same scientist who was able to hook in a journalist or get a policymaker to sit up straight in his or her chair, get up in front of his or her scientific peers and again bombard them with fifty shades of n-dimensional graphs. [Read more...]

Ocean Acidification: Science and Communication in an Era of Nuance

Liz Neeley reminds scientists at the communication workshop to support each other and embrace constructive criticism when facing both scientific and communication challenges ahead. (Photo © David Kline 2013)

Since March 2011, I have spent a considerable amount of time with research scientists in the ocean acidification community – attending meetings, organizing conference symposia, prepping them for policy briefings, and leading them through communication workshops. In this time, I’ve seen the breadth of research and number of scientists working on ocean acidification increase dramatically. This expansion has led to an “era of nuance,” as we noted after last year’s international gathering of 400+ ocean acidification scientists. The stark cases of how ocean chemistry impacts US West Coast oyster hatcheries now stand side-by-side with discoveries of more complex effects on marine species and what this means for things people care about (e.g. fisheries, coastal protection, cultural traditions). But what stands out is that even with this growing complexity, the community has confronted the hard scientific questions head on AND tackled the tricky communication challenges with equal enthusiasm and commitment. [Read more...]

Navigating Personal-Professional Boundaries

Sometimes it can feel like walking a fine line when it comes to personal/professional relationships. Photo courtesy of Nicoló Paternoster via Flickr.

A key aspect of being successful in making your science matter beyond the ivory tower is building relationships and knowing how to strategically navigate networks of people. Ultimately, these relationships are not about sharing data, but instead about shared connections among people. It is the trust and goodwill built up over time with colleagues, and even policymakers or journalists, which opens doors to new opportunities. But making these connections can be tricky and can often involve tough decisions about personal-professional boundaries.

I know this is something I really struggled with as a scientist and, judging by conversations with other scientists, I am far from being alone. In fact, I was overwhelmed by the diversity and depth of responses I received from scientist colleagues in response to a question on Facebook:

Where does your personal-professional comfort zone lie and what are your strategies for navigating tricky situations, either in person or via social media? [Read more...]

Getting to the “So What?” of Your Science

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Galindo MB 2006

Handwritten message box from my own COMPASS training as a graduate student (click to enlarge)

Recently, I rediscovered a description of my PhD research produced at a COMPASS training I attended in 2006. I deciphered my messy handwriting to find that I had used the analogy of how people move between cities to explain why I used DNA to track movements of marine plankton between populations. In both cases, understanding how many and how often individuals change locations can inform what might happen if these connections are disrupted. (Think about a freeway shutting down between San Francisco and Los Angeles.) As movement between places is reduced, so is the flow of goods and services, thereby isolating populations.

It turns out that my early attempts at finding the “so what” of my science used the very same tool that we still use at COMPASS today: The Message Box. At all COMPASS trainings (which typically range from half-day to three-day events), the Message Box is how we help scientists distill their science into the most essential and intriguing pieces. These are the key ideas with which you can build a firm foundation of understanding about your research in conversation with almost any audience. It’s not about dumbing anything down. Instead, the Message Box illuminates the heart of your science and inspires your audience to want to learn more. [Read more...]