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...]
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...]
Our week here at COMPASS began with the excitement of our commentary piece coming out in PLOS Biology, but is ending on an even higher note. Many scientists we’ve worked with are stepping up to share personal stories of engagement. There have been stories of how:
- Reaching out via both traditional (Don Boesch) and social (Isabelle Côté) media can open up new opportunities for connecting science to policy
- Future effective engagement of scientists outside academia relies on cultural change regarding time management (Jessica Hellman, Jim Cloern) and restructuring institutional incentives (Chris Buddle)
- Becoming better at engaging sometimes means leaving the ivory tower for training in another field (Ryan Kelly) or pursuing science at a for-profit company (Dawn Wright)
- Doing good science and reflecting on what works and what doesn’t is a critical part of the path to engagement (Simon Donner, Heather Leslie)
- Above all, it is not science alone, but also hope that inspires people to act (Alan Townsend, Steve Palumbi)
This is part of a growing trend of scientists being willing to be present as characters in the story. Efforts like Looks Like Science or The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers, highlight how valuable it can be to share personal stories of who we are, why we do what we do, and why it matters. All of us at COMPASS continue to be inspired by these stories and the scientists who share them. And we can’t wait to see what’s next…
As a research scientist, my attention to detail and obsession with being thorough were clear assets. Every project was meticulously planned and every data point double-checked. But now that my job involves being able to track the latest science across a huge range of topics, in addition to shifting policy and social contexts, these assets can sometimes weigh me down. I’ve had to come up from the depths and get better at skimming the surface (in marine biology terms, more snorkeling and less SCUBA). But with an unwieldy amount of information coming at me from a variety of outlets, even navigating the surface waters can be tricky. So this year, I’ve decided on a plan of attack to get my personal information management (PIM) in order. [Read more...]
When people are asked about their greatest fears, many often include public speaking. Something about looking out into a sea of faces hanging on your every word is universally terrifying. However, for me, it is the idea of a practice talk that causes borderline panic – although I’m only looking out into a small pond of faces, they are all intently focused on what I am doing wrong and how to fix it. But here’s the thing: Public talks don’t scare me. Why? Because I am ready. And why am I ready? Because I have worked really hard to prepare.
Whether it’s a legislative briefing or a AAAS symposium, COMPASS requires the scientists we work with to commit to putting in the preparation time. Although we often work with already accomplished speakers, it still takes planning to make sure there is cohesion among multiple talks. After all, even talented musicians must rehearse before playing their first gig together. In the words of UC Santa Cruz marine ecologist Mark Carr, “The COMPASS prep calls prior to our panel presentation really helped to focus the messages of my presentation and linked my presentation with others to make a more cohesive suite of presentations and stronger messages.”
Our prep process generally involves lots of back-and-forth over email, as well as 2-3 conference calls with everyone participating in the event. As we evolve from setting the goals and framing everyone’s talks to dress rehearsals, scientists tend to go through the following three stages: [Read more...]
Last Tuesday, Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire announced the release of recommendations from the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification and underscored the effort with an Executive Order for the state to take action on this issue. The 28 member panel was the first of its kind in the country and was notable for the prominent role that both science and scientists played in the process. From the first public meeting in March 2012, the seven scientists on the Panel worked tirelessly to convey the current state of ocean acidification science to both their fellow Panel members and meeting attendees. Having worked with many of the Panel scientists over the past year on effective communication about this topic, including at the recent COMPASS Ocean Acidification Communication Workshop, and following the process closely, I can say that this was no small task. [Read more...]
Admit it. You’ve been in this situation at one time or another:
You arrive at a scientific conference focused on the minutia of your favorite scientific field or organism (e.g. fruit fly legs or microbial social dynamics) and simply cannot wait to soak in the science, hobnob with great minds, and enjoy free coffee. Suddenly, you find yourself weighted down by an enormous tote bag and a veritable tome of talk schedules and abstracts. After a few days, you are numb from racing between sessions, endless networking, and long hours wandering aimlessly among rows and rows of badly formatted posters. And when you finally arrive back home and your colleagues want to know who you’ve talked to and what you learned, you stare at them blankly and can’t seem to articulate even one or two of the coolest things you heard.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way! While none of us are completely immune to these symptoms, after many-a-stint in the land of the conference undead, here are a few ingredients (both my own and ideas I’ve collected from other scientists (in italics below)) for an anti-conference-zombie vaccine: [Read more...]
A greeting card hangs above my desk that reads: “If I were a scientist working in a big lab, I’d shout ‘Eureka!’ every so often just to boost morale.” I keep it there to remind me of those moments of inspiration that not only boost morale, but drive the whole of science. To me, those “Eureka!” events aren’t just reserved for medical breakthroughs or discovering new species, but perhaps even more importantly, are for making surprising connections among seemingly unrelated ideas to tackle a complex problem. Although some scientists have an innate ability to do this, others can start with just curiosity and a willingness to ask their colleagues, “What if we were to combine this with that?” After all, regardless of how much experience you have, solving complex problems requires dialogue across disciplines and perspectives.
It’s a bit like experimental chemistry – at first the bottles on the shelves just seem like a dizzying array of options for endless combinations – but eventually you come to know enough about classes of molecules to understand how they are likely to behave in a reaction. This ability to see patterns (whether among molecules, methods, or ideas) allows for informed creativity that can serve as a catalyst to move science forward. But of course, just knowing which chemicals you want to combine isn’t enough… so here are a few more steps in my own lab protocol for catalyzing science: [Read more...]