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...]