About Karen McLeod

Karen McLeod is the Interim Executive Director of COMPASS. She's passionate about supporting scientists to be agents of change in the world. Trained as an ecologist, she draws inspiration from the west's rich landscapes - especially its mountains and coasts - and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure.

Keep Advocating For Science, But Don’t Forget To Engage

Humanizing the conversation about science helps to bridge the chasms between science and society. 


zurheide-online via Flickr
(CC BY-ND 2.0)

Like many of you right now, we at COMPASS are reflecting on our relationship with advocacy. Just as we advise scientists, figuring out where you fall on the advocacy spectrum is a personal choice—it’s not a matter of right or wrong. We have long described ourselves as an organization that is “non-partisan and non-advocacy.” While we don’t advocate for specific environmental policies or legislation, we do (and always have) advocate for science and scientists to be at tables where decisions are made. One of our core beliefs is that policies and discussions that include science will be more informed and more robust. We remain as firmly committed to this belief today as we were last month, last year, and under the previous three administrations.

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Find Your Way Down The Slopes Of Engagement

Confidence and competence on the slopes of Mt. Hood, Oregon. Both are as vital to #scicomm as they are to skiing.

This winter, I’ve had the privilege to witness a bunch of kids learning to ski (admittedly, while finally truly learning to ski myself). While supporting my daughters – one a future Bode Miller downhill-bomber, and one who’s slightly more cautious but still a strong skier – I was struck by the many parallels (pun intended) between learning to ski and learning to engage beyond your peers. [Read more…]

Pulling Back The Curtain At Oregon State University

Journalists Chris Joyce, Ed Jahn, Nicola Jones, and Ashley Ahearn at OSU. Image by Karen McLeod.

This post is co-authored by Sarah Sunu, and based on a panel moderated by Nancy Baron at Oregon State University on March 9, 2016. 

Culture is an important, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of communication. Understanding the behaviors, beliefs, and norms of your audience can (and should!) change how you talk about your own work. One key reason COMPASS brings journalists and policymakers to our communication trainings is to give scientists a window into their worlds. [Read more…]

Want To Affect Policy Change? Board Your Train Of Opportunity

Are you ready to climb aboard? Image by Joe Ross, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Like increasing numbers of your colleagues, you want your science to contribute to a better world. You want to make a difference. But you’re not quite sure how to get started, and navigating the black box of the policy world can be a daunting prospect. The public discourse about the environment is teeming with opportunities for scientists to weigh in. Trains of opportunity may be passing you by. Time to pack your bags and hop aboard!
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Risking Engagement To Be Relevant

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We’re bombarded by headlines touting the public’s doubt in science. National Geographic’s March cover story begins: “We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge – from climate change to vaccinations – faces furious opposition.” As Dan Kahan says in his new paper What is the ‘Science of Science Communication’, “Never have human societies known so much about mitigating the dangers they face but agreed so little about what they collectively know.” For some of you, this only bolsters your resolve to engage. For others, it’s cause for wariness … or the impetus not to engage at all.

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Why Do You Do What You Do?

“My motivation – to base management on the most relevant science – that seems like apple pie to me. Who wouldn’t eat it up?” - Tania Schoennagel
Image by Carol Atlantica via flickr
Solving mysteries? Stellar colleagues? Saving the world?

Last week, I wrote about why the why can be hard for scientists. This week, I offer perspectives from scientist colleagues on their whys. All share a passion and commitment to engage beyond the walls of the ivory tower. But their underlying ‘whys’ vary a lot.

Perhaps not too surprisingly, this series of posts are motivated, in part, by reflecting on my own whys. One of the reasons I do what I do is the opportunity to connect with some amazing people, including the inspiration and energy I draw from the contributors here.

Scientists have many reasons for doing what they do, and just as many reasons for sharing (or not sharing) their whys. I hope the whys of these scientists – and their willingness to share them, not only here, but also more broadly – inspire you as much as they have inspired me. [Read more…]

Why Is The Why Difficult for Scientists?

Are you willing to channel your inner Aristotle and embrace the Philosophy in your PhD for more effective #scicomm?
Image courtesy of Mary Harrsh via flickr.

Being a scientist is more than a job – it’s a way of thinking, a way of living, a way of interacting with the world. For some of you, it is the best job in the world!  Our passion is clearly important, and yet … we so rarely share it. Why?

This is the first in a series about scientists communicating the ‘why’ of their work. In the coming weeks, I’ll share other scientists’ reflections, insights, and stories on the topic. Perhaps yours? Post a comment or send me a note, and I’ll incorporate your perspective into future posts. [Read more…]

Greetings From Retreat

The COMPASS team just before stand-up paddle-boarding on the Willamette. Clockwise from top left, Erin Moomey, Karmel James, Sarah Sunu, Leslie Rutberg, Heather Galindo, Erica Goldman, Karen McLeod, Nancy Baron, Chad English, Megan Dearden, Heather Mannix, Liz Neeley, Brooke Smith, Heather Reiff, Kenny Maher.

We are taking a break from the blog this week to attend COMPASS’€™ annual board and staff retreat. As a distributed organization, we highly value the time we can spend together, face to face. This week we’re in Portland, Oregon to reflect on the last fifteen years of our work, take stock of our evolution, and look ahead to see how COMPASS can continue to connect science to conversations that matter. We are also welcoming four new staff members who we look forward to introducing through this blog in coming weeks. See you next week!

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Finding Common Ground On Fire Science

The Tomahawk Fire burning just north of Camp Pendleton in southern California on May 14, 2014. 
(CC BY-NC-SA by DVIDSHUB)

Conflicting viewpoints are commonplace among scientists. And those studying wildfire are no exception, where perspectives vary among regions, ecosystem types, and disciplines. It’s a hot topic (not to mention incredibly pun-conducive), and the debates among scientists have been heated. [Read more…]

Burning Down Communication Barriers Among Fire Scientists

Tough questions from journalists often spark new insights for scientists. Here’s our panel of journalists (left to right, Ivan Semeniuk, Douglas Fischer, Natasha Loder, and David Malakoff) poised to grill a trio of scientists during a mock press conference at the workshop. 
Photo by Heather Reiff.

Fire may be one of the clearest manifestations we have of climate change – it’s visible, palpable, and stirs our emotions. Headlines from last week’s release of the Third National Climate Assessment predict a growing rash of wildfires. Fire seasons are lengthening. Fires are occurring in places or at scales they haven’t in the past. The US Forest Service intends to spend almost $2 billion to manage and minimize the impacts of fires across the country this year. When it comes to communicating with the public, the “why should I care” obstacle faced by scientists in most research arenas is almost non-existent for those studying fire. But, other communication challenges – complexity, uncertainty, risk, reframing – remain. [Read more…]