About Liz Neeley

Liz is the Assistant Director of Science Outreach. Though she hasn’t held a PipetteMan in 6 years, she still occasionally dreams of running PCR gels. These days she’s more likely to sustain repetitive stress injuries from livetweeting science conferences or joining marathon conference calls. Lately she’s been baking lots of artisanal bread, finding it to be effective as both a crosstraining and carb-loading exercise.

NACCB Journalist Fellowship


We are excited to announce that COMPASS is hosting travel fellowships for journalists attending the North American Congress for Conservation Biology in Missoula this July! The NACCB is expected to convene nearly 1,000 leading researchers, conservationists, and decision-makers to discuss the science and practice of conserving biological diversity. This year’s theme, “Challenging Conservation Boundaries”, is designed to encourage fresh thinking and creative problem solving on topics ranging from energy development to wildlife policy. [Read more...]

But what do we DO with the science of science communication?


Last week, as I listened to Andy Rosenberg, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, give a seminar about the new Center for Science and Democracy, I tweeted, “What Rosenberg is saying is familiar: science doesn’t tell us what to do, it helps us understand what questions to ask.”

When I hit ‘tweet’ it felt good. It felt right in my bones. And then it hit me.  I had just refuted the premise of this blog post.


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Reporting back and looking forward from #GradSciComm


This post is co-authored by Liz Neeley and Erica Goldman. It is a continuation of our series on our NSF-funded GradSciComm project.

It was approaching midnight on December 5, 2013, and the COMPASS team was running out of gas. We were in the middle of our two-day #GradSciComm meeting at the National Academy of Sciences. “The only way out is through,” we told ourselves, bleary eyed and punchy with fatigue.

Day 1 had gone quite well. Our stellar group of participants – science communication researchers, practitioners, administrators, and graduate student leaders from a range of STEM disciplines – had engaged with an enthusiasm that was more than we could have hoped for. They were brimming with ideas of what might be done. Yet we were struggling with how to coalesce all of the insights from Day 1 to move ahead in working groups on Day 2. One particular roadblock felt like it was obstructing every path forward: the lack of funding.

Around and around we went, until suddenly – a breakthrough! What would happen if we stop thinking of funding as a roadblock… and instead think of it as a solution to obstacles we face in teaching and conducting effective science communication? What are the first and most transformative investments that we could make? Once we demolished that roadblock, all the pieces began to fall into place. We powered through a synthesis of the discussions from Day 1, locked down the specifics for breakout group assignments, and were ready to charge into Day 2.

The next morning, we held our breaths, watching the room as we unveiled a reframing of our collective task. We had originally believed it was “mapping a course to improve national training capacity in science communication for STEM graduate students.” However, our discussions had  made us realize that communication skills cannot be thought of as extras to be bolted onto existing graduate education structures. They are fundamental competencies that need to be woven throughout training.


Our task is in fact, “mapping the pathways to integrate science communication core competencies into STEM graduate student training.” Of course funding is a real-world limitation, but we can’t move forward until we start asking about how we should use it to pave those pathways.

An audible murmur of accord affirmed our midnight breakthrough. The rest of the second day flew past with highly motivated teams working and sharing their visions of how to progress. We collectively closed out 2013 on the high of a successful event and the promise of more great things to come.


The group focused on how we might align incentives to give graduate students the motivation and permission to include science communication in their training. We identified that students will need to know what options are available to them and have tools at their disposal, such as individual development plans, that allow them to tailor their skill development to their preferred career trajectories. The group also discussed the critical importance of monitoring and evaluation as a cornerstone of effective practice in communication training.

Here is the one-page summary of the outcomes of our discussions, and you can explore deeper with the presentations we gave on site.

The Summary

Slides from Day 1

Slides from Day 2


  • Writing the roadmap. COMPASS is taking the lead on writing a series of documents, collectively called “the #gradscicomm roadmap.” We envision this as something like a tiered layer cake: at the top, a single-page, visual representation of our theory of change. Supporting that, a multipage report outlining the work we’ve conducted, a brief literature review, and summary of the workshop and findings. And finally, we expect other products, likely to include presentations and submissions to the peer-reviewed literature.
  • AAAS in Chicago this February. In our first public presentation, find Erica and Brooke leading the session, “Building National Capacity in Science Communication for STEM Graduate Students” on Valentine’s Day morning. It features many of our workshop participants, and many more will be in attendance. Join us for a meet-up later to continue the conversations in a more social setting (to be scheduled – we’ll update with details ASAP!)
  • University courses. Like many of the other workshop participants, beginning in mid-January, Liz starts teaching her ENVIR500 series again at University of Washington. This is a series of 1-credit short courses in science communication, based on COMPASS workshops, and designed for PhD students in the College of the Environment and beyond. If you’d like to swap syllabi & advice about teaching, please reach out.

We’d love to hear from you with ideas and opportunities as we write up and push forward. Please be in touch with us by email or comment on this post to share your thoughts.  We are invigorated by where 2013 has brought the #gradscicomm effort and are looking forward to the New Year with energy and anticipation.


#GradSciComm: Rolling Up Our Sleeves

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

As we’ve written here and here, over the past year, COMPASS has worked to assess the current landscape of communication trainings available to graduate students in the STEM disciplines. We’ve dubbed this project #GradSciComm, and it has included building a community-sourced database that provides some insight into the current content and capacity of workshops and courses – but this is only the beginning of the conversation.

Later this week, at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C., four COMPASS staff – Nancy Baron, Brooke Smith, Erica Goldman, and Liz Neeley – will facilitate discussion among a select group of scholars, trainers, funders, institutional leaders, and graduate students as they consider the results of our work to date and wrestle with where we go from here. [Read more...]

Is “Cold But Competent” a Problem in Science Communication?

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 This post continues our series focused on science communication research. Instead of reporting on or recapping a single paper, we’re asking what the literature has to say about urgent or recurring questions in our field. This is inspired, in part, by John Timmer’s call for an applied science of science communication. 

A flash of insight can be profoundly pleasurable. For me it’s a little pop that’s the mental equivalent of clearing my ears while diving. Sharing that same electric sensation with hundreds of others in crowd? Then the pop feels more like a champagne bottle, with our individual ‘aha!’s spiraling outward as a fizzy wave of tweets. At the Sackler Colloquium on the Science of Science Communication, Susan Fiske of Princeton University uncorked one such shared moment in her presentation about beliefs and attitudes regarding science when she began speaking about warmth and competence.

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You can sometimes get a sense of the pulse of a meeting by watching the ebb and flow of its TweetStream. This graph shows the first day of the Sackler Colloquium. The biggest buzz was generated by Susan Fiske’s remarks, with some 900 tweets during her 90 minute session. Analysis using Topsy.

You can read the tweets sharing and reacting to Fiske’s talk here. Within the first four minutes of her presentation dissecting when and how people make decisions, Fiske told the audience that scientists have the respect of the public but not their trust. Trustworthiness, she explained, is a quality produced by a combination of perceived warmth and competence. Warmth in this work is not exactly ‘likeable,’ rather, it refers to the judgments we make about person’s motives. Competence is their ability to act on those intentions. Scientists, Fiske says, are seen as competent but cold in comparison to other professions.

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ScienceOnline Climate


Ah, logistics. WiFi, websites, sponsors, speakers, travel, venues, sound, and food – planning a meeting means dozens of details need constant attention. And yet, if we’ve done our work well, these all fade into the background as an event comes to life. There’s something magical about creating a space for conversations to unfold and genuine connections to take root, and I am delighted to have been a part of what we created at ScienceOnline Climate.

ScioClimate, as we call it, was a conference that took place in Washington, D.C. August 15-17. Thanks to professional development support from COMPASS, I was able to join Jamie Vernon and Karyn Traphagen as a co-organizer. But ScioClimate is not over because it’s much more than just a meeting – it’s a community of people coalescing around issues of how we improve climate science conversations online. Our intent is to go far beyond tactical discussions about how to share research results, and instead to explore the art, science, rhetoric, politics, philosophy, emotion, and practicalities of tackling unprecedented global change.

Nothing sums up my experience at the event better than this tweet by Mark Westneat:

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On Advocacy and Trust in Science

As I noted at the end of Monday’s post, I did not directly tackle the question of whether scientists’ advocacy has been shown to damage public trust in them (or their science). [Read more...]

What the Science Tells Us About “Trust in Science”

This post continues our series focused on science communication research. Instead of reporting on or recapping a single paper, we’re asking what the literature has to say about urgent or recurring questions in our field. This is inspired, in part, by John Timmer’s call for an applied science of science communication, as well as the upcoming special issue of PNAS with papers from the 2012 Sackler Colloquium on the Science of Science Communication.

When climate scientist Tamsin Edwards published her editorial “Climate scientists must not advocate for particular policies” in The Guardian, it triggered a cascade of responses on engagement and advocacy. This is something COMPASS spends quite a lot of time thinking about and discussing in our trainings and writings, but the line that particularly caught my eye was: “I believe advocacy by climate scientists has damaged trust in the science. We risk our credibility, our reputation for objectivity, if we are not absolutely neutral.”

I admire the conviction in that statement and it’s nothing if not clear. But is it true? Is the behavior of individual scientists a primary driver of public opinion? It reminds me of a conversation regarding our assumptions about audiences, in which my friend Ben Lillie quipped: “Communicating science to the public? Neither noun exists and I’m not sure about the verb.” Given the current conversations, I am not so sure of our use of the phrase ‘trust in (the) science’ either, so I decided to do a little digging. [Read more...]

The Science of Science Communication: Foundation-building with Fischhoff


Like people, some science papers age gracefully, some plunge all at once into a sudden decline, while a rare few carry on unencumbered by the years, spry and punchy as ever. When I’m asked to recommend a single paper in science communication, it’s one of these seemingly ageless ones that I suggest: Fischhoff (1995). [Read more...]

Our News and Information Diets: The Problem with Picky Eaters

Prior to each of our communication trainings, COMPASS asks the participating scientists, “Where do you get your news?” It’s an open-ended question*, but the answers are almost always the same – they listen to NPR, read the New York Times, and watch the Daily Show. (*to clarify: asked in a confidential written survey)

Fair enough! NPR was the exclusive soundtrack to my years at the lab bench, what about you?
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