About Nancy Baron

COMPASS Science Outreach Director Nancy Baron coaches environmental scientists in communications and leadership, and is a co-lead for the Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science. Her book, Escape from the Ivory Tower: A Guide to Making Your Science Matter is based on over a decade of experience working with leading scientists around the world. Find Nancy on Twitter at @Nancy_Baron

Do You Want Your Research to Change the World?

Society for Marine Mammalogy  2015 Conference panel "How To Make Your Science Matter." Panelists from left to right: Ken Weiss, David Malakoff, Charles Littnan, Marcia McNutt, Nick Gales, Jane Lubchenco, with Nancy Baron moderating.

At the 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals held last week, I  stood in front of a vast conference hall before a sea of faces. It’s hard to know your audience with a group this size. Yet my task was to try reach every one of them as the moderator of a COMPASS panel featuring scientists and journalists, called “How To Make Your Science Matter.”

To take the temperature in the room, I asked everyone in the auditorium a personal question: “Do you want your research to change the world? If the answer is yes, stand up.” Some 2,500 researchers, students, and managers sprang to their feet. I could not see a single person sitting.

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Six Practical Guidelines For Public Engagement

Image by Don Boesch, via Twitter.  Left to right: Mark Barteau, Baruch Fischhoff, Dan Sarewitz, Detram Scheufele, Roger Pielke and Nancy Baron.

The Michigan Meeting for Academic Engagement in Public and Political Discourse brought scholars, practitioners, and communicators to the University of Michigan from May 13 – 15 to discuss why and how scientific scholarship should contribute to issues of public importance. Instigated by Andrew Hoffman, a 2008 Leopold Leadership Fellow, the meeting inspired and stimulated both the people at the conference (including many faces familiar to COMPASS, such as Leopold Fellow and COMPASS board member Dawn Wright, and Leopold Fellows David Hart, Jennifer Cherrier, and Joe Arvai) and many who were following the active twitter stream #AcadEng  (click here for a Storify of tweets under #AcadEng; selected events were also filmed and are available here).

COMPASS’ own Nancy Baron attended the meeting, and along with Baruch Fischhoff, Roger Pielke Jr., Dan Sarewitz, Dietram Scheufele, and moderator Mark Barteau, discussed “What are Some Guidelines for Public Engagement?” this past Thursday. We’ve reprinted her remarks from that panel here, edited for readability.

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Wilburforce Training: The Heart Of The Matter

The 2015 Wilburforce Fellows, with trainers and journalists, at the training in Seattle

Something magical happened at the first training for the Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science two weeks ago. Once again, storytelling revealed its power to inform, to inspire and bring together a group of people focused on a common cause.

The fellowship originated with Amanda Stanley, the Wilburforce Foundation’s Conservation Science Program Officer. When she approached COMPASS to partner with her and Wilburforce and help design the fellowship, we leapt at the chance. Our shared dream is to build a network of conservation scientists who can successfully bridge the science-to-society gap by being strong communicators, leaders, and agents of change. We not only want them to connect to their science in new ways, we want to them to connect to each other, so they can support each other in the inevitable ups and downs that come with tackling big challenges.

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Climbing Dawn Walls for Conservation Science


The New Year is a time for thinking about “What do you want to do with your one wild and precious life?” (Mary Oliver). The first week of January, I spent a few days in Yosemite with my husband, environmental writer Ken Weiss, reflecting on our dreams and how to best spend our time in 2015.
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Seeking Conservation Scientists for the Wilburforce Fellowship

Fellows will hone  communication skills though hands-on activities like mock interviews with journalists.

Are you a conservation scientist working in Western North America who wants to hone your skills as a communicator?
Do you have ambitious conservation goals?
Do you want to expand your network to include journalists, policymakers and other players to achieve them?
Would you like ongoing coaching over the course of a year as well as support and inspiration from other scientists?

If this is you, we hope you’ll apply for the new Wilburforce Fellowship, which will provide in-depth COMPASS training for 20 conservation scientists from April 19 – 24, 2015 in Seattle.

The Wilburforce Foundation, in partnership with COMPASS, is offering this fellowship to help environmental scientists form a powerful community of leaders who can develop their skills, build their networks and achieve conservation solutions in the West. [Read more…]

Finding Your Voice


While not everyone may be interested in your science at first, many people are interested in scientists, as your work seems…mysterious. What do you actually do? Why are you so devoted to it? They want to know what makes you tick. Even if your research can seem obscure, they are often eager to discover a new perspective on the world through your eyes. [Read more…]

Saving and Savoring the World

Crocodile - Photo courtesy Ken Weiss © 2013

It was past midnight on a moonless night in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The Toyota truck jounced along a boulder strewn path in the darkness, astonishing me with what it could take. I was wondering what the two Nile crocodiles in the longbed back were experiencing. We had been up most of the last two nights capturing crocodiles that had wandered out of the Olifants River and belly crawled across the park boundary to take up residence in a tailings pond of a massive open pit phosphorous mine.  The mine bosses wanted the crocs gone. These industrial neighbors to South Africa’s most famous park decided it would be better PR to call in park biologists to relocate the giant reptiles rather than shoot them on site.

The question was whether the crocs would settle into their superior home in the park, or try to migrate back to the silted waters of the mine. Or die trying.  Biologists have long chronicled how animals show a remarkable drive to return to their origins. And so relocating animals is not always a viable option, especially when it comes to apex predators who happen to have a territorial streak, powerful jaws, and more than five dozen teeth. So we were testing this idea, satellite tagging these crocs that had to be moved anyways, and transferring them back within the park to where the Olifants River borders Mozambique. [Read more…]

Bright Spots: Richard (Dick) Cannings

Richard Cannings, the NDP Candidate.

 This post is the first in our new Bright Spot series, which celebrates scientists who are leading change.

Biologist Richard (Dick) Cannings is taking a leadership role in a rather unusual way for a scientist. Dick is running for provincial election in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada with the New Democratic Party (NDP) in today’s May 14th provincial election.

Dick, a conservation biologist, and a champion for the conservation of the Okanagan’s ecosystems, has placed environmental sustainability and the quality of life it brings, squarely in the center of his political platform. If he gets in, it will be a landmark win in Canadian politics… [Read more…]

The Top Ten Qualities of Scientist (Communicator) Leaders

"Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects." Dalai Lama.
Photo courtesy of Mark J P via Flickr

Over the past few weeks, since we published “Navigating the Rules of Scientific Engagement” in PLOS, the voices of scientist communicators have rung out in blog posts – some personal perspectives and others calls to action. Even more chimed in on Twitter under the hashtag #reachingoutsci. These scientist bloggers are as diverse as their topics. I consider every one of them a leader.

Over the past 12 years as a communication trainer for the Leopold Leadership Program, and as a coach for many scientists, I have observed an intrinsic link between communication and leadership. [Read more…]

Diving the Uttermost Ends of the Ocean


The Story Behind the Story of My LA Times Sunday Travel Piece

In Sunday’s travel section of the Los Angeles Times, I wrote about a scuba diving expedition to the Forgotten Islands of Indonesia – a place so far flung it took us four days travel to get home. For all 15 of us on this journey, it was a life experience, and, for most of us, a reaffirmation of why we work toward conservation.

The backstory is that Ed Norton Sr. (the father of the actor), an environmental lawyer, businessman and conservationist and his wife Anne Norton who live in Bali, chartered a 100-foot schooner to take a group of conservationists and business folk interested in sustainability to islands so remote, that in some cases, Westerners had not been there for over 20 years.

The trip had dual purposes: To explore the state of the reefs and learn about the communities living on these islands, as well as to have the adventure of a lifetime diving three to four times daily and making something of the experience in our respective ways. A key asset to our trip was Larry Fisher, our cultural guide and an expert in resource conflict mediation, and the official translator for heads of state (including President Obama) visiting Indonesia. [Read more…]