Farewell To Chad English: A Pioneer At The Science-Policy Interface

Chad at the April 2015 Wilburforce Fellows training in Seattle.

We like to think that our work speaks for itself, through the scientists we train, the communities we build, and the conversations we spark. As coaches, connectors and enablers, we are intentionally and happily behind the scenes. We prepare, support, and cheer for the researchers on the front lines to share their scientific insights with the world. This week I want to focus on one of our behind-the-scenes champions – Dr. Chad English, whose last day here at COMPASS was May 1st. He pioneered our work at the science-policy interface, and his influence will be felt for years to come.

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5 Steps For Integrating #SciComm Into STEM Graduate Education

Last month, an article in The Atlantic stated, “Beginning this year, the Medical College Admission Test [MCAT] will contain questions involving human behavior and psychology, a recognition that being a good doctor “requires an understanding of people,” not just science.”  The same is true of being a good scientist. Understanding people is essential for succeeding in everything from teaching, collaboration, and grant writing to media interviews, public engagement, and Congressional testimony.

Yet traditional training in medicine, science, engineering, and other technical disciplines is not helping students to develop the suite of communication skills they need to succeed. How should graduate training shift to better equip STEM professionals for their future careers? [Read more…]

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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The Hidden Curriculum In Graduate Education

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As we prepare to roll out the final #GradSciComm Report this week, I’ve been revisiting the moments of inspiration and flashes of insight that shaped our work. Like clay on a potter’s wheel, the best projects often begin with a vision but take on surprising and idiosyncratic texture as they spin into being.
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Diving In: Building Your Communication Skills In Grad School

Diving into communications! Throughout my time in the field (pictured here in Pigeon Creek, San Salvador, Bahamas), I was collecting stories to share on my blog.

As a graduate student in the sciences, with a strong desire to make my work relevant to society, I often asked myself  “How can I get the communications skills I need?”  Long days in the field and late nights in the lab sometimes made it hard to add communications to my list of things to do, but it was really worth it – the time I invested paid off in so many ways, from expanding my skill set to informing my research (and inspiring me to build real-life applications into my masters project). One of the first things I found after joining COMPASS with my hot-off-the-press degree is that I wasn’t the only grad student asking that question. The COMPASS team hears it all the time, and is working actively to address it. [Read more…]

On Vulnerability In Art And Science Communication

Fingerpainting at its finest – I loved the swirling textures I was able to produce in this set of waves enough to snap a quick photo of it.

My closet is organized in a color spectrum, as are my books, and more strangely, my cleaning products. My spreadsheets march in rainbow precision, as do my (many) calendars. I once actually uttered the phrase, “My contingency planning is a thing of beauty.” I desperately want to package a tidy story. Put everything neatly into place. Make it pretty. Make it precise. That’s what I do. But I’ve been home from my trip to Arizona for 28 hours now, and I don’t know yet exactly how I feel or what, precisely, I have learned. Instead, this is a story about letting go. [Read more…]

How Do We Know If Science Communication Training Is Working?

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“Don’t blame the ruler.”

Now a few weeks out from the AAAS meeting in Chicago, the punch line of Rick Tankersley’s talk at our #GradSciComm session still niggles in the back of my mind. [Read more…]

ScienceOnline Climate

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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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Scientists And The Changing Media Landscape, Part 2

Science journalism – like much of traditional journalism – is undergoing a culture shift. Understanding these changes can help scientists wanting to engage to do so most effectively. Photo from Thomas Hawk via Flickr.

In order to bridge dissimilar cultures and have effective dialogue, you have to know who you’re talking to. At COMPASS, we often talk about the similarities between scientists and journalists – for example, they share a love for discovery, healthy skepticism, analytical minds, and competitive natures – in order for them to meet on common ground before explaining where their cultures diverge.

Over the last two decades, the culture of traditional journalism has changed dramatically. While many of the needs traditional media historically served are now being taken up by a growing and massive online community, there is still a role (albeit a changing one) for traditional media in setting the public agenda. How can scientists best connect with traditional media amidst these changes?

Not surprisingly, the changes in journalism are not an isolated phenomenon. As Ivan Oransky, co-founder of Retraction Watch, said in a closing plenary at the World Conference of Science Journalists just two weeks ago, the culture of science is also experiencing changes.  These cultures both:

  • Feel increasing pressure to produce outcomes that serve the public good.
  • Experience constraints of stagnating budgets.
  • Face increasing internal competition.
  • Experience increasing pressure to publish, publish, publish.

But here is where they diverge. The changes in journalism have been driven by the needs of the public it serves, and how the public consumes and uses information has shifted dramatically. [Read more…]

Scientists And The Changing Media Landscape, Part 1

Science journalism – like much of traditional journalism – is undergoing a culture shift. Understanding these changes can help scientists wanting to engage to do so most effectively. Photo from Thomas Hawk via Flickr.

This is part one of two in a short series on the changing science media landscape and what it means for scientists. You can read more on this topic in “Escape from the Ivory Tower,” Chapter 5: What the Changing World of the Media Means for You.

Lately, we’ve heard a lot about why scientists find it challenging to connect their science to broader dialogues. But influences external to academic culture may be contributing in equal measure to this frustration. Sweeping changes in the field of science journalism – the medium through which science has traditionally been shared with the broader public – are affecting the way scientists engage. And change has been hard for both scientists and journalists. [Read more…]