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…]

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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Back To School

A crisp notebook and a fresh box of No.2's used to be all you needed to tackle the school year. As a grad student or faculty member,  you need a different set of tools to navigate the challenges of academic life.  Photo by Wirawat Lian-udom on Flickr.

The long hot days of summer are turning to the brief and – here in Oregon – soggy days of fall. For grad students and faculty alike it’s a return to the hectic rush of the academic year. We have compiled a list of COMPASS blog posts that can help those of us headed back to school… [Read more…]

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…]

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…]

Building A Metro For Science Communication

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“Doors Closing. Please stand clear of the doors.” For anyone who lives, or has spent time in Washington, D.C., you recognize this as the announcement just before the Metro pulls away from the station. The Metro is one of the things I miss most about living in Washington, D.C. Even in a commuter-friendly place like Portland (which I now call home), the bike lanes and MAX simply can’t move as many people to as many destinations with the efficiency of the Metro. The Metro provides something critical to a buzzing, busy city – people-moving infrastructure. [Read more…]

Reporting Back And Looking Forward From #GradSciComm

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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. [Read more…]

#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…]

#GradSciComm Update: Sharpening Our Focus

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

From 20,000 feet up, the approach to Washington, DC’s Reagan National Airport is a fuzzy blotch of green and blue – fingers of the Chesapeake Bay creeping landward in dendritic patterns. As you get closer, green patches become dense stands of trees and blue-green waters give way to marshy shorelines. In the final miles, just before the runway comes into view, docks and small marinas resolve so close that you can make out people working dockside.

When Liz Neeley and I were working to prepare for a recent talk for the National Science Foundation on the COMPASS #GradSciComm work (see document below), Liz landed on this visual metaphor for our process. Typically, being able to rapidly cover a lot of ground quickly trades off with being able to see features at fine resolution… at least at first. For our inventory of the players involved in science communication trainings for graduate students, this meant we first assembled a rough picture heavily influenced by generalizations and standout features. But, as we’ve gathered more and better data, the details and topography of the whole landscape is beginning to emerge. [Read more…]

True Leadership Takes Risking Being Yourself

Reflections of the Gallatin Mountains in the pond at the B-Bar Ranch, Emigrant, Montana. 

Photo courtesy of Amanda Hardy.

How do you gain leadership skills as a scientist? Although common elsewhere (particularly in the for-profit world), leadership training is almost non-existent for scientists. The Leopold Leadership Program and COMPASS trainings are notable exceptions. And unfortunately, like science communication, leadership skills are not part of graduate training (but perhaps they should be). Recently, I accepted a generous invitation to strengthen my leadership skills through TREC, courtesy of the Wilburforce Foundation. It was a transformative experience that has left me with new insights and much food for thought.

When it comes to leadership, many of us fall into the trap of trying to be like someone else. We ask ourselves, “How can I inspire like Jane Lubchenco or speak out like Stephen Schneider?” Pick your heroes. But the point is, these are the wrong questions. Being a leader isn’t about being like someone else. Instead, it’s about finding your own voice and being who you are. There’s no single way to be a leader. [Read more…]