Our Stories: Scott Doney

We often blog here with brief updates or reflections on our work, while our website provides examples and descriptions of what we do. Over the coming weeks, we are excited to share a series of our stories, focused on longer timelines and richer details. We hope you enjoy!

Dr. Scott Doney, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

Our first story highlights one of the most rewarding, and enjoyable, aspects of our work: building relationships with scientists and supporting them as they surpass our (and their own!) best hopes.

As a Leopold Leadership Fellow in 2004, Dr. Scott Doney gamely participated in one of our trainings. He drafted his Message Box, sweated through his mock interview scenarios, and learned about journalism and policymaking. As a marine chemist, he thought that the policy work seemed interesting but unlikely. “I thought, this is all well and good for other folks, but I’ll never get asked. I would have never guessed, sitting in the training doing the testimony, that that would be me one day.” [Read more…]

Lessons From The Policy Trenches

Like this camouflaged plethodontidae, the entry into a policy dialogue is easy to spot when you know what you're looking for.
Image from Minette Layne on Flickr.

Sometimes, students are the best teachers. I think this is particularly true when you’re pushing yourself beyond the boundaries of hard facts or scholarship into the realm of practice. Those who are just entering the world of policy are often more articulate about the experience than those of us who make our home there. I’m excited to highlight a great example of this, Karen Lips, a Leopold Leadership fellow who studies salamanders like lungless sallys, frogs and other (arguably) adorable amphibians. Karen wanted to help protect the animals she studies from invasive pathogens that reach wild populations via animal imports. Earlier this year we highlighted a “get-your-feet-wet” training that COMPASS did for Leopold fellows who felt they had something to offer to policy but were unsure how to get started. Karen participated in that training with fantastic results; not only has she positioned herself as a resource for policymakers working in this area, she’s enlisted her graduate students in a project that helps directly answer questions decision-makers face. [Read more…]

Lessons From Leopold (Part I)

woman network node

As a scientist with an ever-growing list of responsibilities, you want to invest your time wisely in any activity you take on. Even as time becomes an increasingly valuable commodity, many of you manage to carve out a slice of that time to participate in policy dialogues. So, how do you invest that precious time wisely?

In previous blogs on policy engagement, we’ve talked about the issue of bias, the need to speak about your science at multiple scales, and the importance of understanding the decision-makers’ tradeoffs. But we haven’t yet talked about how to maximize the impact of your efforts.

Over the last several months we have had the privilege of working with a group of Leopold Leadership Fellows to jump-start their involvement in policy discussions. Working with the Leopold program, we developed a process to help each Fellow find their starting point for long-term policy engagement. Their experiences illustrate creative approaches to making your time in the policy space productive. [Read more…]

A Policymaker Walks Into The Forest…

Helping policymakers to navigate a topical landscape – the forest and the trees – can make scientists trusted resources for decision-making.

Photo courtesy of Bart Busschots via Flickr.

A recurring challenge for scientists talking to policymakers is finding the match between the details that the scientist focuses on and understands, and the details that the policymaker needs to make their decisions. I often see scientists struggling to calibrate their message to the right level of specificity. Missing the mark on this can kill an otherwise promising conversation, but more importantly, increases the probability that you will squander real opportunities to become a trusted resource. [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…]

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…]

Opportunity In Seat 7D?

Have the middle seat blues?  You never know where a conversation with your neighbor could lead.
Photo courtesy of evoo73 via Fickr.

Last Sunday, in the sleepy pre-dawn hour, Meghan Miner and I caught a cab to Boston’s Logan airport to fly home from the one-day communications workshop that COMPASS held for the east coast Switzer Fellows. Though we were groggy and not terribly talkative ourselves, we couldn’t help being drawn into a conversation started by “Dave the tattooed cab driver,” as he called himself. [Read more…]

Enter An Elevator With Confidence

Having a prepared and streamlined message ready will help you seize opportunities as they arise!  Photo courtesy of  via Flickr.

Red Cross Phlebotomist: So, do you work here on campus?
Me: Yes.
RCP: What do you do?

I pause.

I don’t know about you, but this is a tough question for me to answer in casual conversation. How much information should I give? How do I really describe my job in a few lines?

Enter: The Elevator Speech. I have only done this once in an elevator, but I frequently have this conversation at social gatherings, the hair salon, while donating blood, etc. I can only imagine you do as well… more often than you may realize.

You can find a multitude of information online detailing how to craft, perfect and deliver elevator speeches, but there is no one tried and true formula. In COMPASS trainings, however, we provide one-on-one coaching for scientists in the art of the short response. We push participants to describe their work in one minute or less in an engaging, informative way by listening and watching the people they’re talking to.

Here are a few of the COMPASS tips that I’ve used to prepare and feel confident in the delivery of my own elevator speech: [Read more…]