Wilburforce Training: The Heart Of The Matter

The 2015 Wilburforce Fellows, with trainers and journalists, at the training in Seattle. From Left to right: back row- David Malakoff, David Mildrexler, Ben Alexander, Chris Parish, Matt Williamson?, Michael Quinn, Brian Harvey; middle row- Michelle Nijhuis, Sergio Avila, Nancy Baron, Melissa Lucash, Jonaki Bhattacharyya, Matt Williamson?, Jeff Burnside, Aerin Jacobs,

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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Assembling (Science) Networks Online

“People never ask whether birds are good or bad because they fly in flocks,” I say, while a murmuration of starlings whirls on the screen behind me. I pause, letting the audience watch the dark forms flow across the sky, “but discussions of social media always seem to focus on how these technologies turn us into a mindless mob. It’s a condemnation and a dismissal. I hope we stop thinking like that and instead, ask better questions about what drives these amazing patterns of behavior online and off.”

This is my favorite moment in our workshops on social media. I feel grounded – like we can step back and take a deep breath, soothed by the strange and beautiful rhythms of the flock coming to roost as dusk falls. It reminds me too, of days online where I’m one of the flock, banking and wheeling as memes and must-reads ripple across twitter.

It’s not just entertainment either – the hive mind is capable of mind-boggling knowledge production. Whether it’s crowd-sourced science projects like FoldIt (protein folding), EyeWire (neuron mapping), Galaxy Zoo (analyzing Hubble images) or expert communities like the Polymath Project, (blog-based “massively collaborative mathematics”), the social media swarm can both work and play.

But what if you don’t have a flock? 
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Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving

It’s the time of year when many of us pause to take stock of all that we’re grateful for. Behind every effective communicator, there are inspiring teachers, careful editors, constructive critics, generous mentors, and enthusiastic cheerleaders. This year, we asked the COMPASS team to share their thanks for those who helped them along their communications path. [Read more…]

Why Do You Do What You Do?

“My motivation – to base management on the most relevant science – that seems like apple pie to me. Who wouldn’t eat it up?” - Tania Schoennagel
Image by Carol Atlantica via flickr
Solving mysteries? Stellar colleagues? Saving the world?

Last week, I wrote about why the why can be hard for scientists. This week, I offer perspectives from scientist colleagues on their whys. All share a passion and commitment to engage beyond the walls of the ivory tower. But their underlying ‘whys’ vary a lot.

Perhaps not too surprisingly, this series of posts are motivated, in part, by reflecting on my own whys. One of the reasons I do what I do is the opportunity to connect with some amazing people, including the inspiration and energy I draw from the contributors here.

Scientists have many reasons for doing what they do, and just as many reasons for sharing (or not sharing) their whys. I hope the whys of these scientists – and their willingness to share them, not only here, but also more broadly – inspire you as much as they have inspired me. [Read more…]

Why Is The Why Difficult for Scientists?

Are you willing to channel your inner Aristotle and embrace the Philosophy in your PhD for more effective #scicomm?
Image courtesy of Mary Harrsh via flickr.

Being a scientist is more than a job – it’s a way of thinking, a way of living, a way of interacting with the world. For some of you, it is the best job in the world!  Our passion is clearly important, and yet … we so rarely share it. Why?

This is the first in a series about scientists communicating the ‘why’ of their work. In the coming weeks, I’ll share other scientists’ reflections, insights, and stories on the topic. Perhaps yours? Post a comment or send me a note, and I’ll incorporate your perspective into future posts. [Read more…]

Reporting Back And Looking Forward From #GradSciComm

MissionReframedAnimation

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…]

Gratitude And Reflections From 30,000 Feet

HikingPhotoHR

Through the whirr of the propeller, I have a gorgeous view of the California coastline. I can make out details of the land and seascapes below – Manzanita-covered mountainsides and purple-hued kelp beds as well as snow-covered peaks hundreds of miles in the distance. I’m on my way home from our annual COMPASS staff retreat in Santa Barbara. Our retreat is a chance to dig into the finer details of the landscape of our work, like sharing the innovations we’ve tried in our communications trainings this past year or the nitty gritty of how we allocate our time among different facets of our work. The retreat is also a time to look further afield at the broader landscape, capitalizing on the presence of our board. From this 30,000-foot view, the mountains that stand before us in the coming year are around long-term sustainability and growth – how to more effectively share our impact and diversify our funding portfolio. [Read more…]

Re-Energizing Your Work (And Your Life)

What will you risk – taking on or letting go of – to renew your energy?
Photo courtesy of of Antoine Gady via Flickr.

When Brooke first invited me to participate in TREC’s Senior Leadership Program, I responded with “Maybe … but I don’t think I can’t take the time. Three weeks in Montana over nine months is a lot, especially on top of the travel I already have lined up.” Fortunately, she persisted. Now, two sessions into the program, I can’t imagine what a mistake I almost made. I simply couldn’t have afforded not to make time for this. It’s been and will continue to be a transformative experience, both professionally and personally.

My life, like yours, has been running me ragged. I love my job. I love my family. I love my life. But, I am tired. I am overwhelmed. I am perpetually behind. And whether you’re leading a business, a non-profit, or a research group, I suspect you can relate. Our culture rewards busy-ness. To be overwhelmed is the norm. For scientists, juggling the competing demands of research, publishing, grant writing, teaching, mentoring, not to mention engaging outside of academia, is exhausting.

Can we move beyond inevitable exhaustion? I do my job because I love it. It feeds me, and I suspect (or at least I hope) this is also true for you. How can we find a way for our jobs to feed us without devouring us?   [Read more…]

5/3/13 Link Round-Up

Our week here at COMPASS began with the excitement of our commentary piece coming out in PLOS Biology, but is ending on an even higher note. Many scientists we’ve worked with are stepping up to share personal stories of engagement. There have been stories of how:

  • Reaching out via both traditional (Don Boesch) and social (Isabelle Côté) media can open up new opportunities for connecting science to policy
  • Future effective engagement of scientists outside academia relies on cultural change regarding time management (Jessica Hellman, Jim Cloern) and restructuring institutional incentives (Chris Buddle)
  • Becoming better at engaging sometimes means leaving the ivory tower for training in another field (Ryan Kelly) or pursuing science at a for-profit company (Dawn Wright)
  • Doing good science and reflecting on what works and what doesn’t is a critical part of the path to engagement (Simon Donner, Heather Leslie)
  • Above all, it is not science alone, but also hope that inspires people to act (Alan Townsend, Steve Palumbi)

You can watch the conversations unfolding on twitter at #reachingoutsci, or see the running list we’re keeping on our kick-off post.

This is part of a growing trend of scientists being willing to be present as characters in the story. Efforts like Looks Like Science or The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers, highlight how valuable it can be to share personal stories of who we are, why we do what we do, and why it matters. All of us at COMPASS continue to be inspired by these stories and the scientists who share them. And we can’t wait to see what’s next…