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…]

Want to Get Policymakers Engaged With Your Field of Research? Integrate Them Into Your Scientific Conference

Panelists from left to right: 
Michael Curley, Environmental Law Institute
David Batker, Earth Economics
Jody Springer, Federal Emergency Management Agency   
Mary Ruckelshaus, Natural Capital Project, Stanford University
Mary Erickson, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Laura Petes, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Moderator

This post is co-authored by COMPASS Director of Science Policy Outreach Chad English.

Scientific conferences are hotspots for researchers to come together to share their latest discoveries, form new collaborations, and glean new insights from one another. But traditional conferences can also be very insular affairs, where researchers geek out with one another and non-experts find it practically impossible to glean much value from the proceedings. For scientific communities that want to see their science used by society, we think the benefits of engaging policymakers are clear.  When done well, the very audiences you most want to share your science with become engaged participants and help shape both the formal talks and informal side-conversations throughout the conference.  So, what does it take to recast conferences as opportunities to integrate external audiences into these discussions? What does it take to engage policymakers effectively? [Read more…]

Your Science Is A Multi-tool

Science can be a multi-tool within the policy process; understanding what function your science is serving can make engagements more effective.

Science plays many roles in the policymaking process. Describing those roles is often harder than I expect.  While attending the North American Congress of Conservation Biology (NACCB) in July, I was introduced to a new – and helpful – description of those roles, during a talk by Stephen Posner. Stephen is a PhD candidate at the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont. Like COMPASS, the Gund Institute works at the boundary between new knowledge and emerging solutions to pressing environmental challenges. Much of their work takes place through the lens of “ecosystem services”, a way of thinking about how people’s needs, desires, and actions relate to the natural world upon which we all depend. Stephen investigates how knowledge and understanding of ecosystem services is actually used in policymaking. [Read more…]

When Opportunity Knocks, What Leads COMPASS To A Yes?

COMPASS takes on new projects strategically in order to continue punching above our weight. Photo courtesy of C. Mario Del Rio via Flickr.

“COMPASS is an organization that punches above its weight class,” our new board chair, Mike Sutton, recently noted. I tend to agree. His perspective reflects an expectation of impact based on past performance as well as the target we want to hit. He’s also not alone. People often guess we’re an organization with a staff of 25 or more, not 12. Our topical expansion continues to open a plethora of new doors for COMPASS beyond oceans. And, as much as we’d love to go through all of them, we are a small team. If we want to continue to punch above our weight, we have to keep saying no to get to yes.

Like any organization lucky enough to be burdened by options, COMPASS has multiple filters to carefully consider new opportunities. We strategically blend our passion with what’s practical. The question is, then, when do we say yes? [Read more…]

COMPASS’ Energy Insights

By rerouting your day to include more energy-giving activities, you can avoid feeling drained. Photo courtesy of Ashley Burton via Flickr.

Every year, the entire COMPASS team, including our board, gathers together to reflect on the year past and brainstorm for the year ahead. Since COMPASS is a distributed organization, for many, this will be the only time of the year for us to see each other in person. It’s a time to reconnect, realign our shared goals, and re-energize the team. Our annual retreat starts tomorrow and, as always, we’ve got a lot to talk about.

A recurring theme of our retreats is how we can do better and take on increasingly transformative projects while strategically saying no. As Karen shared last week, time – and, often, institutional capacity – is inflexible, but energy is not. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to manage and align your energy to maximize happiness and productivity – from simple changes in your daily routine to a complete reorganization of priorities.

With that in mind, and heading into the retreat, I asked several of the COMPASS staff what gives them the energy to continue pushing the envelope in work and what they do to remain energized and productive. Here are some of the themes that emerged. [Read more…]

Tapas: Bite-Sized Ways To Design A Better Convening


We’ve all been there. Stellar participants. A promising agenda. But within the first hour of the workshop, people to your right and left are already on their email or editing manuscripts. The first several speakers have gone over their time limits, so even the few minutes reserved for Q&A have evaporated. The moderator cancels all breaks to try to get back on schedule. People have been talking at you all morning. The speakers are unprepared, recycling content you’ve heard several times before, and each talk is completely disjointed from those around it. Your mind drifts to the many sacrifices, professional and personal, you made to be there. You are… once again… in workshop hell.

When it comes to planning convenings, we all make mistakes. COMPASS designs dozens of them a year – from interactions between a handful of scientists and Congressional staff, to trainings and workshops of 20 to 30, to mixers involving hundreds of scientists and journalists. And we’ve made (and will continue to make) our share of missteps. But, we’ve also celebrated many successes, reflecting a willingness to take risks and learn from our mistakes.
[Read more…]

#GradSciComm: How COMPASS Is Answering The National Demand For Science Communication Training

Journalist Jon Hamilton helps to facilitate a COMPASS workshop for School of Global Environmental Sustainability Fellows at Colorado State.

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

With all of the speculation about the sequester’s possible impacts on science, one sobering conclusion feels clear: young scientists will be hit hard by cuts to federal science budgets. While new faculty may have some buffer, those dependent on the grants of others – like graduate students and postdocs – are already suffering a loss of projects and career opportunities. Paired with a job market where less than 20% of new science PhD’s can expect to find a tenure-track job, and it is a grim picture indeed. While much of this is far outside the control of an individual researcher, there is still an important role for personal action. Investing the time and energy to fine-tune communication skills not only makes scientists more competitive, but can also equip them to engage in critically important discussions about our most urgent social priorities. Now, more than ever, next-generation scientists on all career trajectories need to be effective communicators and advocates for why their work matters. (You can read some of our related blogs and articles on this topic here, here, and here.) [Read more…]

AAAS 2013 – The Beauty And Benefits Of A Network

The AAAS Meeting will be held in Boston this week. 

Photo of the Boston Skyline courtesy of: Werner Kunz via Flickr.

As Boston digs out from this weekend’s historic nor’easter, the city is experiencing a second, rather different type of accumulation event. As they do every year (though the location varies), thousands of scientists and hundreds of journalists from around the world convene for the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting. This year the theme, “The Beauty and Benefits of Science,” encourages participants to think about not only the aesthetic pleasure of pure understanding, but also the practical value of applied knowledge. If you know us, you know it’s a very appealing theme for COMPASS!

This year, I’ll be attending along with Chad English, Karen McLeod, and Erica Goldman. We’ll be sitting in, and sometimes live-tweeting, sessions on topics ranging from marine spatial planning, food security, and the future of conservation to creative communication tactics and graduate education reform.

This meeting has been a fixture on the COMPASS calendar since 2001 because it offers a great breadth of science topics, making it an excellent complement to the deep disciplinary conferences we attend. Most importantly, it is an unparalleled opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues from the media, science, policy and nonprofit worlds. Year after year, our most important task at AAAS is networking. One of our most visible activities, for example, has been our signature Marine Mixer, where countless collaborations, story ideas, and projects have been hatched over the past decade. [Read more…]

At Odds: Science Funding And Science Communications

Dr.'s Walter Boynton and Jim Cloern connect their research directly to issues relevant to staffers in the House Science Committee. How can we create the infrastructure and funding to encourage more of these kinds of connections and scientific engagement?  

Photo by Heather Galindo, COMPASS.

* denotes a link that directs to a PDF

In 1997, the National Science Foundation (NSF) established the Broader Impacts section* for all funding proposals, which requires scientists to explain how their proposed work advances societal needs and the field of science generally. This section has been applauded, dismissed, criticized, and even satirized. I think the section’s creation was a good first step. While it addresses many things from education to diversity (perhaps too many, according to the critics), it also prompts an important question: “So What?”  Why does this science matter to society, what’s the scientific merit that justifies using tax dollars to pay for this research, and how will its merit be shared outside academia? [Read more…]