For the last two summers, I have eagerly packed my bags and headed to Boston to help organize the Communicating Science Conference (ComSciCon). ComSciCon invites 50 STEM graduate students from across North America for three days of workshops, panels, and networking with peers and science communication experts. The goal is to provide graduate students with the tools and training for effective science communication.
This year’s ComSciCon welcomed science journalist and children’s author Nicholas St. Fleur as the keynote speaker, who anchored the meeting with an inspiring talk that emphasized the importance of centering humans in scientific reporting.
Another exciting part of the program, the “Create-a-Thon”, is led by expert reviewers. Graduate students are guided through the process of creating and publishing their own science communication piece (e.g. an article, audio, video, or illustration) which are considered for publication by ComSciCon’s publication partners like American Scientist and The Xylom.
The three-day conference is also interactive, offering a choice of panels and workshops covering topics such as creative storytelling, data visualization, ethics, and science education. Graduate students practiced their science communication skills during “Pop Talks,” where they described their research in one-minute to randomly chosen audiences who played the role of “conspiracy theorists,” “teenagers at a science fair,” and “your uncle.” Live feedback was given by peers who held neon signs that read “JARGON” and “AWESOME.”
Finally, ComSciCon offers a platform for graduate students to showcase their projects during the poster session. Here’s a sample of some of the projects that were shared:
- An app for students to access science at their own pace;
- A project that has engaged 2,500+ school learners with the science of language;
- A high school course in civil engineering;
- A centre that helps Parkinson’s Disease patients improve their quality of life;
- A blog dedicated to celebrating women in STEM.
I was motivated and elated to see researchers using science communication skills to spearhead outreach initiatives and to impact policy. I strongly believe that training in science communication should be a mandatory component of graduate programs. The ability to clearly explain complex topics is a skill useful both in academia (i.e., when designing a poster, teaching undergraduate courses, writing a grant application, giving a presentation, or sharing research with the public through media outlets) and industry. For example, a policy analyst explaining the implications of data to policymakers; a public health official explaining vaccination benefits; an engineer sharing technical information to stakeholders.
Looking for other ways to improve your science communication skills? Reach out and practice! Here are some ideas:
- find activities that you enjoy (e.g., writing, producing videos, engaging with K-12 students) to communicate the impact of your research;
- propose a plain language article to Frontiers for Young Minds, where your research findings will be read by elementary and high school students
- submit a video of your research to SSHRC’s Storytellers Challenge;
- participate in the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition (read here for expert tips).