Becoming Well Rounded Scientists

Chris Mooney came back to Seattle to talk about his and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s book “Unscientific America.” FOSEP co-sponsored the event and it’s easy for me to say that the members present got all riled up in that idealist way that we can change the way science is perceived in this country by changing ourselves.

Several FOSEP members read their book and met to discuss it. This isn’t going to be a book review; we aren’t addressing the messenger (we’re fans of Chris’ efforts anyway) or the means the messages were delivered in this book.

We’re convinced that there is a growing chasm between scientists and those who don’t seek out scientific information so we focused our discussion on what we and FOSEP could do about it.

We had a lively and fun discussion and ended with a few plans:

To increase or gain communication skills we will work with individual departments at the UW to find a set of courses we will recommend all FOSEP members take before they graduate (and we will take them). There are policy certificate programs out there, but this is less formal. We are thinking about 4 or 5 courses that a scientist should take before they consider themselves a well rounded scientist in this century.

This would include mass communication skills, media training (giving interviews, staying on message), preparing an elevator talk and sound bites relating to their specific research, how to find analogies non-specialists can understand, and how to avoid jargon, etc. Check out the wiki page we started.

Eric and I are going to check the feasibility of leading a seminar on science communication that would be a credit or two to develop visualizations of your research and a polished talk aimed at the public. We are hoping to cross-list this class in many science departments, so that many students will know about it and can practice giving their talks to people who aren’t specialists in their field.

Depending on graduate student interest, we’d like to do a public lecture series at the UW. The talks developed in the seminar would be ideal to use in this future versions of this series.

It will start with just the astronomy department, and it would be a grad student and post-doc research showcase. Each talk would start very broadly, for example, do you use Hubble data? Then talk about the telescope, and then end with the questions you are trying to answer. This is kind of like a science on tap except we want it at the university to try and break down the ivory tower barrier. We want to bring the public in to see what we are actually doing here and have a polished talk ready to go at any time. Kate pointed out the only thing we’d have to update in a general talk like this would be our results. We won’t be reaching the part of the public that most needs reaching, but this small step will help us with any public communication.

If it works well with the astronomy grad students, we’ll open it up FOSEP wide and try to get more people in, part of the reason we are doing it this way is because I’m an astronomer, and our planetarium public shows have been really popular so we have a nice public email list to advertise from.

So look forward to posts on our progress, and we hope you’ll all do what you can to bring these two cultures back together.

Finally, we had such a great discussion that we are going to do this again with another book. We’re up for suggestions; so far Andy suggested “Don’t be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style” – who’s in?

This post was written with the help of Eric Hilton, Kate Stoll, Andy McMillan, and Rachel Lipsky

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2 thoughts on “Becoming Well Rounded Scientists

  1. Pingback: The Forum on Science, Ethics, and Policy » The “Arcace” Language of Science

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