Engage Speaker Series and Seminar Review

As I mentioned a while back, last quarter I was part of the first Engage class. The idea  for this course came out of discussions about how it’s important for scientists to be able to present their work to the general public, but this is a skill that we’re never really given any training in. While it is easy to sit around bemoaning this disconnect between scientists and non-scientists, Eric Hilton, Rachel Mitchell, and Phil Rosenfield decided to try to do something about this and created the Engage seminar series and the course to prepare us to give a talk as part of that series.

While a part of the class was devoted to the process of putting together a talk, the unique part of this course was what came before we got started with our presentations. The different tone of the class was set on the first day when we spent most of the session doing improv acting exercises to help break out of a more structured way of thinking. These continued as a smaller portion of sessions through out the rest of the course. We also spent time talking about story structure, analogies and other ways to make our science easier to understand. To help us we had outside speakers almost every week to talk about their different experiences presenting science to different audiences.

With that to build on, we finished the quarter by putting together a talk we could present for the seminar series. One of the good things about the course was that we were all from a wide range of different fields. This provided a good check for when we could lose people if we were talking to non-specialists, since we were all non-specialists in most of the other class members’ fields. There was a pretty clear difference between our initial introductions trying to give a brief description of our work and the end of the course when we all presented a few example slides. And while we were focused on how to present to the public, I’ve found a lot of the advice can apply to my more technical talks as well. Even if I can work with a more specialized vocabulary and give less background, I still want to be able to present my work in a way that would be interesting to listen to.

Now we are getting the chance to put into practice what we’ve learned with the seminar taking place every other Wednesday night at 7pm in Johnson Hall, room 102. The next talk will be a double presentation on April 27th, with myself talking about how I can use fluorescence to understand proteins’ shape and function and Julie Shi talking about gene therapy.

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