Many of us here at ScIU have recognized that there is a shortage of classes to teach science communication at IU and in science programs in general. While not every scientist does outreach everyday, we sometimes forget that the simple act of explaining your science to a grant committee or your neighbor who likes to chat is science communication, too.
This is one of the main reasons we organized a science communication symposium last year. Everyone will have to talk about their science to people who are not working on that same project and being able to effectively communicate complex ideas is hard. By inviting people who have more experience communicating science than us, we are making sure that the scientists of the future are more prepared to go out in the world.
Last year’s symposium surprised us with how much we learned and we’ve been applying those skills since. Multiple bloggers have said that they have been thinking more carefully about designing presentations they have to give. For example, the colors in a figure or graph are much more important than many of us had previously thought, and can help guide viewers to more nuanced understanding without an accompanying block of text. Rachel Skipper, a ScIU alum, said this proved to be good advice to pass on to “undergraduate research mentees who were designing their presentation materials for the first time.”
The keynote talk last year was about telling science stories and this was an eye-opener. Not only did the speaker elaborate on how to shape your message as an engaging story, but he also reminded us that we need to think of our audience when designing talks or written materials, especially when the audience includes non-scientists. This is necessary when students leave academia for the wider world, as Briana Whitaker, another ScIU alum, noted. “As a scientist, we are taught to analyze the data, but as humans, sometimes we need to look beyond that and recognize that not everyone approaches the world the same way we do.” This is important both for giving talks and even for recruiting prospective undergrad students.
Even the panel last year provided an opportunity for connections to be made. Kimberly McCoy, a ScIU alum and current freelance science writer, said that the symposium helped expand her network “which has led to editing feedback and possible future opportunities.”
After the success of last year, we’re excited to be hosting our second annual science communication symposium. It will be held the afternoon of March 23rd in Woodburn Hall, Room 120. Like last year, it is open to the public. There will be a keynote followed by a panel discussion featuring IU professors, Wonderlab staff, and our keynote speaker. For more information, see our dedicated symposium page. We hope to see you there!