SciComm 101: Summer Workshop series

Science communication training

SciComm 101: Summer Workshop series

Too often the work of scientists goes unseen. As they toil in labs and in the field, there are amazing stories that go untold. Times are changing however, and scientists need to learn how to tell their own stories in a way that’s easy to understand.

In summer 2016, the first science communication workshop was held over five weeks on the University of Missouri campus for graduate and post-doctoral students, as well as PIs on the NSF-funded “Physiological Genomics of Maize Nodal Root Growth Under Drought” grant. The workshops were led by Jon Stemmle, a professor of Strategic Communication in the Missouri School of Journalism, and featured hands-on experiences and interactive discussions. Topics covered in the workshops included how to reach non-science audiences, use storytelling and social media, and deal with the media.

“In the past I’ve worked a lot with undergraduate science students and have found that each lab has its own unique language,” said Stemmle. “What we hope to accomplish with these workshops is to remind the scientists that while using that language is appropriate for their lab, they need to remember to eliminate jargon and speak plainly when dealing with the public. Really, we’re talking about being bilingual and understanding the audience you’re speaking to.”

At the end of the five weeks, each of the 15 participants were asked to take the lessons learned from the workshop sessions and give a three-minute presentation to explain their research in a way the public would understand. This experience came in handy as many of the participants were talking about their research at the Missouri State Fair later that summer.

Shannon King, a Ph.D candidate part of the MU Drought Team found the workshop extremely helpful when preparing for the Missouri State Fair.

“It was really interesting using the communication skills we developed in the workshop to talk to different audiences at the State Fair,” said King. “The State Fair offers a wide variety of people to talk about scientific research with from young children, to farmers and even legislators. This varied audience gave us the opportunity to really practice explaining the research we do in ways that each of those audiences would take something away from our conversation.”

As part of the broader impacts of the grant, these workshops will take place again in summer 2018.

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