Communicating my research (but not with dance)

As I mentioned last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to be part of a science communication and policy engagement training session. Connecting with both the people involved (in person but also via twitter) and the training material has left me reinvigorated (although a little overwhelmed) to continue to explore art-science collaborations and perfect my science writing, presentation, blogging, twittering, and conversational skills. In this post I want to share a little of my experience trying to explain my research and mostly share some really great and inspiring resources.

Let me start with a sadder note and move up from there. Although I had fun, was surprised and discouraged at how poorly I did at engaging my public and clearly and succinctly explaining my work on urban P and UA. I felt like I knew the “engaging” story of P at the global level, but linking it to UA wasn’t actually that easy in 30 seconds or a minute. In fact, one of the journalists told me something along the lines of: I have done stories about urban gardeners and they always come of a little kooky. I still don’t fully why your research is important. This was a very helpful comment and actually something I think about a lot. UA can often be, or be portrayed as, small and anecdotal and very linked to certain world views and beliefs. At the same time, there is good research about impacts of UA (social and ecological) and research about if and how UA maybe part of larger scale sustainability goals. Needless to say I was disappointed with myself that I couldn’t make that point clearly or in an engaging way. Later in the training, I tried to bring anecdotal story-telling in (as it really worked for other participants). I tried starting one version of the story with the recent excitement around “eating local”, then I tried another version centering on the farmer and him/her making decisions about what to put on the field, and I even tried bringing myself into the story by talking about dance and fascination with movement, and how now I study the movement of P. All of them failed to make an exciting link between the very real and pressing issues around P management and the research pieces I am working on.

I feel lucky I got to try all these things out though, because without actually trying and practicing you can’t make changes towards excellence. I am definitely not giving up and I feel like I did learn a lot of great tools. I just haven’t figured out how to make them mine yet. Persistence is key though, and I do feel inspired by others to continue trying. I have done just that this week and I have come up with a few different versions to “my” story.

Here is (well the links to) what is keeping me going and putting things into perspective:

You have to begin somewhere and work on it, and it’s never easy for anyone (to write and be a good communicator to both scientists and the lay audience).  Science is a creative endeavor, even if people don’t always perceive it as such, so I think it is important to communicate our research findings in many ways, but also perhaps relevant to shed light on scientific process and scientists themselves. Central to all three of these tangents is story telling (just perhaps different main characters sometimes) because as humans we like and understand the story form (hey it’s even part of why fame exists). Scientist’s do succeed at finding metaphors and anecdotes to explain their research (here is just one example). There are tools (including the COMPASS model and the CNXN Story, to more informal advice about blogging, poster sessions, and other engagement) to help me (or you) practice these story-telling skills. And finally, there is more than one way to communicate for academics, so I think I will find my niche somewhere.

There really is a world of people who take science communication seriously (with an extremely fun and upbeat attitude) and I am happy I have been introduced to this world more formally.

word cloud based on the frequency the 25 participants in the Liber Ero fellowship used they terms in their final statements about what they got out of our two days of training together.
word cloud based on the frequency the 25 participants in the Liber Ero fellowship used they terms in their final statements about what they got out of our two days of training together.


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