Science communication: Not so linear

My friend Sandra (who has said wise things before) was chatting online with me and she asked me if I was being:

the princess of productivity, the duchess of drafts, or the master of meetings

I don’t think I was doing that at the particular moment I received the message, but I must say it made me want to be those things. I have continued to focus on writing-up my Montreal UA and P cycling paper (I am doing the draft step now), and but mostly have been the aristocrat of the arts, busy planning the last preparation phase for my “side project”.

I can’t believe the art-science dance piece is going to be presented at La Nuit Blanche in 16 days (on March 1st).  I have gotten permission and printed out poster versions of infographics about P in diet and food waste. I have firmed-up plans about serving apples at the performance and confirmed two new participants (an actress to do the story narration, and a videographer to document the process and the show). We are also starting the promotion campaign and thus I am trying to spread the word and possibly get some interviews before the show. I am amazed at how much time and energy and coordination science communication and an artistic creation are taking, but I think I am learning some valuable skills that translate well to even my academic writing and management skills. I read this post on science communication and the author refers to my advisor and some of the training I have done with her which was great to see. It was especially nice to see the importance of the story in science communication highlighted because that is what I am trying to do at La Nuit Blanche; a story through text, music, movement, and taste. I am both excited and nervous to have this piece come to fruition after many years of thinking and planning.

Promo post cards for the event!

Even though I have tried to incorporate what I have learnt about science communication from my Liber Ero training, I realized that my little P story might still not be accessible to all. At rehearsal on Wednesday, many of the dancers asked me “Hey would you mind actually explaining what is phosphorus and what this whole piece is about?”. This is after about 4 months of rehearsal and them dancing and hearing my little story about P hundreds of times. My heart dropped! I was mortified that my story didn’t seem to stand on its own, but I was also happy that they wanted to know more.

I of course took the time to explain in different ways. And I realized that even though my story doesn’t contain any big words, it does rely on concepts of abstraction that I take for granted. One of the dancers asked me “but what does P look like? When you say it moves from China to Canada in soybeans, where is the P?” This isn’t something I intuitively thought I needed to explain, because to me, saying that it is in living beings like plants was enough. I realized that for scientists, when we try to be general, we communicate in terms of theory and abstract ideas that as a group we share (and when we say “I will get down to the details” we will then talk about data and numbers and stuff). In dance it is the opposite. The common ground that everyone shares are the specific steps and movements, the “getting down into the details” is where the abstraction and feeling comes in.

I think for the piece at la Nuit Blanche things will be ok because we are not just presenting the dance, I am there to discuss the material, and i am now making a little one page summary for everyone involved in the project.

I definitely have new insights for when I do my next art-science project. It isn’t a linear process!


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