There is a gap growing between the scientific community and the general public. The public can’t keep-up with what is happening in science daily, and often don’t even care. Overworked scientists rarely find extra time to communicate their science to audiences outside academia, and just publishing the science in journals doesn’t seem to bridge the gap fast enough.
Thankfully there is a growing army of science communicators determined to bring science back to the public, engaging in a useful dialog about science. The most powerful weapons of this small army are the scientists themselves. Contrary to public perception, scientists are a passionate, interesting bunch of people. They love what they do. That passion helps them overcome the difficulties, setbacks, and struggles that come with exploring the limits of human knowledge. Their ingenuity navigating the unknown is the raw material for captivating storytelling, but they rarely learn in school how to tell their story to the public. Engage is an organization of graduate students of the University of Washington that helps to reveal those stories. Engage organizes a seminar to train student scientists on presenting their research to a general audience, stripping jargon and scientific formality. I had the privilege of attending the Engage seminar series for graduate students this quarter and I am really happy I did. The seminar provides a wonderful review of the craft of storytelling, teaching how to speak with your voice and body; presentation content and design; and the “what” and the “how” of effective communication. For me, the take home message is that the respect you owe to the audience means that you must relentlessly simplify the content without dumbing it down. Hopefully, if you use the right tools to tell a compelling, engaging story, the public understands your science better and relates to the person doing the science too. I believe that is a great way to bridge the gap.
The best part of Engage: there is a science treat for the Seattle public too. This seminar is a preparation for the Engage science speaker series, this year happening at Town Hall from March to June. Attending this class I had the chance to learn about the amazing research of twenty graduate students at UW (you can learn more about them here). After more than two decades in academia, I can say that what I have heard from the students is all-fresh, super-engaging science storytelling. To give you a small sample, I learned how coral reduces the destructive power of Tsunamis in a video game analogy, why we may be loving killer whales to dead, and I saw evolution happening in front of my eyes. There is much more coming to Town Hall, starting on March 5th, please check this calendar and make sure to go to the UW Science Now presentations. You will be glad you did.