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Education / Graduate Education / BEST Program / Training Pathways / Communication And Outreach

Science Communication and Outreach

Although communicating scientific work is one of the most important skills a trainee can develop, traditional biomedical research training provides little structured guidance related to science writing, communication, and outreach. Having impeccable oral and written communication skills is important not only for embarking on a successful academic or research-related career but also for becoming a well-regarded spokesperson to champion the importance of future biomedical research. Unfortunately, oral and written communication skills are often considered skills that will be picked up along the way as one cobbles together manuscripts, qualifying examinations, training grants and laboratory and conference presentations. We believe these skills should be rigorously examined and developed. You can explore this pathway as either a career pathway or a skills pathway.

URBEST’s goal is to help train PhD graduate students and postdoctoral affiliates to go beyond the expectation of being a sage on a stage (ref 1) and instead embrace the idea of reaching out to the public by way of museum lectures, science cafes, hands-on activities and media interviews. Our goal is to get trainees to do three things for their audience: explain, elevate and enthrall. We want trainees to engage in science conversations that cover more than just their dissertation projects. By challenging graduate students and postdocs to more effectively communicate their research to nonscientific audiences, they will also sharpen the presentation skills they use to share their data with scientific audiences.

The pathway will be directed by Dr. Tracey Baas, Executive Director of URBEST, who joined the University of Rochester after having worked with Nature Publishing Group for eight years as a writer and editor at Science-Business Exchange and for three years as a freelance manuscript reviewer at Nature Biotechnology. She entered the writing/editing field during graduate school as a copy editor with Review of Modern Physics. 

Explore the Science Communication and Outreach Pathway

Attend an Alan Alda Science Communication Workshop The University of Rochester and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stonybrook University are coming together to train the next generation of scientists to communicate more effectively with the public, with funders, with policymakers, and with fellow scientists. Young scientists and established faculty at the University of Rochester are invited to attend workshops focusing on "distilling the message,” “improvisation for scientists," and “advanced media training.” The workshop is not about acting, but about getting scientists to connect with and engage their audience. Advanced media training will teach scientists how to simultaneously be responsive and be in control of an interview and how to tailor their preparation for specific types of media encounters. To learn about the next workshop please contact Dr. Tracey Baas.

Write for the URBEST and NIH BEST blog. The BEST career development program is part of a national effort to help biomedical PhDs and postdocs prepare for a variety of career options. Only a handful of schools have these programs and we want to give others a taste of your experience. We are looking for bloggers to write diary-style entries about the career development process to be published on the local URBEST website or the national NIH BEST website. The time commitment would be 1 blog/month for 6 months. The series will run from February-July. The blog series will be modeled after The Guardian’s Postdoc Diaries.  If you are interested in sharing your career development process and gaining some writing experience, please send (1) Name (2) Area of Expertise (pharmacology, bioinformatics, etc.) (3) Where you are in the career development process (e.g., 1st year PhD graduate student just starting to explore careers, 5th year PhD graduate student about to actively job hunt, or postdoc pursuing one career but exploring backup career options, etc.) (4) Career plans if you have them (e.g. science policy, academia, clinical research, etc.) and (5) A short (~700 words) writing sample to tracey_baas@urmc.rochester.edu

Join the URBEST science communication team. Although scientific papers in refereed journals are the currency of scientists, other forms of communication (e.g. newsletters, blogs, podcasts, twitter, etc.) provide opportunities to engage with fellow scientists, resource managers, future employers and the broader community. The science communication team will provide a supportive and inquiry-based environment for trainees to practice effectively communicating science and career development that takes place at the University of Rochester. Use the group as a forum to practice for applications that require news articles, personal essays or writing samples. We are looking for a six-month commitment, which will include three team meetings and creation of at least two science communication products. If interested contact tracey_baas@urmc.rochester.edu

Train at an Informal Science Education Workshop (ISE) led by the Rochester Museum & Science Center. The workshop will help attendees become familiar with the concept of ISE, the education that happens in informal settings like museums, magazines and TV shows. The workshop is based on the approaches and trainings developed by the Portal to the Public (PoP) network, an NSF-funded initiative from the Pacific Science Center to help connect public audiences with the science happening in their communities. The interactive two-hour workshop will be led by Kara Verno, Program Supervisor at the RMSC. Kara specializes in helping scientists find their creative voice and find effective ways to describe their research to broad audiences. If you are interested in RMSC volunteer opportunities, such as Science Alive, this workshop is mandatory for you. The annual workshop takes place in April. If interested contact Kara Verno or Liz Albertorio-Saez.

Participate in the June ComSciCon 2016 National Workshop in Cambridge, MA. These annual summer workshops are open to graduate students nationwide, and are free to attend for accepted applicants. January applications for the workshops are open to graduate students from all fields of science and engineering who are interested in becoming leaders in effectively communicate their research to both scientific and non-scientific audiences. To learn more read about the inaugural event. Once accepted into the program, URBEST can provide a travel and housing scholarship.

Enter the Flame Challenge. The Flame Challenge is an international competition where scientists answer the question in a way that is most appropriate for 11-year-olds. Entries will be judged by thousands of 5th and 6th grade schoolchildren around the world. The question for 2016 is “What is Sound?” You may answer in video (5 minute max) or written form (300 words max) for the Flame Challenge 2016. Applications may be submitted here. If you’d like to brainstorm some Flame Challenge ideas with the URBEST science communication team, please contact tracey_baas@urmc.rochester.edu.

Compete in the Young Scientist Seminars with iBiology. The Young Scientist Seminars are a new video series featuring talented PhD students and postdocs giving talks about their research and discoveries. From studying the genetic origins of melanoma to tracking leopard shark behavior off the California coast, these young scientists tell compelling research stories using narrative, analogies, and visuals. The five speakers were selected from a large pool of accomplished scientists from around the world in a competition held earlier this year. In preparation for recording their talks, they attended a science communication workshop at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. They incorporated what they learned from the workshop into their video presentations. If you are interested in applying for the 2016 Young Scientist Seminars, apply here by January 11, 2016.

Secure a position with the AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program. The 10-week summer program places science, engineering, and mathematics students at media organizations nationwide. Fellows use their academic training as they research, write, and report today’s headlines, sharpening their abilities to communicate complex scientific issues to the public.

Practice your presentation skills with Daybreaker’s Toastmaster Club at UR. The club meets the 1st & 3rd (and 5th) Thursdays of each month at 7:30-9:00 am in the Louise Slaughter Conference Room (1-9555) in the School of Medicine and Dentistry. Meetings are open to the public and you may visit a meeting at anytime! The group is eager to help you hone your speaking and leadership skills. Toastmasters offers a fun, low-pressure learning experience that uses a proven methodology to improve your presentation skills. Their 2016 International Convention will be taking place in Washington DC August 27-20.

Attend a course on the topic – or even a lecture or two.

Science Communication for Diverse Audiences (MBI 492) with Dina Markowitz, PhD and Madeline Sofia MS. The course offers a hands-on based approach to improve science communication skills. Students will have the opportunity to work in small groups to learn basic presentation skills, distill their scientific message for a multitude of audiences, and become more comfortable presenting in front of groups. We will focus on improving communication with both scientific and non-scientific audiences.  This course integrates some of the newest training techniques in the field including improv and story telling, which serve to help scientists better connect to audiences in the moment. The course will also offer brief sections on writing for non-scientific audiences. Participants should come ready to step outside of their comfort zone and dive into a variety of different training techniques from week to week.

Scientific Writing Principles and Practice (IND 414/) with Constance D. Baldwin, PhD. The course will be devoted to didactics and interactive discussion of writing samples selected to demonstrate common writing problems. Class discussions will include group reviews of student documents in progress. Students will turn in a series of writing assignments on a sequence of assignment dates. The assignments will consist of segments of the developing document targeted for completion during the course. The documents will be edited by the instructors and returned to students for revision. Every student will have a portion of their own document discussed by the whole class.

Practical Skills in Grant Writing (IND 438) with PJ Simpson-Haidaris, PhD. This course is for graduate students, postdocs and junior faculty who intend to write and submit as Principal Investigator a fellowship or career development grant in the biomedical and behavioral sciences in response to government (e.g., NIH, DoD) or foundation funding opportunity announcements. This is an intensive learning and grant writing endeavor, as participants are required to write a grant on their research for eventual submission to the funding agency. Substantial support from primary mentors is needed, as individual predoc, postdoc and career development awards require significant written contributions by the mentors as well.

Effective Scientific Communication (PHP 405) with Angela Glading, PhD. This elective course is aimed at introducing the principles of scientific communication to the first- or second-year graduate student.  Course content will focus on 1) developing the students’ ability to understand and critically evaluate current literature, 2) teaching students to become more effective writers, and 3) developing students’ ability to deliver coherent, engaging and focused oral presentations. Students will engage the material through practical examples and exercises.

(1) Escape the ivory tower:  a guide to making your science matter (2010), Nancy Barton, p103, Deliver a clear message.