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Science Communication in Action: Highlights from the AIBS Communications Boot Camp for Scientists & Virtual Advocacy Event

doctor with patient

Team NY-NJ meeting with Representative Morelle

By Mary Moran

The first day of the boot camp packed full of information and skills surrounding how to communicate science with non-scientist audiences and news/media. We began the day with Science Communications 101. The main takeaways were the importance of understanding your audience, finding common ground, appealing to emotion, and remembering the big picture and broader implications. We reviewed the communications triangle, in which your big idea and main takeaway is supported by three key messages. The key to an effective communication triangle is your ability to transition from message to message while keeping your audience engaged and ensuring that the information is retained. In addition to discussing the importance of what you are communicating, there was also emphasis on considering how we go about saying it, delivery is just as important!

We next shifted to discuss ways to communicate science with and through the media. We reviewed some of the major dos and don’ts when talking to the media. Things you should do: be conversational, brief, and deliver the bottom line up front. Things you should not do: discuss topics you are not qualified for, tangential topics, or unsettled topics, think out loud, overstate or overpromise, or be inflammatory or partisan.

One of my favorite parts of the workshop was when James Verdier, the Senior Editor of BioScience and host of the podcast BioScience Talks, joined the group to perform mock podcast interviews. As a huge fan of podcasts, I was really excited to be interviewed by an actual podcast host, even if it was just for practice! Being asked questions in the context of a podcast interview, which is more conversational, was a really fun challenge in conveying complex scientific concepts in a manner in which non-scientists can understand it.

Day two focused on the basics of science policy, how to engage in science policy and how to talk with policy makers. We discussed the budget process, the trends in funding science agencies over time and a few of the major bills that include science funding that have been proposed or passed. These included the $25 billion RISE Act (Research Investment to Spark the Economy) is a bipartisan proposal that has been endorsed by over 300 science groups. The Endless Frontier Act proposed by Senate Majority Leader Schumer would expand the NSF and invest $100 billion for science and technology research and development as well as $10 billion for the development of regional technology hubs.

Part of the workshop also included the option to participate in congressional meetings and we therefore spent much of day two learning the best way to communicate with policy makers and then practicing these skills. When communicating with policy makers it is critical to know your audience and what motivates them. This allows you to create a tailored message that will be engaging and memorable (think communication triangle!). When meeting with a congressional office make sure to do your homework! What are their interests and positions, what legislation have they sponsored or co-sponsored, what op-eds and press releases have their office released? All of this will help you tailor your message and deliver memorable and engaging content. It is also important to remember that congressional staff are incredible busy people and meetings with them are often short. You therefore want to be brief and make sure you state your “ask”, i.e. what you want the Senator or Representative to do (support a specific bill, sign a letter etc.), right away.

I was on a team with two other graduate students from New York and a faculty member from New Jersey and we met with the offices of Senator Booker (D-NJ), Representative Pallone (D-NJ-06), Senator Schumer (D-NY), Representative Morelle (D-NY-25), and Representative Maloney (D-NY-12). The overall message that we wanted to deliver to each office was the importance of funding science agencies, and ask them to support the proposed NSF budget of $10.2 billion for Fiscal Year 2022. We were lucky to be meeting with offices that have a strong history of supporting funding for scientific research and many had already indicated support for this budget. We therefore wanted to express our thanks for their support, ask for their continued support, and then provide examples of how NSF funding has impacted each of us on a personal level. We each had a different anecdote to provide about the NSF and were able to highlight the many different ways in which the NSF supports scientific research and education. We also tailored our message to each of the offices that we were meeting with. For example, Senator Schumer is a co-sponsor of the Endless Frontier Act which is focused on innovation. Therefore, when meeting with his office we wanted to include an example of how we have participated in innovative science. We discussed how the University of Rochester is a leader in the nation for the percentage of patent holders who are women. This includes my PI who has multiple patents and I gave a brief description of the innovative technology that our lab is currently using in our research. Overall our meetings went smoothly and it was really fun working on a team with other scientists and meeting with congressional offices. This is something that I definitely want to participate in again, and hopefully in person next year!