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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / April 2017 / Science Communication Day with URBEST

Science Communication Day with URBEST

News Article by Tracey Baas, Executive Director of URBEST

Maddie-Derek-Heidi-RogerOn Friday March 10, University of Rochester’s Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (URBEST) brought together seven Science Communicators from University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Washington, and National Public Radio (NPR). Maddie Sofia, assistant producer at NPR and recent alumna (’16), returned to UR to share her triumphs and tribulations with PhD gradate students and postdocs at the URBEST Career Story. The real fun, however, happened at a morning and afternoon session of Better Science Communication Through Impov.

The hands-on, ego-aside workshop was led by seven scientists who happened to be improv instructors.  Instructors included Maddie (NPR), Dina Markowitz (UR), Heidi Roop (UW), Derek Crowe (UR), Laura Shum (UR), Roger Dube (RIT) and Tracey Baas (UR). They all received their training from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science from Stony Brook University through a Train-The-Trainer program.

Laura-Maddie-TraceyThe Better Science Communication Through Impov Workshop included Zip Zap Zop to warm up with improv techniques, Time Traveler to demonstrate speaking without using jargon, Elevator Pitch to present scientific work in a direct, compelling and succinct way, and Beaker Bagel to practice thinking on your feet and bringing excitement to your pitches. Forty-four trainees (URBEST and non-URBEST) participated in the two workshops and, based on the evaluations, 91% of the participants wanted more improv and 100% would recommend the workshop to colleagues.  The seven instructors will be getting together in May to plot the next communication gathering.

If you’re curious about what the trainees said about the workshop, here are some of the highlights:

  • I will be able to apply the communication skills I learned in the workshop to the real work I am doing in the lab.
  • It was a lot of fun and allowed us to be as creative and crazy as we wanted.
  • For me it was great to think about how to get the other person interested and involved in a conversation about research. I can’t say that I personally struggle talking about my research; I can talk about it for hours! The harder part is making it interesting or getting someone to listen. I think putting an emphasis on empathy could bridge the gap there.
  • The workshop activities made me come out of my shell and become creative in front of a very different audience than I am used to.
  • I realized that I must establish an IMMEDIATE connection with my audience. People don’t want to hear you babble on and on until you get to why your research may matter to them.
  • I had the opportunity to appreciate the joy that can be had via spontaneous interactions with other scientists. We had so much fun doing sporadic tasks!
  • I came up with a new metaphor for my research that works really well! I also think that I can now more effectively weed out jargon words from my speech.
  • It put me outside my comfort zone and challenged me.
  • Time Traveler and Elevator Pitch focused on effectively communicating your science to different audiences, a skill necessary in every aspect of scientific commination.
  • The energy needed for the exercise pulled me out of my shell, especially when I saw how much fun other people were having with it.
  • It helped me to become more aware of connecting with my audience and adjusting my verbiage to match where they are.
  • It really taught me how to break things down to make them understandable to people.
  • Both the constructive feedback and the general guidelines from the instructors were very useful, looking at the positives and the pitfalls.

In order to allow trainees full freedom, no pictures of trainee activities are shared here. We did send a full report to our philanthropist Theresa Chen. Thank you trainees! We have, however, included two photos showing six of the instructors in action. Dina Markowitz has an uncanny ability to avoid detection by camera.

Tracey Baas | 4/7/2017

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