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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / January 2017 / UR Science Communicator Goes Public

UR Science Communicator Goes Public

Maddie Sofia PhotoNews Article By Madeline (Maddie) Sofia, PhD, Assistant Producer at National Public Radio

I grew up outside Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from the University of Mount Union, I went on to graduate school at the University of Rochester Medical Center.  During graduate school I fell in love with science communication and outreach. I firmly believe the ability of the scientific community to effectively and accurately communicate with the public, lawmakers, and media will shape the future of our global community. As scientists, we have a responsibility to the American taxpayers to keep them informed and engaged in our pursuits. Scientists who regularly engage with the public become better communicators, have access to alternative funding sources, and inspire the next generation of scientists. I felt called to help scientists become comfortable in front of different audiences, so that they could get other people interested and excited about their work.

As a third year graduate student, I enrolled in the URBEST program because I knew that I didn’t want to go into biomedical research, and URBEST offered support for students interested in “non traditional” career paths.  After speaking with the program director, Tracey Baas, we decided to bring science communication training to young scientists at Rochester. The URBEST program generously sent me to a weeklong training program at the Alan Alda Center for Science Communication, where I connected with other communication-minded scientists. After my experience at the Alda Center, I organized a seminar course called Careers in Science Communication. The course gave students the opportunity to attend talks by professionals in all fields of science communication including science patent law, government, and science news. After another year of attending science communication conferences and workshops, I developed a workshop-based course called Science Communication for Diverse Audiences. The class was designed to have students up and out of their seats, presenting and practicing on a weekly basis. Although the scientists in the class were hesitant and uncomfortable at first, by the end of the course I saw improvement in every student. More importantly, students in my class began to seek experiences to talk about science outside of the lab, some even starting their own clubs centered on engaging with the public. 

At the tail end of graduate school, I connected with Joe Palca from NPR. Joe had come to speak in myMaddie's Press Badge Careers in Science Communication course, and he was looking for someone to help him with a special project called Joe’s Big Idea.  Joe’s Big Idea focuses on the minds and motivations of scientists as well as the scientific process. Additionally, Joe is dedicated to connecting young scientists who are interested in communicating their science to diverse audiences. With the help of the URBEST internship program, I began an internship at NPR with Joe’s Big Idea. During that internship I got to venture to the White House to interview scientist girl scouts solving the problems of Styrofoam waste, and cover interesting science stories such how parasites alleviate symptoms of Crohn’s disease.  I also hosted the NPR live lab with Joe Palca in which we performed (athletic) live science demonstrations. Perhaps most importantly, I got to connect with a group of young scientists who share a desire to share science with the public called Friends of Joe’s Big Idea (FOJBIs). After graduation, I accepted a full time position as an assistant producer on the NPR science desk. If you are interested in working with us, or talking to me about how to get involved in science communication pursuits, contact me at Our goal is to help young scientists produce and promote their own content.  Contact me to become a part of our community!




Tracey Baas | 1/3/2017

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