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"Communicating Science" Workshops Help Develop Public Outreach Skills
SAN JOSE, Calif.—After the biologist had finished practicing a verbal summary of her research intended for public audiences, other scientists in the room pointed out that she was using some technical language and speaking slightly too fast. The remedy was straightforward, said workshop facilitator Denise Graveline: Slow down a bit, and try to avoid jargon.
The biologist joined with other academic scientists and engineers in the Silicon Valley seeking to improve their communication skills for media interviews and public outreach activities at a free workshop on 14 March at San Jose State University. The workshop was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology.
"We seek to encourage faculty researchers and Ph.D. students who are interested in improving their communication skills in order to more fully engage with the public," said Susan Mason, special projects head in the NSF Office of Legislative and Public Affairs. "These workshops provide resources that scientists can use in many areas: whether addressing the 'broader impacts' of their work as a criteria of NSF grant applications, preparing for media interviews about their latest discovery, or talking with members of the public about what they do."
The San Jose event was the first in a series of regionally based workshops on science communication for researchers, as part of an initiative by AAAS to encourage researchers to engage with the public on topics of science and technology. A related Web site was launched 15 February during a session at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
The workshop, "Communicating Science: Tools for Scientists and Engineers," features content including how to develop messages about research that interest public audiences and define your audience, on-camera media interview practice, and practical tips from panels of researchers, journalists, and public outreach professionals.
David Perlman, science editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, joined the San Jose panel on media outreach and described how he finds science stories and sources. "It really helps to find those members of the press who cover the areas you work in," he suggested.
Michael Parrish, dean of San Jose State's College of Science, served on the panel on public outreach. He suggested that researchers find opportunities to engage the public and show them that "science is cool," offering examples including giving public lectures, developing general science education courses, and partnering with science centers and museums on content and exhibit development.
The San Jose event attracted 44 participants from varied academic career levels, disciplines, and institutions. Attendees gave the day-long workshop high marks on surveys, identifying among its most valuable components the provision of informational resources, close interaction among participants, and discovering a shared interest among other scientists in communicating research to broader audiences.
Faculty and students from the following institutions participated: San Jose State University; Stanford University; California State University campuses at Monterey Bay, Stanislaus, and Sacramento; Notre Dame de Namur University; University of California at Santa Cruz; and Sonoma State University.
The next workshop will be held on 3 April at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and additional workshops are being planned for the 2008-09 academic year. For information, contact Tiffany Lohwater, public engagement manager at AAAS.
26 March 2008