Communicating your Science

There are endless opportunities for graduate students to participate in science outreach! However, few receive proper training and are prepared to attend such events. We obviously know our research but translating that research to the general public is often difficult. Most outreach events require preparation and involve tabling. Having an activity that explains your research is essential to effective tabling. This is usually challenging to scientists who struggle to communicate the intricacies of their work to the general public.

The science behind my activity.
For example, how do I efficiently explain how I study how extracellular enzyme potential in peat soil changes with saltwater intrusion. To me, that is the simplest way of summarizing my research, but only a few scientists and I would understand it. I needed help translating what I do.

If you are looking for a formal training experience to build up your science translation skills and effectively communicate your research, you should consider becoming a Science Communication Fellow at the Patricia and Robert Frost Museum of Science. I completed the program in 2015 and have been using what I learned ever since!

As a Science Communication Fellow, I developed an educational activity that engages the public in my research topics. I enjoy bringing this activity to outreach events, using it to translate my research and inspire emerging environmental stewards As a Science Communication Fellow, I participated in mock town hall meetings, wrote scientist profiles, and filmed interviews.

The activity I developed translates how salt stress affects microbes living in the soil and the release extracellular enzymes. Students pretend to be soil microbes and are given an extracellular enzyme (a ball with velcro attached). Participants are instructed to use the enzyme to get as much food (felt representing carbon and nutrients). Each enzyme represents either a salt stressed microbe or a healthy microbe in freshwater. The game is rigged so that the enzyme for the salt-stressed microbe is able to pick up fewer felt pieces. Students can compete against each other or play individually.

This is me using my activity at a Family Science Night event in Key Largo.
This activity teaches students how salt can affect microbes living in soils. One unanticipated benefit of presenting my activity to kids is that you also reach their parents. I often find that the kids understand the science behind the activity and have a fun time, but it is the parents who want to know more and ask more profound questions. In some way, watching their kids participate in the activity helps parents better understand the science too!

The training I received as a Science Communication Fellow provided me with the proper foundation to communicate my science. If you are interested in being a better scientific communicator, you should consider participating in the Science Communication Fellow program.


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