Center for Communicating Science director Patricia Raun was a distinguished speaker and presenter at the National Science Foundation (NSF) Science & Technology Center (STC) Directors Meeting held at the University of California, Berkeley. Her talk, titled “Communicating Science: The Art of Connecting Across Difference,” was presented to nearly 100 faculty and post-doctoral researchers. She also led a workshop, “Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn,” for 30 grad students, post-docs, and faculty during the August 21-22 gathering in California.
The meeting, hosted by the Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science, brought together key NSF personnel with leadership teams, graduate students, and post-docs from all 12 current STCs in the country. STCs are NSF’s largest multi-institutional centers, conducting collaborative, world-class research in areas of national importance such as computing, biology, quantum materials, and information science. Each center involves partnerships across universities, federal labs, industries, and other organizations in addressing grand challenges at the intersection of scientific disciplines. In addition to performing innovative research, these centers provide rich environments for training scientists and engineers, including participants from groups traditionally underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
According to Executive Director of the STC Dr. Michael Bartl, Raun was recommended to the organizing committee as a featured speaker by Dr. Laura Lindenfeld, director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. The Directors Meeting was titled Engaging Diverse Audiences: Broadening Participation Through Science Communication. After the event, the organizers noted that Raun’s talk was “excellent and inspiring” and that “feedback was phenomenal” on the workshop.
Raun’s audience consisted of directors of NSF’s Science and Technology Centers and others from the University of Virginia, Georgia Tech, the State University of New York at Buffalo, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Colorado, Michigan State University, the University of Southern California, Purdue University, and the University of California (UC), Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, and UC San Francisco.
Other featured speakers included Nsikan Akpan (digital science producer, PBS NewsHour), Peter Aldhous (science journalist, BuzzFeed News), Carol Lynn Alpert (director, Strategic Projects Group, Museum of Science, Boston), Caleb Cheung (director of education, Chabot Space & Science Center), Jennifer Frazier (program director, Living Systems, Exploratorium, San Francisco), Cynthia Phillips (Office of Integrative Activities, National Science Foundation), and Seth Shostak (senior astronomer and director, Center for SETI Research, SETI Institute).
Key messages for scientists who want to become better communicators threaded throughout the meeting and were embodied and highlighted in Raun’s presentation. They included:
- Listen to and involve your communication partners. Foster their curiosity and be curious about them.
- Know the people you want to connect to–and remember there is no “general audience.” There are individuals and groups of people who’ve been as committed to the things they believe to be important as you are to your work. Find something you have in common.
- The environment, proximity, lighting, and visuals impact our perceptions of what is being communicated and what is possible to communicate.
- Non-verbal communication matters, and about 93 percent of what is received is non-verbal.
- Use shared words and language that can be understood. Clarify and simplify your messages.
- It is most effective to make your communication personal. Share your humanity, joys, frustrations, errors, and struggles–because emotional connection is more powerful than logic.
- Tell your story. “A story is the shortest distance between two people.”
- To bring underrepresented groups into the conversation, be present in communities outside of your field–not as a “presenter” but as a person.
- Remember, the majority of people trust you and your expertise, so you don’t have to be defensive.
- Improving science communication requires practice of specific skills, including listening and being personal, direct, spontaneous, and responsive.