The Communicating Science graduate course at Virginia Tech is aimed at helping students effectively communicate their research to a range of audiences. One alumnus, Aaron Whittemore, also found a passion for science communication, is now employed in that field, and hopes to turn his passion into a career.
Whittemore received his bachelor’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Master of Science in geography from Virginia Tech, where he studied human influences on drought. During his time as a graduate student, he took Communicating Science (GRAD 5144). The course was one of Whittemore’s favorite classes, he says, and he is now working as a science communicator with both Virginia Tech and Washington State University.
Whittemore says the course made him a better communicator by helping him thinking differently about how people relate to the information they receive. It got him excited about communicating science and was a big reason he decided to pursue science communication as a career.
“[The course] is applicable to all scientists and would be beneficial for both researchers and graduate students,” says Whittemore.
Not only did the Communicating Science graduate course help Whittemore become a better communicator, but it also helped him make connections within the science communication community. One connection, made by his course instructor, was with Dr. Andrea Dietrich in the Water INTERface Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program. The group focuses on water-related research across many departments at Virginia Tech. The group’s research ranges from the taste and odor of water to the mineral composition of cider to aquaculture.
Whittemore is currently writing articles for Water INTERface to help expand its reach to the public. Some of his articles, such as “The Tricky Task of Smelling and Tasting Drinking Water,” have been published outside of Virginia Tech. He is also helping create a new website for the research group.
Whittemore is also interning with the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR) at Washington State University, where researchers received a National Science Foundation grant to study wildfires. He is currently creating story maps using ArcGIS, a geographic information system maintained by the Environmental Systems Research Institute.
Whittemore describes the story map as an “interactive visual that provides a broad overview of the project”—which, in this case, has been a 5-year-long effort with wildfire research ranging from social to biophysical science. The purpose of the story map is to introduce stakeholders and the public to the project. Whittemore is also creating science briefs, which are targeted to specific parts of the research project rather than a broad overview.
In addition to his work with the wildfire project, Whittemore is working with the Department of Ecology at Washington State University. He is helping the department communicate the results of a long-term water supply and demand forecast for the state of Washington.
Whittemore has found a passion for science communication and believes it is often something that gets forgotten or not given enough attention. Scientists spend a lot of time on their research, and communicating it is the last step, he says. Whittemore understands that the impact of research relies heavily on how well it is communicated.
“Without properly communicating research,” he asks, “how will it make a difference?”
Best wishes to Aaron in his new career!
By Sarah Propst, Center for Communicating Science student intern