Written by Lisa Volpatti, Chemical Engineering Communication Fellow, with contributions from Josh Peters, Biological Engineering Communication Fellow
“Science is chocolate. Science is not broccoli. We don’t need to trick people into liking it,” insists Liz Neeley, Executive Director of The Story Collider and keynote speaker for ComSciCon 2018. Over two jam-packed days in downtown Boston, graduate students from all walks of science converged for a workshop on communicating science to answer the question: how can we effectively use communication to maximize the impact of our science on our intended audience? Among them were two MIT Communication Lab Fellows: Josh Peters and I. Josh is a first-year Communication Lab Fellow in Biological Engineering who was introduced to the conference through fellow writers in the Massive Science Consortium, a community of STEM researchers supported by the science publication Massive. As a second-year Comm Fellow in Chemical Engineering, I applied to the conference in order to explore novel topics in science communication and bring them back to the MIT Comm Labs – while also sharing the Comm Lab model with others.
ComSciCon began with a panel on creative storytelling, which included a graphic novel author, a television producer, and a visual communications specialist. Every panelist stressed the importance of including an emotional element and relating our work to our audience’s experiences in a meaningful way. Later, we had a chance to apply some of the skills we learned from the panel when we participated in an interactive storytelling workshop. During the workshop, we told each told a story to a partner, who then re-told it to us. When we next re-told our own story, we were under tighter time constraints, forcing us to focus on the bare essentials. By the end of the workshop, we were able to condense our stories to only the most meaningful kernels of information.
A highlight of the conference was workshopping our own pieces of scientific writing with an expert and then expanding them into another media form such as a website, video, or podcast – introducing us to the multitude of outlets available for science communication. It was especially valuable to receive advice on how to pitch our pieces for publication to best reach our target audience.
The conference culminated with a poster session showcasing participants’ communication efforts at their home institutions. I was excited for the opportunity to present an ePoster highlighting the MIT Comm Labs’ work and encouraging other institutions to consider developing their own Comm Labs. Networking with our peers during this session was an informative and inspiring experience. We learned about a student who 3D-prints her research, another who makes YouTube videos to teach children fundamental science concepts, and still others who bring their research to rural community centers to share with the public. We aim to maintain these connections, form collaborations, and continue promoting science communication through the MIT Communication Labs.
You can check out the full ComSciCon 2018 program here, and be on the lookout for the application for ComSciCon 2019 here! All graduate students in STEM fields, especially those who are underrepresented minorities, are encouraged to apply.