The success of ComSciCon

Each week, Symposium provides a blogging forum for the week’s featured article. This week’s author is Prof. Andrew Gelman. You can read his blog here as well as his frequent posts on The Monkey Cage.

I’ve written about good and bad journalism, but today, I’m turning the subject around: How can scientists better communicate with the public, including the media? One successful effort worth mentioning here is a conference of students organized this summer by Nathan Sanders, a third-year graduate student in Harvard’s Department of Astronomy.

Back in January, Sanders announced that a new Communicating Science workshop – dubbed ComSciCon — would be held at Harvard in June, in co-sponsorship with MIT. In the end, they received more than 700 applications for 50 spots.

During the three-day workshop, graduate students held sessions with each other and with experts to work on science communication. Among the activities were one-minute “pop talk” presentations before the start of every expert session. After summarizing their research, students got immediate peer feedback via handheld posters that either read “awesome” or “jargon.” Other sessions covered topics such as writing for broad media outlets, conducting interviews with scientists, and how to turn scientific research into a “story” than non-specialists can follow.

Sanders wrote to me afterwards, noting that one exciting result was the generation of new web sites. As he put it, these sites “digest the scientific literature and help undergraduates engage in research, to other fields of science. Within hours of our ‘technical session’ describing how we run Astrobites [a popular blog on astrophysics], a new website for the geological sciences went up, and I’m eagerly anticipating sites for particle physics, ecology, and possibly a STEM Education research-bites.”

For more information on the workshop and its aftermath, you can check out these links here and here.

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