How Can We Overcome SciComm Misconceptions?

What makes someone a science communicator? A science degree? Journalism credentials? A lab coat and penchant for cheesy science humor?

How can we make room for diverse voices and backgrounds to participate in scicomm and feel a part of the scicomm community?

This community has grown exponentially over the last several years, helping reinforce the importance of good scicomm for engaging non-scientists, increasing interest and trust in science, and applying science to societal issues. However, with the rise in scicomm, a number of concerns have popped up (particularly by scientists) about who has a “right” to communicate science, how they should communicate it, and whether science communication is having a positive or negative impact on public perception of science.

In this vein, I’ll be convening a workshop at this year’s Science Talk in Portland, where I hope to encourage reflection on how we can create a supportive and inclusive community while promoting transparent, trustworthy approaches to science communication.

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Do you need to be a scientist to be a science communicator? Can you be a serious scientist if you spend a lot of time communicating? Believe it or not, these are still ongoing scicomm debates.

As a PhD trained scientist who transitioned to a full-time scicomm career several years ago, I still sometimes struggle with feeling a part of the science communication community, and feeling like I have the “authority” to call myself a science communicator. I see others struggle with these things too–like for example, Allison Gasparini, who writes about the difficulty of having the “right” mix of science background and journalism training to compete for scicomm jobs.

On the other extreme, there are super confident non-scientist communicators out there who have no problem self-identifying as purveyors of science to the masses. Some of these folks are writers or journalists who do a great job of digesting and translating science into engaging and useful pieces of communication. Others (knowingly or unknowingly) misinterpret scientific findings, or worse share unverified or false scientific information that mislead the public–whether it be about nutrition, GMOs, vaccines, or what have you.

While most scicommers would agree that scicomm is a critical component of science, it is important to address the concerns of scientists and others about what makes responsible science communication (e.g., citing reliable/verifiable sources, disclosing any biases), and how we can support scicomm-ers in this endeavor.

In my workshop I plan to facilitate discussions around best practices of responsible and effective science communication–principles that anyone, no matter their background or training, can implement to reinforce a transparent approach to science communication. From there I hope to elicit some concrete recommendations on how the scicomm community can support us as individuals to do effective and engaging science communication. I’m excited to hear what misconceptions have most plagued others, and what strategies scicomm folks have for promoting an inclusive scicomm community that values transparency, accuracy, and respect.

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Pssst! What’s the secret to great science communication?

If you plan to attend Science Talk and want to be part of this conversation, I encourage you to join my workshop at 9am on Friday, April 5th. If you won’t be at the conference but want to participate in this conversation, I welcome your thoughts, feedback, and questions via email or social media!

This workshop will be just the beginning of a broad conversation about how to create a supportive, inclusive, and transparent scicomm community–and all voices are welcome. The objective of my workshop is to produce a working document of best practices that can continue to be honed and expanded upon as the field of scicomm evolves.

Five Reasons I love Marine Biology

Its time for another listicle! This one is devoted to my love for the field of marine biology and the scientists who study ocean ecosystems. Here are five reasons why I think marine biology is awesome:

  1. It’s like MacGyver meets James Bond.

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Pretty much any marine biology field or lab experiment involves the combination of some very complicated and expensive equipment and software (NanoDrop ND‐1000 spectrometer and Illumina GAIIx platform, anyone?) plus a black trash bag, bungee chords, and lots of masking tape. Field biologists are some of the most resourceful individuals I know, combining the skills of an engineer, a magician, and a secret agent to solve problems with minimal resources and time.

  1. Poop matters.

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I literally heard a scientist say the phrase, “it’s poop that matters” in a recent presentation. Marine biologists get to study some pretty fascinating things, and it turns out that one of those things is poop. In fact, excrement from organisms such as reef fish or whales is a huge and extremely important component of marine food webs and flows of nutrients through ocean ecosystems. Whether its parrot fish poop helping create tropical beaches, or blue whale feces fertilizing entire ocean basins, poop matters, and marine biologists are there to study it.

  1. Oh the places you’ll go.

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They say that life is about the journey, not the destination. But if you’re a marine biologist, the destination is usually a pretty big perk. Most people save up precious dollars to honeymoon in Bora Bora or the Caribbean, but marine biologists get to go to these places year after year, snorkeling, diving, exploring beautiful and exotic places that most people only see in glossy magazines. Sure, they’re probably staying in an un-air conditioned mosquito-ridden shack rather than a swank bungalow with a jacuzzi tub—but that just adds to the charm. Let’s not forget those intrepid biologists that explore the sea beneath Antarctic ice or deep in the Mariana trench. Unless your James Cameron, being a marine biologist is one of the surest ways to experience these far-flung regions.

  1. For the love of nudes.

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Nudibranchs that is. I love that marine biologists get super excited about the tiniest most obscure organisms—including the colorful little sea slugs knows as nudibranchs. The childish sense of wonder and glee that marine biologists display for their study species, whether it’s sea otters or sea lice, gives me the warm and fuzzies. Of course this tendency isn’t unique to marine biologists, but it seems that studying ocean organisms predisposes you to adorably obsessing over said organism and having it displayed on everything you own, from clothing and jewelry to wall art, kitchen gadgets, and phone cases).

  1. It comes down to one word.

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Probably my favorite thing about marine biology is the official word scientists use to describe a tiny chunk of coral: nubbin. It brings me great pleasure to listen to a scientific talk about the genetic sequencing of coral species and listen to the presenter describe how they collected and sampled coral nubbins. There is even a scientific paper titled “Coral nubbins as source material for coral biological research: A prospectus.” I will never not smile when I hear the word nubbin and it warms my heart that there are scientists out there whose research depends on procuring nubbins.


In all seriousness, one of the things I love most about marine biology is that it’s a field of study composed of countless passionate individuals who care deeply about the ocean, the planet, and biodiversity. I’ve met many uber-intelligent marine biologists using innovative approaches to learn more about how our planet works and how we can protect it into the future. These folks are doing what they love, working very long hours (often for not very high pay), and pushing the boundaries of our understanding of life on earth.

A big thanks to all the biologists, all the scientists, all the passionate and curious thinkers and doers out there making a difference!

Why I write

I write out of quiet desperation. I write out of self-preoccupation. Out of wonder, out of frustration. I write for the same reason that so many of us are compelled to have children, so that some part of my conscious self might live on after my body wastes away. I write secretly to the one I love, hiding the words in the deep depths of my computer’s memory. I write in the hopes that some of my words may impact others, may change minds, change perceptions, change the world—so to speak.

Words are power: the ability to influence, to sway and convince—or to outrage, to intrigue, or to inspire. I use the written word to do these things because I can not do so effectively with my voice, it is not my skill. I write to whine, to complain if only to myself about the intricacies of fate and luck. I write down thoughts to prevent me from jinxing them (I know, how odd of me, with a scientific background, to worry about such nonsense). Writing keeps me sane, keeps an audit trail of my thoughts that otherwise get tangled and fade away. Sometimes I write out of procrastination, to avoid my work, but I always cherish these pieces more than anything. I write because I don’t know what else to do. I should write more; sometimes I wait and wait for inspiration and it doesn’t come—I don’t know where to look. Other times it gushes profusely, raw, and confused, for pages and pages.

Writing is at times a crutch for me, an outlet distinct from social interaction, and yet a sort of interaction in its own sense, more solid and lasting than the ephemeral conversation. It is a record. It is a testament to one particular moment in time that will never be recreated in just the same way, those exact shades of emotion. I write to bleed my pain more often than to express joy. I write so that my abstract thoughts have a place to call home, where they may only be judged through the eyes that understand them, until they have been chiseled and polished. I like to think that writing is my “calling”, but really I don’t know this. There are a million better writers, poets, than I. I write so that I may have a purpose, or create one in the empty space that is each of our lives, and so hope to fill that space with tangible meaning for myself and those who share it with me.

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

This was an exercise I took upon myself as a way to document the swirl of thoughts in my brain related to my desire/struggle to write. A number of important people in my life have recently reiterated a similar piece of wisdom that I’m now trying to follow more regularly: Just keep writing! Write a few pages each morning, just to yourself. Get out your thoughts, your emotions, your dreams, your goals. Over time you will start to notice patterns, and maybe, just maybe recognizing this will help you manifest what you really want (or need) out of life. At the very least it will help you cultivate gratitude, mindfulness, and creativity. Happy writing everyone!