A few weeks ago, our group attended the Virginia Sea Grant 2018 Graduate Symposium in Richmond and presented our PRS poster The graduate-student focused symposium brought together representatives from NGOs, private industry, consulting firms, and government agencies for a full-day event focused on coastal issues facing the Mid-Atlantic. The symposium offered graduate students an opportunity to share their research but also emphasized the need for effective communication to connect science and policy. In the morning, graduate students gave 8-minute, TED-style talks, ranging in topic from how oysters are beating their parasites, to beach dunes being more than they appear, to the unexpected link between bacteria, humans, and chickens.
The highlight of the day for all of us was the keynote speaker. Laura Lindenfeld from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science involved the audience with improv games that helped us understand why communicating science can be so tricky. We spent over an hour thinking about how we currently communicate complex topics and what we could do to improve that communication in the future. If you’ve ever talked to a scientist, you may have noticed they may not be the best at explaining their research. She warned of the dark curse of knowledge, which can befall any expert, not just scientists. This “curse” manifests when you know a subject so well (i.e., something you’ve researched for millions of hours) that you forget what it was like to not know it. It was fantastic to have Laura give us a taste of what workshops at the Alan Alda Center look like. Through improv exercises, the Center strives to help scientists improve their presentation skills and to use empathy-based communication to relate to audiences. She presented some approaches that the three of us can use as we go out into the world of science policy.
The day finished off with a diverse career fair and poster presentations. It was amazing to see how much policy-applicable science is occurring in Virginia universities. We were able to practice our newfound skills when discussing our PRS project with people including a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employee and the photographer of the event! It was an honor to share a piece of the Public Policy Program with the Symposium.
– Lauren, Peter, & Taylor