COS 104-6 - Engage: The Science Speaker Series - A novel approach to improving science outreach and communication

Thursday, August 11, 2011: 3:20 PM
Ballroom B, Austin Convention Center
Rachel M. Mitchell1, Phil A. Rosenfield2 and Eric J. Hilton2, (1)School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, (2)Department of Astronomy, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Communicating the results and significance of basic research to the general public is of critical importance.  Federal funding and university budgets are under substantial pressure, and taxpayer support of basic research is critical.  Public outreach by ecologists is an important vehicle for increasing support and understanding of science in an era of anthropogenic global change.

At present, very few programs or courses exist to allow young scientists the opportunity to hone and practice their public outreach skills.  Although the need for science outreach and communication is recognized, graduate programs often fail to provide any training in making science accessible.  Engage: The Science Speaker Series represents a unique, graduate student-led effort to improve public outreach skills.  Founded in 2009, Engage was created by three science graduate students at the University of Washington.  The students developed a novel, interdisciplinary curriculum to investigate why science outreach often fails, to improve graduate student communication skills, and to help students create a dynamic, public-friendly talk.  The course incorporates elements of story-telling, improvisational arts, and development of analogy, all with a focus on clarity, brevity and accessibility.  This course was offered to graduate students and post-doctoral researchers from a wide variety of sciences in the autumn of 2010.  Students who participated in the Engage course were then given the opportunity to participate in Engage: The Science Speaker Series.  This free, public-friendly speaker series is hosted on the University of Washington campus and has had substantial public attendance and participation.


The growing success of Engage illustrates the need for such programs throughout graduate level science curriculums.  We present the impetus for the development of the program, elements of the curriculum covered in the Engage course, the importance of an interdisciplinary approach, and discuss strategies for implementing similar programs at research institutions nationally.  In addition, we will discuss how programs such as Engage can strengthen ecological outreach and communication specifically.

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