Sci Comm 101: Seminar showcases science communication experts at UBC

Science blogging, illustration and journalism each had their moments at a Science Communications Seminar hosted by the Behavioural Neuroscience Seminar team on Friday, July 8.

The event was spearheaded by graduate student in neuroscience Alyssa Ash as part of a professional development series. The seminar introduced researchers to a variety of ways to use science communication to their advantage.

In the first talk, associate professor in psychology Dr. Jason Snyder shared his experiences as a forerunner in his field and an active blogger. According to Snyder, blogging offers an “informal way to share thought[s] with more personality than a typical academic record.

Snyder’s blog not only showcases the effective use of a blog for sharing new research, but also highlights the academic value of sharing resources. A collage of figures on his blog summarizes a complex research question with ease, providing a quick visual summary of data from multiple credible sources. An informal list of literature Snyder compiled on his blog is another useful resource that has even been formally cited in an academic paper.

Platforms like FigShare offer students and researchers an avenue for communicating their work with a broader academic audience, according to Snyder. He recommended this resource to students as a credible platform to cite on resumes and another opportunity for citation in academic journals.

The “aesthetic” side of science communication was highlighted in the second talk of the seminar, featuring science illustrator and communications coordinator for the department of zoology Dr. Sylvia Heredia. For Heredia, imagery is an essential tool in communicating “awesome” ideas.

“Science is becoming more and more complex. For me, to understand it, I need to see it,” she said.

Heredia’s illustrations breathe life into the science it aims to convey. From lab logos to visual abstracts, Heredia’s contributions to the department of zoology demonstrate the effective use of imagery to explain technical methods, processes and research questions.

Heredia’s successful career in science illustration following a PhD in ecology and plant sciences and a certificate from a Scientific Illustration Program offers artistic students in STEM a way to merge their passions.

Final speaker Vanessa Hrvatin, science communications specialist and former communications coordinator for the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, touched on the winding journey to finding one’s chosen career path.

After obtaining a Bachelor of Science with Honours from Queen’s University, Hrvatin knew that she enjoyed journal clubs and loved talking about science, but disliked spending long hours in the lab. This led her to an impressive career in science journalism, with her portfolio including publications in Maclean’s, The National Post and The Globe and Mail.

Hrvatin’s best advice for budding science communicators centered on two things: eliminating jargon and using analogies. Pointing to her own experiences, Hrvatin demonstrated how a complicated and lengthy explanation from a researcher can be efficiently boiled down to a simple analogy.

“Good science communication takes time but it’s worth the investment,” said Hrvatin. For interested students, she recommended pitching story ideas to the media, networking and practicing writing skills in spare time. Students with lab connections can even gain useful communications experience by taking charge of their lab’s social media and website.

To close the seminar, Ash highlighted ways for neuroscience aficionados to get involved with science communication. The Brainiac Blog, Neuropsyched, Neuroscience Through the Ages and Brain Bytes are all run by students in the neuroscience program.

For researchers and students alike, the seminar outlined science communication as a means for sharing a passion for science beyond the traditional academic setting.

“I wanted to share all my thoughts and a paper every four years wasn’t going to cut it,” Snyder said. “We all want to share the things we love.”