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How much can you say in one sentence? Useful Science Keynote Address at ComSciCon-PNW 2019

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ComSciCon is a series of workshops on science communication led and attended by graduate students. From April 12th-13th, Useful Science Director Maryse Thomas joined students at ComSciCon Pacific Northwest 2019 in Seattle and delivered the keynote address, encouraging students to take the plunge and kickstart their own sci-comm initiatives.

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How much can you say in one sentence? Useful Science Keynote Address at ComSciCon-PNW 2019

  1. 1. How much can you say in one sentence? A journey in science communication with Useful Science ComSciCon-PNW April 12, 2019 Maryse Thomas Director, Useful Science PhD Candidate, McGill University
  2. 2. YES.
  3. 3. What is the goal of science communication? To convince someone why something is useful. E.g. To convince the NIH why stem cell research is useful. To convince policymakers why local composting is useful. To convince the public why vaccines are useful.
  4. 4. Useful Science as one attempt at sci-comm Mission: To write accessible and accurate summaries of scientific articles that are useful to everyday life. Website Podcast Network of contributors
  5. 5. Useful Science as one attempt at sci-comm
  6. 6. 5 years of Useful Science 65 contributors >1000 summaries 22,000 subscribers 24 podcast episodes 10,000 pageviews per month
  7. 7. 1. Useful Science: From idea to reality 2. Reflections and room for improvement 3. How to build a sci-comm platform
  8. 8. 1. Useful Science: From idea to reality 2. Reflections and room for improvement 3. How to build a sci-comm platform
  9. 9. Jaan Altosaar, Founder B.Sc. McGill University 2013 PhD Candidate, Princeton University
  10. 10. Team of volunteer grad students and science enthusiasts
  11. 11. Usefulness Accuracy The “usefulness” curve in scientific reporting Bad reporting, sensationalized headlines Primary research articles Pop science Press releases Sweet spot
  12. 12. (Watch out for press releases)
  13. 13. Online climate in 2013
  14. 14. Useful Science built 2004 20182008 20162012 Interest in the search term “Life hacks”
  15. 15. Our goals when starting Useful Science Help people improve their lives through actionable science summaries Improve public perception and understanding of science Be a reliable source of scientific information that is still fun to share
  16. 16. What would it look like if every sentence on a website was cited?
  17. 17. Web designer: Cameron Spencer
  18. 18. 167 emails sent Most with no reply! But the replies we did get mattered… Email blast 4 days after launch, January 15, 2014
  19. 19. Host: Cameron Spencer 3 Rotating Science Hosts
  20. 20. Dragon’s Den Next Gen Grants Coffee table book Ad space Merch Web hosting: $25 Podcast hosting: $15 Domain hosting: $1 Email hosting: $5 =$46/month
  21. 21. 1. Useful Science: From idea to reality 2. Reflections and room for improvement 3. How to build a sci-comm platform
  22. 22. Fast-forward to 2019: The stakes feel higher
  23. 23. ROSES: - Attractive and eye-catching website design - Intense email campaign following the launch of the website - Use of personal network to grow - Peer review led to high-quality content - Gave grad students and budding science communicators a platform to gain experience THORNS: - Passive contributor model with no hierarchy meant there was no safety net for drops in participation - Not enough expertise or specialists for certain elements (website updates, fundraising) - Did not manage to build a consistent revenue stream
  24. 24. Our goals when starting Useful Science Help people improve their lives through actionable science summaries Improve public perception and understanding of science Be a reliable source of scientific information that is still fun to share Did we achieve our goals?
  25. 25. Reader feedback “Clearly written and has citations” “Suggestions backed by research, and references to primary literature” “Short and sweet” “Easily digestible tidbits” “Short descriptions of actionable science information”
  26. 26. Who are we reaching? 44% male 56% female 50% 0% 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65+ Age group 40% 30% 20% 10%
  27. 27. Who can benefit?
  28. 28. Detail Brevity Drawbacks of short summaries
  29. 29. Beware the information deficit approach
  30. 30. Lecturing Telling facts Debunking Painting science as detached & objective Ridicule Pointing out what someone needs to change Asking questions Storytelling Explaining Revealing the human and emotional side of science Empathy Finding out what someone wants to change
  31. 31. Storytelling for more effective science communication Hillier, Kelly, & Klinger (2016)
  32. 32. Challenge Convince someone you know to take a step towards making a positive behavioral change in their life. • Talk to someone in person and practice active listening to find out what they are willing to change • Provide them with a tool to help them start • Let them know you’re there to help, and follow up
  33. 33. Challenge Convince someone you know to take a step towards making a positive behavioral change in their life. • Talk to someone in person and practice active listening to find out what they are willing to change • Provide them with a tool to help them start • Let them know you’re there to help, and follow up Everyone in this audience should test their hearing hello@usefulscience.org HearWHO app
  34. 34. 1. Useful Science: From idea to reality 2. Reflections and room for improvement 3. How to build a sci-comm platform
  35. 35. 8 steps to building a sci-comm platform 1. Find an unmet need 2. Determine your audience 3. Choose a format and communication style 4. Set goals and include measures to evaluate them 5. Build a team 6. Engage with social media 7. Seek collaborations 8. Make real-world connections
  36. 36. 1. Find an unmet need Usefulness Accuracy Sweet spot DIVERSITY INCLUSIVITY ACCESSIBILITY INTERDISCIPLINARITY
  37. 37. 2. Determine your audience Practice active listening and qualitative/motivational interviewing Students Lay public Scientists Policymakers
  38. 38. 3. Choose a format and communication style Written Audio Video Data-driven Illustrated What expertise will you need? And how can you use storytelling in each?
  39. 39. Some brief podcast tips • Get a good microphone! • Be consistent • Invest time in developing relevant skills Radiolab’s Story Board Resources Cast (free to try) Simplecast (Hosting)
  40. 40. 4. Set goals and include measures to evaluate them • # of people reached? • # publications? • $ raised? • # of people trained? *If your goal is to start a business or be profitable, look for advice outside of academia: startup accelerators/incubators
  41. 41. 5. Build a team Non-selective model: Say yes to everyone Selective model: Employ a stringent selection process Journalism model: Contributors pitch ideas that can be accepted or rejected Number of permanent contributors Time spent Recruiting/ onboarding Time spent managing Retention rate
  42. 42. 5. Build a team – and show them your gratitude • Offer opportunities for recognition • Offer opportunities to develop new skills • Letters of recommendation • Ask for their feedback – and act on it
  43. 43. 6. Engage with social media #scicomm, #phdchat, #PhDSupport, #AcademicTwitter, #MarginSci, #FirstgenSTEM, #WomenInSTEM @iamscicomm, @realscientists, @biotweeps
  44. 44. 7. Seek collaborations University/InstitutionPersonal Network Sci-comm groups
  45. 45. 8. Make real-world connections Attend or organize: Networking sessions, Community activities, Workshops, Training sessions, Meetups, Conferences You never know who is going to be in the audience! Spell Your Science Workshop, McGill 2018 FORCE2018 Conference, Montreal
  46. 46. Free online tools Project management • Trello, Airtable • Slack, Google Groups Merchandise/Profits • Threadless, Redbubble • Patreon Finding contributors • SciComm Board, Idealist Website • Google Analytics & Search Console • Wufoo (contact forms) Social media and marketing • Tweetdeck, Buffer, Mailchimp • Canva (Design tool) • Unsplash, Pexels, Pixabay (No-strings attached stock photos)
  47. 47. Summary • Useful Science was a mostly-sustainable model of science communication in our experience. • There is still lots of room for new models of ACCESSIBLE and ACCURATE science to be tested out • Talk to people in real life to understand what is most needed
  48. 48. Goal of science communication Convince someone why something is useful.
  49. 49. Thank you! Reach out hello@usefulscience.org @maryseethomas @usefulsci Board: Maryse Thomas, Jaan Altosaar, Ian Mahar Jaime Devine, Susan Rogers Van Katwyk, Cameron Spencer

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