What I Learned At Science Communication Camp

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My name badge at camp!

This weekend I was in Los Angeles, CA for a science communication gathering called Sci Comm Camp. It brought together some of the best science communicators around to share their knowledge and experiences. Sci Comm Camp isn’t really a conference as there is an informal feeling around the event. But you still learn tons of information and the informal nature makes it a great place for networking!

Meeting so many amazing people was certainly the best part of the conference. About 80 people attended and they ranged from just starting out in science communication to being published authors and working on television. I met other graduate students trying to get more involved in sci comm. I met a few professors who have been in sci comm for years. There were people who worked as communicators for NASA, museums, or other science/medical corporations. There were other people who were illustrators or video producers as well. Every single person I met was doing amazing work.

The event was set up so we stayed in dorm rooms at a small campus just north of LA. It was beautiful and just had a few buildings there were engulfed in the surrounding nature. Once we checked into our dorms, the first event was a meet and greet. The way to spark conversation was to give everyone a science book and then ask them to trade it with someone else. This quickly created many different conversations as I mentioned there were so many cool people there!

After the first social event, we had dinner and the conversations continued. Little did I know that I would sit next to Emily Calandrelli, who is an Emmy-nominated host and producer for FOX’s Xploration Outer Space, and a correspondent on Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves the World. Emily was actually giving they keynote talk on how to better communicate science! Since that is very related to my PhD work, we had plenty to talk about!

Emily’s talk was after dinner and she did a great job summarizing how important it is to speak to people’s values while communicating science. If people are defensive, they are less likely to accept information. She used a personal example of how the coal business is so entrenched in the West Virginian culture and it may make it more difficult for people to accept some evidence of climate change. I loved how her personal story worked so well into the science of explaining concepts to people.

After Emily’s talk, we went outside for some stargazing as there were a few people from Celestron operating some high tech telescopes! I got to see the Andromeda Galaxy, which is 2.5 million light years away! More conversation ensued, but the jet lag was kicking in and I went to sleep despite being very excited to be there.

The next day we had breakfast and then had several workshops and discussions throughout the day. The first workshop I went to was TV writing for science. Mike Drucker lead the workshop and is an Emmy-nominated writer and comedian. He’s written for Adam Ruins Everything, Bill Nye Saves the World, The Tonight Show, and more. Mike talked about the importance of having a particular angle or theme in the show to make it more entertaining. And finding someone unique to yourself can be very helpful. Also, sometimes it’s better to focus on a narrow slice instead of tackling too broad of an issue. Finally, the Hollywood culture is difficult and it can be hard to be noticed. Sometimes the television producers are ignorant and you really have to sell why you have expertise. Additionally, they can sometimes make very misinformed decisions about the show, but they are the ones writing the checks!

Next I attended a workshop on 3-D printing! This was super cool to see how the printers work and how they can be used for education. You can take pictures on your phone of the object you want to print, send it to a printing program, and then print out the object! Kids have a lot of fun doing this and it can be must less expensive to print out some complicated objects. I’m not sure if I would use this for sociology much as we rarely have physical concepts to look at, but it was still really cool!

After that I attended a few more discussion oriented workshops. The first one covered how to do science communication in the age of fake news. This was right up my alley so it was fun to listen to people talk about their ideas for better communicating science. Much of this was about making sure we don’t come across as too arrogant and try to avoid making people feel defensive. Additionally, it can be helpful to share the articles from people who don’t belong to your demographic. I made sure to emphasize the importance of how people become defensive when information threatens their worldview.

The next workshop was about sharing people’s stories. This was similar to the earlier workshop, but was more personal on how we can do better connecting to other groups of people. A common problem in communication is only reaching those who agree with you! So one way to do this is to amplify the voices of people in other groups. Or go into a community and teach those people how to spread their ideas. Additionally, we can use the identities we have to go into other communities (such as being a mom and talking about science in parenting).

After dinner, we had a “science carnival” where there were microscopes, coloring books, reptiles, tarot reading, cotton candy, and alcohol! A few people performed as well. A middle school science teacher rapped about science, a journalist sang a song and played his Ukulele, and a few others shared monologues about science. It really was an incredible evening and I had a lot of fun.

The next morning was breakfast and then I rushed off to catch my flight back to South Carolina. Unfortunately, my flight was delayed and I would have missed my flight to SC. So I stayed in LA one additional night, went to the Natural History Museum, walked around USC, and visited my friend Amanda who teaches at UCLA and is also an amazing science communicator!

The next day I went home without any issues and am recovering from an awesome, but exhausting weekend.

Sci Comm Camp confirmed that the science communication community is where I belong. I want to continue to be more involved in science outreach no matter what I end up doing in my life.


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