Feb 7 2020

AK CASC supported training teaches science storytelling skills

A group photo of AK SNAP, EPSCoR, and IARC members with hands raised and smiling.

Participants from AK SNAP, EPSCoR, and IARC celebrate three days of intensive communication practice.

Photo credit: Molly Tankersley/AK CASC.

A woman stands at the center of a circle of seated peers presenting a story.

Alaska NSF EPSCoR Project Administrator Tara Borland practices new science communication skills with her colleagues.

Photo credit: Tom Moran/Alaska NSF EPSCoR.

A small group of six sit seated in a circle in front of a bank of windows. One of the women speaks purposefully as her colleagues listen attentively.

EPSCoR, AK CASC and IARC affiliates Tara Borland, Uma Bhatt, Todd Brinkman, Allison Bidlack, Heather McFarland, and Ryan Toohey practice their presentation skills together.

Photo credit: Tom Moran/Alaska NSF EPSCoR.

Climate Science is a complex and often misinterpreted field. Researchers use enormous datasets and complex atmospheric models to produce meaningful results. But those results are frequently nuanced and full of jargon, making it challenging for climate scientists to communicate their work effectively. This week a group of climate scientists came together in Fairbanks to address this issue.

Temperatures warmed just in time for scientists from the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center, the Alaska Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, and the International Arctic Research Center to come together to improve the way they talk about their work through practice, instruction, and peer feedback.

Led by facilitators from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, the group of about 30 scientists from across disciplines, and from across the state and beyond, studied storytelling techniques as well as strategies for connecting with a variety of audiences.

Participants included PhD candidates and postdoctoral researchers who find themselves increasingly in the position of having to share their work with diverse crowds. "I learned that effective communication is really hard work," said Postdoctoral Fellow Rick Lader as he prepared for a presentation at the Alaska Forum on the Environment next week in Anchorage. "In the talk I've got coming up I think I will try to tell a story before I dive in. By sharing a story about why I care, I hope I can help them care too."

Even Rick Thoman, a veteran science communicator and climate scientist well known in communities across the state, found the time and guidance in practicing specific tools helpful. "Some of these I have used but I'll be using them more after this training," said Thoman of the strategies and concepts emphasized by the instructors from the Alan Alda Center. "For example, I've been starting my presentations with a story for a while, but now I'll likely try to weave that throughout."

All in attendance were excited about the skills they learned and were eager to put the techniques and tools into practice. As the group bid farewell to their new friends from the Alan Alda Center and to one another, high hopes were shared for carrying these newly acquired skills forward. Everyone was in agreement: when it comes to effective communication about the science surrounding climate change, there is much work left to be done.

By: Mike DeLue