At the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in November 2016, I met a wonderful group of people at My Green Lab. They are a nonprofit who help scientists and scientific facilities managers conduct science in a more sustainable way, from lower energy usage freezers to improved waste management. Allison Paradise, Executive Director at My Green Lab, and I bonded over our love of Meeting Street Cafe cookies, and talked a little about sustainability in science. I didn’t win the sustainability t-shirt, though (sad face).
However, out of that new connection came an opportunity to be featured in their newsletter! Sustainability is more than being environmentally conscious. Sustainability of scientific research includes robust funding and public support. For me, that’s obvious. My Green Lab gave me a platform and audience to describe why.
To write this article, I started with the intended theme from My Green Lab. “Our feature article is usually 1-2 paragraphs. [W]e want this month to be dedicated to the green labs community and focusing on coming together, collective efforts, and communication and since you are particularly interested in science communication we thought it would be a great fit.”
My first draft was too long – over 400 words! I struggled to focus on a concise story rather than chronicle my adventures in science communication, but with some help from Erika Daley, Scientific Technologist at My Green Lab, we cut an entire paragraph and went with a ~300 word article, which I have reprinted below.
In writing this article, I was able to articulate some of the things I really care about as a scientist. Maybe someday it will form the basis of my personal manifesto.
Sustainability is everyone’s concern, and it is easy to spend all of one’s effort on environmental sustainability. Yet, economic and social sustainability are critical to science’s continued success. I have focused on social aspects of sustainability in my “life outside the lab” and I hope I can inspire you to join me on my quest for better science familiarity and literacy.
A year ago, I found out about a global network of events called Nerd Nite1. A colleague started a Rhode Island chapter and invited me to speak about my research. That went well, and we decided I would become a co-boss for the event series. This serendipitous connection has given me the chance to connect scientists with the public. The event itself consists of 3 speakers giving 15-20 minute talks on any topic of interest, although our speakers are mostly scientists. We strive to create a low-stakes environment for new science communicators and an encouraging environment for our curious audience.
It is hard to sit down, think about why you do science, and why what you do matters to others. But, now more than ever, we need to. I think about my own research – investigating the cellular mechanisms of sensory processing – and how it doesn’t map onto a disease. I think about my friend’s research – looking for genetically-based insights into schizophrenia – and how it brings into focus the magnitude of personalized medicine. These are hard subjects to describe. In my own work2 and when mentoring scientists new to science communication, I focus on telling a story. I take my facts and figures and create a narrative that people can relate to. Only by relating to our fellow human beings can we, as scientists, encourage the support science needs to succeed.
As I consider the circuitous route my adventures in science communication have taken, I can only hope that others will join me in speaking directly with people about our science and why it matters. Students, adults and politicians must know who we are and why we are driven by science. Our science communication matters as much as our science.
Just think – a whole new audience to write for just because of a random cookie-based connection! Keep your eyes open and your business cards handy to be ready for an opportunity like this one.