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NSF to Host “Science: Becoming the Messenger” Workshop at UW Sept. 11-12


August 7, 2013 — With science playing a more pivotal role in people’s everyday lives, it is incumbent upon scientists and researchers to convey their discoveries in a way that is practical and understandable, and demonstrates real-world applications to the public.

To forward that mission, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Office of Legislative and Public Affairs (OLPA) is sponsoring a two-day workshop titled, “Science: Becoming the Messenger,” at the University of Wyoming Sept. 11-12. Wyoming Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) will host the workshop in the Wildcatter Suites at War Memorial Stadium.

There is no workshop fee, but attendees must register, according to Anne Sylvester, Wyoming EPSCoR project director and a UW professor of molecular biology. To register, go to http://www.nsf.gov/events/event_summ.jsp?cntn_id=128755&org=NSF.

The workshop has space for 150 people, and is open to UW faculty, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers; UW undergraduate students majoring in the sciences, technology, engineering and math; faculty and science students from Wyoming’s community colleges; Wyoming high school science teachers; and scientific partners in the state.

“NSF wants to empower scientists to be better communicators,” says Kali McCrackin, communications coordinator at UW’s NSF EPSCoR office. “Communication of science is particularly important today.”

The workshop is designed to equip attendees with the fundamental skills needed to plan, create and execute effective communications across diverse platforms, including videos and blogs. Sessions will include how to use Twitter to develop a following, to network and to stimulate interest in science; a video boot camp in which participants will record and download short videos that show them delivering their messages; and even a “morning show” demonstration with Stephen Colbert influences.

Scientists and researchers will take lessons learned from the first day of the workshop and apply them to the second day’s schedule, which will include practice on-camera interviews with mock journalists; delivering three-minute PowerPoint presentations; and answering questions at a mock media conference.

Former PBS executive Dan Agan, best-selling science author Chris Mooney and Emmy-award winning television producer Joe Schreiber will lead the workshop. For more information on each, go to http://www.nsf.gov/attachments/128489/public/Bios_for_Missouri.pdf.

NSF OLPA selected Wyoming to host the workshops, offered only in EPSCoR states, Sylvester says. EPSCoR states are those that receive federal research and development grant dollars below a designated threshold. NSF provides opportunities to EPSCoR states to apply for competitive funding through programs designed to build research infrastructure in the state. The “messenger” workshop is another opportunity to enhance the scientific enterprise in EPSCoR states.

“These workshops can be transformative. They can really change your perspective on how you talk about science,” says Sylvester, who attended an abbreviated workshop at NSF. “Scientists often function in the scientific community using their own jargon and language. When communicating your own research, it is important to put yourself in other people’s shoes, and use shared language so the science becomes accessible.”

Sylvester says she thinks current UW scientists recognize the importance of communicating effectively about science, but adds that some just haven’t learned the skills needed or have had little experience working with the media.

In her experience writing for the EPSCoR blog, McCrackin says she has had to convey to some UW faculty the importance of translating their science to something less technical so that the public can find it understandable and useful. She adds that some faculty have been hesitant to embrace social media platforms to disperse their science to a larger audience.

“This workshop will help them learn to simplify and be comfortable with the media,” McCrackin says.

Beth Cable, education, outreach and diversity project coordinator for UW’s EPSCoR office, agrees.

“With our dependence on technology and all of the social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, a workshop like this would be extremely important to apply science through these avenues,” says Cable, who is helping organize the workshop.

Sylvester says the workshop will serve as a “springboard” to bolstering communications for the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics’ (WyCEHG) new program called Communicating About Water (CAW). The program already is underway through EPSCoR’s social media presence.

CAW includes a student internship program in partnership with the UW Department of Communications and Journalism, and a partnership with Wyoming PBS, to broadcast documentaries about water in Wyoming.

“We want to communicate outcomes of science to the state of Wyoming and to the public,” Sylvester says. “This workshop will be a great start to this program.”

To read periodic updates about the coming “Science: Becoming the Messenger” workshop, go to the EPSCoR blog at http://wyomingepscor.blogspot.com/.

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