Communicating Science

ComSciCon-Atlanta participants

In spring 2018, graduate students from around the Southeast convened to participate in the first ComSciCon-Atlanta. The Laney Graduate School was a proud sponsor of this workshop where students gathered to immerse themselves in two days of intensive programming focused on developing their science communication skills.

We caught up with student organizer Anzar Abbas, an LGS doctoral student in Neuroscience, to learn more about the workshop and why it’s important.

Congratulations on a successful workshop! This event really encouraged and emphasized the importance of cross-institution collaboration and participation. Can you talk a bit about why this is important?

ComSciCon is a national program that invites students in from across the country who want to learn how to effectively communicate their research to a range of audiences. The regional workshops then become microcosms that allow students to form networks and really strategize about how to effect change. It’s easier to do that when you’re in closer proximity to one another and have that sense of regional connection. They also allow us to reach more students since not everyone can attend the national conference.

Keynote speaker Dr. Joe Hanson

What kind of change do you want to create?

We want to get scientists engaged in communicating their work to the public. Carl Sagan once said, “Not explaining science seems to me perverse. When you're in love, you want to tell the world.” Well, we’re in love with what we do, and we want to shout it from the rooftops. Workshops like this offer students an effective way to participate in science communication to help shape understanding of science and its public benefits. That effect is magnified when you get beyond your own university and start doing this with graduate students from universities across the southeast. They each have unique stories and can enact change in their own ways.

So what are the takeaways? What are some of the outcomes you would like to see from programming like this?

At the local level, this is a great opportunity to introduce graduate students with similar interests to one another. Together, they develop skills to help them write, communicate with humor and storytelling, improve their ability to talk about complex ideas, and establish a community to help reinforce those skills once the workshop is over. There are regional ComSciCon workshops across the country, all student-run.

Two days of immersive programming and skills development

At the macro level, we are taking on something bigger. Democracy flourishes in the presence of an informed electorate, and an informed electorate must be able to think critically. By communicating what we do in ways that are accessible and easier to understand, we can address the gap in scientific knowledge that exists between scientists and the public. When there is a lack of understanding, distrust can creep in, and it’s hard to break down those barriers once they’re up. The better we are at communicating what we do and how we do it, the better informed the public will be about the real benefits of science and research – and that’s relevant to all of us.

Thank you, Anzar. Any parting thoughts?

I would like to extend a sincere thank you to all our sponsors, particularly the Laney Graduate School (our largest individual sponsor), Laney’s Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, the Atlanta BEST Program, and Georgia Tech. This was a great event, and we are lucky to be surrounded by schools and programs that see the value of this kind of programming.