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LSU SRP Co-Sponsors Science Communication Workshop, Hosts Spin-off Event for Trainees

LSU group attending workshopOregon workshop attendees participate in a presentation and discussion session on effective communication with the press.

To maximize the impact of their work, scientists must communicate effectively about what they do in multiple contexts and with many different groups of people.

This is why science communication is one of the most important practical skills for scientists to learn during their training. Therefore, to support professional development in this crucial area, the Louisiana State University (LSU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) joined the Oregon State University Superfund Research Center to co-sponsor a hands-on workshop on science communication for trainees. This workshop further inspired a later training event at LSU.

A total of 34 graduate and undergraduate student trainees from five SRPs located throughout the United States attended the original workshop, which was held in Portland, Oregon, on September 19, 2023. The LSU SRP’s co-sponsorship of the workshop was led by the LSU SRP Research Experience and Training Coordination Core (RETCC). The workshop’s focus contributes to the overall SRP’s priorities of community engagement, research translation, and trainee development.

The full-day workshop aimed to introduce the idea of thinking strategically about communication in the context of toxicology, offer tools to help with multiple aspects of science communication, and give trainees the opportunity to practice their science communication skills. To achieve these goals, the workshop blended lecture, discussion, and hands-on activities in a format that was consistently engaging, interactive, and encouraging of reflection.

LSU group of trainees and mentors

LSU SRP organizers and participants at the RETCC-hosted LSU science communication workshop.

“The most useful and interesting parts of the workshop were learning about different models of communication and implementing them by doing activities involving describing our individual research to each other in creative, effective, and accessible ways. The knowledge I’ve gained from these activities has already improved my communication with my colleagues as well as with laymen either while doing outreach or just making small talk with strangers,” Fox Foley, LSU SRP trainee and PhD candidate in the Physics & Astronomy Department at LSU, said.

Designed for learners with a wide range of backgrounds and experience, the workshop began with an exploration of the nature of communication overall, and communication about science in particular, before moving on to cover topics such as applying logic models to strategic science communication, developing short research pitches (elevator talks) to introduce others to the trainees’ own work, communicating effectively with journalists in real-world situations, and using inclusive language to connect with others and prioritize accessibility in science communication.

The Oregon workshop was carried out in partnership with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), which offers a range of science communication programs. This allowed workshop attendees to hear from and interact with OMSI experts on this topic, whose presentations inspired in-depth discussions on many aspects of how best to communicate about science with the press and the public.

The SRP trainees in attendance were also able to explore OMSI exhibits, asking questions and discussing how the principles of science communication were applied in each of these. The trainees were then encouraged to reimagine their own scientific posters as museum exhibits, applying everything they had learned throughout the workshop to think about and plan for how they would effectively communicate their work in that context.

Trainees engaging in a hands-on activity

Participants at the LSU science communication workshop engage in a hands-on activity.

Back at LSU, Foley used their experience at the Oregon workshop to create a local science communication event for all trainees participating in the LSU SRP RETCC program. This event was held on April 22, 2024, at the Center for the Coast and Environment Building on LSU’s Baton Rouge campus.

Reflecting on the need for such science translation workshops, Tammy Dugas, PhD, LSU SRP RETCC Leader, noted that “all scientists need to understand how to communicate their science to diverse audiences. That’s one of the core missions of the RETCC, and I think we learned the value of that during the pandemic.”

“Science is for everyone; breaking down barriers with effective SciComm between academia and the public is crucial to the future of research in all fields. I hope to impart the same knowledge and sentiments to my fellow LSU SRP trainees so we can broadcast our research’s important results to academics and the public at large,” said Foley.

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