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Research!America’s science communications event, “Research Matters Communications Workshop: Promoting Basic Research in a New Age of Communications: Challenges and Opportunities,” was held October 9 at the Marvin Center on the campus of the George Washington University in Washington, DC.
GWU’s vice president for research, Leo Chalupa, PhD (pictured at right), opened the day with remarks that implored the nearly 100 young scientists in attendance to think about their families when they communicate.
“Act like your Aunt Harriet is in the audience,” Chalupa said; his welcoming remarks indeed laid the groundwork for the workshop, as Aunt Harriet would be referenced frequently throughout the morning.
Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley followed with an introduction of the plenary speaker; Woolley also hit on a theme that is especially relevant this week. She recalled the story of 2000 Nobel Prize winner Paul Greengard, PhD and his sister, Chris Chase. In an op-ed in The New York Times a few days after Greengard’s win, Chase lamented that she never fully understood the research her brother had undertaken. Upon winning, however, she read news accounts that explained his work as determining how brain cells communicate; this work could one day impact Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
“I’m thrilled he won,” Chase wrote, and Woolley recounted. “Now I know what he does.”
That segued into the plenary session from Christie Nicholson, a lecturer at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Nicholson (pictured below) began the session by reminding the audience that effective communication isn’t just necessary when dealing with the public; because science has become so specialized, researchers sometimes can’t understand what their own colleagues are saying.
Nicholson explained that it’s important to tell a story. But before you can begin to craft a story, she said it’s critical to not only understand the goal you’re trying to achieve, but also to understand your audience. And to do that, one must know what the audience knows, what the audience cares about and what motivates them. Continue reading →