Take a Step into Science Communication at ComSciCon-Triangle
If you are curious about improving your science communication skills and broadening your audience, then ComSciCon-Triangle is a great local opportunity for you. This upcoming workshop provides graduate students with technical skills in science communication. Learning how to write for the public and meeting likeminded colleagues from across universities in the Triangle really enhanced my SciComm portfolio and could do the same for you.
I attended the 2023 meeting at North Carolina State University last February (see a sample past program). After driving to NC State, I entered a large conference room and was met by an overpowering positive energy, free stickers and laser pointer, and breakfast conversations with fellow students. We were eager to begin the day’s activities.
The workshop kicked off with a talk by Adrian Smith on what it takes to make videos shine on YouTube. Smith’s Ant Lab videos have received more than 5 million views! We learned how to make effective thumbnail images so viewers will want to watch your videos. Then, we attended a panel discussion about SciComm in social media. The communication experts on the panel told us (1) to start small (2) to be persistent, and (3) to be consistent with posting. They stressed that even if your viewership does not grow immediately, it is important to not give up.
After lunch, attendees were challenged to perform a “Pop Talk” and describe their research in less than a minute. This activity seemed daunting, but it was actually quite fun! I felt as if I were crafting an elevator pitch to share my science story with the next stranger I met. Day one wrapped up with a keynote from Erin Barker of Story Collider. I was so inspired by her personal journey and Story Collider’s mission to share real science stories through open mic. Erin started in journalism and worked as a copywriter for five years before transitioning into sharing stories through public speaking. She went on to co-found the non-profit Story Collider to specifically share how science plays a role in day-today life. Story Collider has worked to help researchers to publicly narrate their personal science journeys for over 12 years. After hearing from Erin, I left NC State energized and ready for day two.
Day two consisted of a talk from Shahir Rizk about science miscommunication and art, more Pop Talks, and a panel on how to start your SciComm journey. I learned that many SciComm professionals did not set out to become communicators but stumbled upon the field in their scientific or journalistic endeavors.
A large portion of day two was dedicated to reviewing short written pieces that attendees prepped to discuss with a peer group and an expert reviewer. We edited during the workshop and left with finished pieces that we could pitch to publications. Overall, my experience was phenomenal. Networking and editing with local science communication professionals made me feel that I could really do this as a career.
ComSciCon-Triangle 2024 is set to take place on Saturday, January 27, and Saturday, February 10, with sessions that will focus on personal branding, presentation skills, and AI in communication. Additionally, panels will feature local science communicators to discuss professional opportunities in the Triangle. As part of the organizing team this year, I am excited to meet more scientists with communication interests. My goal is to facilitate connections between universities and local professionals.
Attendees of ComSciCon-Triangle 2024 can expect to leave the workshop with new colleagues, tangible skills for communicating their science, and a polished written piece to pitch to larger outlets. Previous attendees from ComSciCon chapter workshops have successfully pitched their pieces for publication in the Los Angeles Times, Scientific American Observations, Eos, and more.
Furthermore, participants will enter a wider network of graduate communicators since ComSciCon-Triangle is a chapter of ComSciCon, a flagship workshop that takes place every year in Cambridge, MA. ComSciCon-Triangle attendees are encouraged to apply to attend the flagship conference in Cambridge, which typically takes place in the summer.
Spots in the Triangle workshop are competitive. If you are interested, please complete the online 2024 application by December 25. My email is open if you’d like to discuss any questions you may have prior to applying.
Editors' note: The Graduate School's Professional Development team has compiled a list of science communication resources and opportunities at Duke and beyond.
Ph.D. student, Biology
Hannah Kania is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Biology, where she conducts research in speciation biology and genomics. Hannah holds a B.A. in Developmental Genetics from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to attending Duke, Hannah worked at the University of Michigan as a lab technician studying yeast genetics. She is passionate about science communication and outreach and has participated in multiple science dissemination initiatives throughout her professional career; you can read more about them on her website.