June 17

Why Do You #SciComm?

[En español]

One of the best parts about being a part of NeuWriteSD is the diversity of interests and backgrounds of our members. We all love the brain and want to share that love with others, but our reasons for being here are as different as we are. So we asked our members the question: why do you #scicomm?

You can read our answers below, and make sure to tweet your own answer to us @NeuWriteSD using #whyIscicomm.


There’s a practical and a philosophical side of this answer for me. The practical thing is: the public pays for research, and therefore they have a right to know what’s going on in science. While there are some open access journals, even these are too dense for anyone outside of the field. Science communication breaks down jargon and access barriers and presents research in an understandable form to all of us who pay for it. On the philosophical end, I believe we’d all be a little better off if the world were more scientifically literate. I’d like us all to be more knowledgeable with facts, and also with how the process of science works. I #scicomm because I want the world to be a better place. ~Ashley Juavinett


Bassam Shakhashiri put it really well at ComSciCon16 when he said that science is vital to democracy. Science and the innovations that come from it are driving forces in our society, and science literacy is something that everyone should have – not just those of us who have been privileged or lucky enough to actually get to do science. I have the opportunity to share my joy and knowledge with others, so I’m taking that opportunity and running with it. And of course, from a purely selfish side – I love writing, I love public speaking, and I love science. The kinds of #scicomm I do let me roll all of those hobbies and interests into one great big ball of my excitement that I get to share with the world! ~Alie Astrocyte


I used to live in a country where many believed that faith healing was real, that cellphone radiation caused cancer, and that boys were better at math than girls were. I now live in another country seven thousand miles away, where many still believe that faith healing is real, that cell phone radiation causes cancer, and that boys are better at math than girls are. So, clearly, there is some work to be done. ~Xi Jiang


You are in lab today and you found that a phosphorylation in Serine 256 activates the enzyme What1, which in turn changes the conformation of several proteins involved in a major neuroprotective pathway in neurons. This may offer some insights into the molecular mechanism underlying multiple neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease! Wow! You leave lab really excited and with a big smile on your face. You are on your way to meet up with your non-scientist friends for a beer – they are going to love this! You haven’t even sat down at the bar and you are already blurting it all out. You wait for their reaction. Nothing happens for a few long seconds. Then, a few “ohs” and “cools” and on to the next topic. Sigh. Later that night you get home and tell your family about it. Even worse. Your mom goes “oh you are going to cure Alzheimer’s disease? That’s great darling!”.

This is why I #scicomm. Scientists are responsible for communicating science, yet receive no explicit training, only occasionally striving to make their findings entertaining and accessible to a general audience so that it doesn’t end up as a pile of discipline-specific terminology and wordy background. We scientists have exciting ideas and do potentially world-changing experiments, but if we are unable to communicate them to the general public we might as well have never done them. ~Elena Vicario


Sometimes when I pick a post topic it’s because I feel strongly about a particular issue or want to educate or share with a lay audience. But always, I write on a topic that intrigues me, and one I hope readers will enjoy exploring with me. I often take writing a post as an opportunity to expand my own knowledge of the brain and the field. These posts are often far harder to organize and present, as my fellow NeuWriters can attest. I #scicomm like I “science” (a verb highly utilized in our grad school community); I develop a hypothesis and seek evidence (in the form of scientific literature) to prove or disprove it. Sometimes it’s messy, but it’s always fun. I #scicomm for myself as much as for others because #scicomm is enjoyable, it allows me to be part of a great community we’ve developed at NeuWrite, it has improved my writing and editing skills, AND it helps me learn! ~Cailey Bromer


I have begun to dread that classic cocktail party moment: “So, what do you do?”  Inevitably when I say that I am in graduate school working towards a PhD in neuroscience, the conversation fades, usually with a “Wow you must be so smart” and my awkward mumblings about how no, no, I’m really not, my day-to-day involves freezing mouse brains and pipetting small volumes of liquid, not much intelligence needed.  I describe this phenomenon not to convey that I would like to be more popular at cocktail parties, but rather to illuminate a common stereotype. It is heartbreaking to me that people tend to think of scientists as aloof academics whose work is far above the understanding of the educated public.  The root of the problem is not the public, it is the nature of scientific training.  There is no formal education for distilling our message, for communicating the essential motivations and goals of our research without spewing jargon and unnecessary scientific background.  If we expect the public’s respect and support, we as scientists must learn to convey the passion that drives us.  We must identify the common ground that will allow the public to connect with that passion, inspiring them to ask more questions rather than step away feeling inferior.  That is why I #scicomm. ~Catie Profaci


A glimmer in the eye of a high school student who suddenly understands how the three pounds of tissue housed in her skull communicates to her whole body is the primary reason that I #scicomm.  I know, really cheesy, but these revelations are amazing to see in person and reinforce the ability of engaging and digestible science communication to spark the flame of wisdom in young scholars and lifelong learners alike.  #scicomm can appear in many forms: personal interactions, writing, video, radio, or in the classroom.  I want to express science in as many of these forms as possible because it makes me feel alive when I broadcast the basis for understanding our improbable existence. ~Margot Wohl


The short answer is that I enjoy sharing my passion with everyone else.

The longer answer: I #scicomm because of all the nonsense that is created from the breach between the media and scientists. I don’t know who’s at fault, but we as scientists need to make a bigger effort to reach out to the public. Often, people come to us with questions about something that someone told them about, that they saw on TV or read on Facebook. We’ve become lazy and need to train our critical thinking again. That’s why I especially enjoy teaching science to children, because they haven’t yet been “corrupted” with all the misconceptions thrown around on the internet and media in general.

Have you ever talked to someone about your project and got that blank, clueless look? Collaborating with NeuWriteSD and all the other outreach activities have taught me how to avoid that situation and make people actually excited about my job! It is also incredibly inspiring to talk to people about our field outside our little world of academia, and more often that you would think, people raise questions that I’ve overlooked before. I also find it immensely rewarding when someone who is not a scientist thanks me for the work we are doing (yes! that happened!) or tell me that they have learned something new and interesting reading and/or listening to us. It makes me feel great and reinforces the idea that we are doing something important and stimulating for everyone! ~Elena Blanco-Suarez


I see science communication (and science writing, in particular) as my favorite way of learning. Though I am a cognitive neuroscientist, I tend to write about diverse areas of neuroscience ranging from social psychology to systems neuroscience. Given that I find it fascinating to go through the process of learning something, why not invite an audience along for the journey? NeuWriteSD has provided a great way to practice my learning and writing skills. The collaborative editing process of NeuWriteSD is an excellent opportunity for scientists from multiple sub-disciplines of neuroscience to collectively bring together expertise from many areas, which makes the writing stronger. It also makes for a great community! In the future I hope to continue working with collaborative writing groups to make science more accessible to the public. ~Melissa Troyer


I’m interested in communicating science because, ultimately, science communication is how I and every other scientist became interested in science in the first place.  Whether this initial communication took the form of a passionate middle school science teacher, or hours and hours of Bill Nye videos, it was the skill of various teachers and communicators that made me become absolutely captivated with science, and with attempting to discover how things work.  I really just want to try to infect others with my own enthusiasm, and help encourage critical thinking to combat the psuedoscience that constantly bombards us. ~Drew Schreiner


Okay, I’ll admit it, one of the reasons why I #scicomm is a bit selfish: because I want to get better at it! Being able to communicate science effectively is a skill vital to success in any scientific field (and like others have pointed out, we receive little or no communication training in STEM fields…)! But the real reason I want to get better at #scicomm is because I love science so much. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by how the world works — a.k.a. SCIENCE. Stoked by watching Bill Nye the Science Guy and frequenting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, I grew up with an insatiable curiosity for all things science-y. As I got more formal science education my appetite only grew, and as I learned the intricately detailed mechanisms of how things work, I wondered why everyone else never thought this stuff was as cool as I did. I #scicomm because I want to figure out a way to show people that the details and nuances and exceptions to the rules of how the world works are actually the most interesting parts! I #scicomm because I want to communicate to people how exciting it is to actually discover something completely new. ~Ethan McBride


Why I do I #scicomm and #NeuWrite? I hope you read all of the other responses from the other NeuWriters because they are some of the big reasons why I #scicomm. I love being part of a community of intelligent, critical, and caring people who are devoted to developing science writing skills. In lab, I don’t actually get to write about science very much. And when I do write, I don’t get much feedback about how to make my writing more understandable. When I go to NeuWriteSD meetings, we discuss how to improve all our articles as well as how to communicate science at outreach events in the community. The other NeuWriters make me feel like my voice has value and that my writing is worth the time to read and edit. Compared to the lab setting, where a select few care about my academic papers about a very narrow topic, I enjoy #scicomm because I actually have a voice worth developing and broadcasting along with a great community of others who care about #scicomm. ~Melissa Galinato


I #scicomm partly because it’s hard. There’s so much that we do and do not know about the world. Science is messy, and many people who are immersed in it fall prey to the curse of knowledge – you forget how much background knowledge you’ve relied on to understand any one piece of scientific information. I also #scicomm because writing pushes me to be a better thinker, reader, and writer (and, as a result, a better scientist). In the process of challenging myself, writing allows me to share the (cognitive science) love. I hope to write things that inform, intrigue, and inspire others so that someday science news will be on the front page of the (digital) newspaper, alongside the most recent Donald Trump drama and World Series scores. ~Rose Hendricks


I #scicomm because I can’t imagine not doing it. I’ve always been a reader and a writer- things make more sense to me when I see them written down, or write them out for myself. There are so many exciting things going on in our world, particularly with regards to neuroscience, and I want everyone else to be as excited as I am. Writing and tweeting and talking about it to non-scientists is just what feels natural to me. Who doesn’t want to hear about how bats have place cells that encode in 3D???? ~Maya Sapiurka


On one hand, #scicomm is just plain fun. I love sharing my passion for neuroscience with others and seeing their faces of amazement when I tell them about the split-brain phenomenon, or how cells in the visual system are “tuned” to lines at particular orientations, or how memories are encoded and stored in the brain. And it’s a good exercise for me, too – I feel much more confident about a subject when I’ve had to break it down and explain it to others. But more than that, I think #scicomm is crucial to being both an effective scientist and a public citizen. I’m often amazed by how great scientists can be such poor writers and/or communicators, and unfortunately the impact of their science can seriously suffer because of it. Thus, I #scicomm partially to make myself a better scientist.

However, I also think we owe it to our friends, our family, and society as a whole to be able to tell them what we’re doing and why it’s important (after all, most of us are being paid largely through federal grants!). As scientists, it’s too easy to shut ourselves in a glass box where we do our science inside, and everyone on the outside either doesn’t care or watches in awe without any understanding of what’s actually going on inside. We take solace in knowing that people outside our box think we’re “smart”, but if we never venture outside of it ourselves, our science ends up being a sort of masturbatory exercise of our “smartness” and nothing more. I believe that if we actually want to be effective members of society, and for our science to make any sort of impact, #scicomm is critical for pushing ourselves to venture outside that box. ~Megan Kirchgessner


There are really two major reasons that I #scicomm. The first is that I really just can’t help myself. I think neuroscience is the coolest thing ever, and simply given the number of words I speak per minute, some of that enthusiasm is bound to slip out. Whether you care about it or not, science governs everything in our world, and I think that’s pretty rad. The second reason is that I believe that the more scientifically literate we are as a society, the greater our collective quality of life will be. A lot of this stems from my experience and work with our country’s mental health care system. I’ve watched far too many loved ones, friends, and acquaintances struggle to get the care that they need, and a lot of that hardship is born out of a lack of cohesion between researchers and policymakers. No matter how many things we learn about mental illness in the lab, I don’t think any of it really matters until it can be turned into actionable benefits for those who need it. We can’t expand mental health coverage, improve diagnostic measures, develop better treatments, or chip away at the damaging social stigma that sufferers of mental illness must bear if we don’t work with those that have the money and resources to implement them. Those people aren’t always scientists; they’re caretakers, politicians, voters. It’s on us to ensure that our work will realize its fullest potential to better society, and that’s why I #scicomm. Oh, and #vaccinesdonotcauseautism. ~Caroline Sferrazza


I think science is fascinating, and a large part of why I #scicomm is because I think we need to do a better job as scientists at making it explicitly clear what we’re doing and why it is both intriguing and important. Too often science is kept insulated in the word of academia where the public feels like it’s too far above their heads to understand, when really we’re at fault for not explaining it in a way that makes sense. It’s difficult, but I was taught to approach the task as translating our knowledge from jargon into plain English, rather than thinking about how to “dumb it down.” In doing so, we can start to break down some of those barriers and instead of making people’s eyes glaze over, get accurate information out there in a way that actually piques the public’s interest in science.  ~Barbara Spencer