Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Passion in Science Communication

All of my classmates will tell you that I am a geneticist first. Then they’ll tell you about my obsession with my cat, Garfield. For context, my background is in Cancer Research. I have an Honours B.Sc. in Molecular Biology and Genetics from McMaster University and an M.Sc. in Pathology and Molecular Medicine from Queen’s University. Science Communication was not something I ever saw myself doing. I just assumed I would follow the classic academic trajectory of an undergraduate degree, followed by a Masters and then a Ph.D. As much as I loved the research I was doing, I did not love the environment in which I was doing it and it was time for a change. So, I came to Laurentian, ready to free myself from the discipline I had been confined to for 6 years and learn more about the other scientific disciplines. But before I knew it, I was back in my genetics bubble. I am currently a volunteer in the special exhibit at Science North, Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code. My final Audiences class seminar will be all about CRISPR technologies. I recently went to a Science CafĂ© about the ethical issues surrounding genetic testing. My research project will be about public perceptions of molecular biology research. And to top it all off, I’m looking at doing my internship at Genome Canada.

My question is, therefore, do you need to work outside of your passion to be a good science communicator? Or is it okay to stay inside your specialized field? When you look at the class of
2018, you’ll see people with a wide variety of interests. We have an avid chemist, a student with a passion for herpetology, another with a passion for whales, and several who are inspired by social change. That’s just to name a few. For some people, the passion is the content itself such as graphic design or social media. And a pattern is starting to emerge where students are choosing to present on their passions for class projects. Is it necessary to branch out from our passions to learn science communication? From my perspective, as long as we have the fundamental communication skills and understanding needed to talk to our audience, the content itself doesn’t matter. If you have the skills to bust myths about genetic testing, then you can also bust myths about climate change. If you can assess the learning framework behind a video about whales, then you can also assess exhibits at science centers. The great thing about this program, is that the foundation it gives you is universal. We can take whatever we learn in our classes and apply it to what we love. In Learning Theories class, we’ve been taught that the way in which you learn comes from your past experiences. If we can frame what we learn from the perspective of past experiences with our passions, won’t we therefore take more away from it?

So, I have to apologize to my classmates because you’ll probably hear a lot more about genetics before the year is over. But know that I am putting passion into each one of my projects because of it. And I know I’ll see the same from all of you. 

- Catherine Crawford-Brown

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Student Perspective: Applying to Science Communication

Hey everyone, thanks for checking out our blog!  My name is Leah Hodgson, and I'm a part of this year's cohort of Science Communication students.  My class will be the first to experience the new Master's degree program curriculum, and I couldn't be more excited. 

We're about halfway through the first semester, and so far it has been a thrilling whirlwind of new information and experiences.  But before we get into that, I thought I would talk a little bit about the process of choosing and being accepted into this program.  
Receiving a tarantula from Shahana.

It can be daunting trying to decide what to pursue after undergrad, and perhaps you are feeling like I was after my first degree - trying to decide if science communication is the right path.  Near the end of my undergraduate studies in biology, I was stumped for what to do next.  I had grown to love ecology and environmental science and health studies, and yet, I had no idea which field was supposed to be my "say yes to the dress" moment.  I was convinced that it needed to be some sort of prestigious professional program (think medicine, law, pharmacy, etc.).  After all, I wanted to be able to get a job in my small hometown when I graduated.  So, I put my bets on pharmacy.  I pulled up all of the applications, asked professors for reference letters, and got myself a job at a local pharmacy.  But throughout the application process, I always had a nagging in the back of my mind.  A year earlier, I had overheard an acquaintance talking about a "science communication program" in Sudbury.  I have that in quotations because I had never heard of such a thing.  Communicating science???  Sounds like fun, but what if there aren't jobs?  What does a science communicator even do?  I'll be honest, I didn't have the answers to those questions when I pulled up the application, and I didn't do as much research into it as I probably should have.  I told myself it was going to be a "backup plan", because the real goal was to get into pharmacy school.  But the truth was that I wasn't happy with my pharmacy plans.  I wasn't convinced that I would be committed to four years of pharmacy school when I had basically just pulled the program from a hat.  

So I put as much effort as I could into my Science Communication application.  I kept telling my family and friends that I was holding out for pharmacy, but I was secretly hoping that I would get into this mysterious Science Communication program just so that I wouldn't have to go to pharmacy school.  As luck would have it, I didn't even get an interview to my top pharmacy school.  At this point, I mentally put all of my eggs into the "SciComm" basket.  I still wasn't 100% sure what it was, but I wanted more than anything to get in.  The day I received my acceptance email, I cried.  I went running into the next room to show my mom, and I called all of my closest family and friends with the happy news.  One of my best friends bought me a bottle of wine and sent me a "congratulations" message on every social media platform I have, because she knew as well as I did that this was truly what I had wanted all along. 
Our group @ Dynamic Earth.

Maybe you won't have a story quite as dramatic as mine, but I assure you that if you have even the slightest interest in communicating science, this program is the one for you.  We're only 8 weeks into the program, and it has already surpassed my expectations in so many ways.  Science communication, though very different from my studies in biology, is still a science itself.  Everything we learn is rooted in scientific study that has been tested, peer-reviewed, and published.  We learn about how people learn, how to craft quality discussion, and how to approach hot science topics with polarized audiences.  We hear from successful guest speakers, attend conferences, and go on cool and insightful field trips.  The other students accepted into this program come from all kinds of different backgrounds, and they're such incredible people that I'm learning just as much from them as I am from the program itself.  I'm no longer worried about whether or not I'll get a job, because the opportunities in science communication are truly endless.  Science centers and museums, government, media, and industry are all options for us at this point.  Above all, I'm really just excited to take all of the tools I'm learning and use them to foster discovery and a shared understanding of science in my own community.       

I hope this has been insightful!  Throughout the year we will be updating this blog so that you can get a better idea of what we do here in Sudbury in the Science Communication program.  In the meantime, make sure to check out our website and social media pages (linked at the top of this page) for more information, and don't hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have!   

Happy October :)

- Leah