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 Café 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

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