Seminar features science communication experts at UBC

Science blogging, illustration, and journalism each had their moments at a science communication seminar hosted by the Behavioral Neuroscience Seminar Team on Friday, July 8.

The event was led by graduate neuroscience student Alyssa Ash as part of a professional development series. The seminar introduced researchers to various ways to use science communication to their advantage.

In the first talk, Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Jason Snyder shared his experiences as a trailblazer in his field and an active blogger. According to Snyder, blogs provide an “informal way to share thoughts[s] with more personality than a typical academic record.

Snyder’s blog not only showcases the effective use of a blog to share new research, but also highlights the academic value of resource sharing. A collage of numbers on his blog easily sums up a complex research question, providing a quick visual summary of data from multiple credible sources. An informal list of literature that Snyder has compiled on his blog is another useful resource that has even been officially cited in an academic article.

Platforms like FigShare give students and researchers a way to communicate their work to a wider academic audience, according to Snyder. He recommended this resource to students as a credible platform to cite on resumes and another academic journal citation opportunity.

The “aesthetic” side of science communication was highlighted in the second talk of the seminar, featuring science illustrator and communications coordinator for the Department of Zoology, Dr. Sylvia Heredia. For Heredia, imagery is an essential tool for communicating “brilliant” ideas.

“Science is becoming more and more complex. For me, to understand it, I need to see it,” she said.

Heredia’s illustrations bring to life the science it aims to convey. From laboratory logos to visual summaries, Heredia’s contributions to the Department of Zoology demonstrate the effective use of imagery to explain technical methods, processes, and research questions.

Heredia’s successful career in scientific illustration following a doctorate in ecology and plant sciences and a certificate from a scientific illustration program offers art students in STEM a way to merge their passions.

Final speaker Vanessa Hrvatin, a science communications specialist and former communications coordinator for the Djavad Mowafaghian Center for Brain Health, spoke about the winding journey of finding your chosen career path.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science with Honors from Queen’s University, Hrvatin knew she loved book clubs and loved talking about science, but didn’t like spending long hours in the lab. This led her to an impressive career in science journalism, her portfolio including publications in Maclean’s, The National Post and The Globe and Mail.

Hrvatin’s best advice for budding science communicators centered on two things: eliminating jargon and using analogies. Citing his own experiences, Hrvatin demonstrated how a complicated and lengthy explanation by a researcher can be effectively reduced to a simple analogy.

“Good science communication takes time, but the investment is worth it,” Hrvatin said. For interested students, she recommended pitching story ideas to the media, networking, and practicing their writing skills in their free time. Students with ties to the lab can even gain valuable communications experience by supporting their lab’s social media and website.

Closing the seminar, Ash highlighted ways for neuroscience aficionados to get involved in science communication. The Brainiac Blog, Neuropsyched, Neuroscience Through the Ages, and Brain Bytes are all run by students in the Neuroscience program.

For researchers and students, the seminar described science communication as a way to share a passion for science beyond the traditional academic setting.

“I wanted to share all my thoughts and one post every four years wasn’t going to be enough,” Snyder said. “We all want to share the things we love.”

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