#MySciComm: Kristina Young on SciComm and founding the Science Moab radio show

This week, Kristina Young responds to the #MySciComm questions!


Kristina Young at the mic recording Science Moab at KZMU. (photo courtesy of Kristina Young)

Kristina is a desert dweller, graduate student, and communicator of place-based science.  She produces science shows for a regional audience on Moab, Utah’s, community radio station KZMU.  As a graduate student, she researches dryland ecology and hopes to inspire a love of science and place in her local community.  Connect with her @arid_ecology and her website.

The #MySciComm series features a host of SciComm professionals. We’re looking for more contributors, so please get in touch if you’d like to write a post!


Okay, Kristina…

1) How did you get into the kind of SciComm that you do?

I get unabashedly enthusiastic talking about science. I also get unabashedly enthusiastic talking about my home in the red-rock country of southern Utah.

It is where I have done most of my research as a technician, master’s student, and now PhD student in dryland ecology. It was also here that I realized there is a disconnect between the incredible amount of science occurring in local research stations and the people living near them.

Local residents I spoke with didn’t even know there were research stations housing world-renowned scientists nearby. They certainly didn’t know about the research coming out of these stations, and I felt strongly that we needed to bridge this gap. I wanted to ensure the science being done in this region was accessible to the people living here.

It was likely my enthusiasm for talking about science and my love of radio that made me think the best way for me to communicate science was through interviews.

I wanted people to hear scientists explain their research in their own words – with me interjecting for clarity. I also wanted those who may have never met a scientist to be exposed to the human side of science. I wanted people to hear the joy in scientists’ voices as they talk about their love of research.

Without any real know-how, I recorded my first interview with a local scientist using a hand-held recorder, learned how to use editing software, added some theme music that a friend wrote for me, and ended up with a 20-minute produced show.

After trusted friends listened to it and reassured me that it was interesting and understandable, I shared it with the local radio station KZMU. The station responded with overwhelming support. They offered me a weekly time slot to air interviews and press releases for the show, which would come to be known as Science Moab.

The support of my local radio station was essential.

KZMU provided me with a well-established way to disseminate the interviews. Science Moab had ready-made credentials because of my collaboration with this established radio station. KZMU also held me accountable to the project, which I could have easily allowed to lapse in favor of other demands on my time.

To reach a broader audience, I added the shows to Sound Cloud and made them downloadable on iTunes as podcast episodes. I had the radio station’s permission and support to do this, of course.

After committing to a weekly show, I did a fair bit of informal training. I watched tutorials on editing. I listened to Terry Gross incessantly to hone my interview skills (she is, in my opinion, the best interviewer of all time).  I went to scicomm workshops at scientific conferences. Then, I started contacting regional scientists to set up more interviews.

To date, I have interviewed over 20 scientists working on the Colorado Plateau on topics ranging from ecology to volcanology to fluvial geomorphology.

None of these are my own science specialty, and yet I have found all of these topics fascinating. In addition to talking about their research, interviewees have also shared personal stories about their journey and passion for science. Their individual experiences have inspired me throughout the low points of graduate school.

I remember at the end of one semester feeling so depleted I questioned why I wanted to be a research scientist. I walked into an interview with a dark cloud over my head. The interview was about bats with Dr. Carol Chambers.  She began talking about little brown bats with obvious love and fascination. I remembered the sheer joy that comes with asking research questions. Our scheduled half hour interview turned into an hour and half! By the end of it, my dark mood had lifted. We spoke for so long the interview spanned two shows. This sharing of passion is part of why I find science communication so worthwhile.

There’s no monetary compensation for producing Science Moab, and the time I devote to it is not trivial. However, this radio-based science communication project has impacted my research career in unexpected and positive ways.

I’ve broadened my knowledge base by reading papers to prepare for interviews. I’ve gotten better at articulating questions. I’ve broadened my network of regional scientists. And, I have not only increased my interactions with researchers, I have also connected with some I would otherwise not have known. For example, I got to interview ESA’s president-elect Laura Huenneke!

Citing this show as an example of my broader impacts and commitment to science outreach has bolstered my grant and scholarship applications. Science Moab was likely a large reason I received a master’s fellowship.

At the end of the day, I got into this type of science communication because I enjoy it.

I enjoy the renewed sense of excitement I get at the end of each interview. It means a lot to hear someone describe the joy of pursuing knowledge. Not incidentally, this passion has been expressed by everyone I’ve spoken to.

I also know that Science Moab is an important service for my small, rural-ish community in southern Utah. At a time when trust between scientists and rural Americans is tarnished, bridging that gap at a local level feels almost revolutionary. The best such moment I’ve been able to facilitate involved a local high schooler. After hearing a show where I interviewed a volcanologist, the student looked at me with bulging eyes and said, “No one ever told me there was a job where you get to spend time on volcanoes!” Who knows – maybe that student will become a scientist. And even if not, that student now has a better understanding of the diversity of science disciplines, and what this scientist is like as a person.

I love the place where I live and I love science. This radio show has allowed me to blend these two to create a product that is enjoyable and meaningful to me, the scientists that I interview, and the communities in which we conduct our research.

2) What are your top 3 SciComm tips and/or resources?

1. Don’t wait to start a science communication project until you have the time.

Because you will never have the time, especially if you are engaging in outreach on top of a research career. Decide if you are interested enough in the project and have enough support/resources to do it, then make the time. In the end, you may also find it helps your research career in significant ways.

2. Build on already-existing communication platforms.

Creating and disseminating a radio show was much easier with the support and reach of an established radio station. Take advantage of entities/organizations that can broaden your reach and make your communication efforts more effective.  If you’re specifically interested in science communication through radio, you can take advantages of established workshops and internships.

3. Consider place-based science communication.

There are lots of ways people can access general science information (and still room for more ways!). But, digestible information about science occurring regionally can be harder to come by, especially outside of cities or college towns. Place-based science communication is a way to reach these communities. It offers a starting place for broader communication about science and the scientists conducting it. Here is a great power point with examples of using place-based engagement to communicate science on climate change.