ESA SciComm Section puts the human element front-and-center in #MySciComm blog series and #ESA2017 workshops and special events

By Kika Tuff, Annaliese Hettinger, and Bethann Garramon Merkle, current officers of ESA’s SciComm Section.

Learn more about them and their roles here. Read more about our section here.

Top, L-R: Shane Hanlon (credit: S. Hanlon), Priya Shukla (credit: Gabriel Ng), Diogo Verissimo (courtesy of D. Verissimo) , Skylar Bayer (credit: Jesse Stuart); Bottom, L-R: Virginia Schutte (credit: V. Schutte), Annaliese Hettinger (credit: OMSI staff), Rebecca Johnson (credit: Alison Young)

Top, L-R: Shane Hanlon (credit: S. Hanlon), Priya Shukla (credit: Gabriel Ng), Diogo Verissimo (courtesy of D. Verissimo) , Skylar Bayer (credit: Jesse Stuart); Bottom, L-R: Virginia Schutte (credit: V. Schutte), Annaliese Hettinger (credit: OMSI staff), Rebecca Johnson (credit: Alison Young)

Science Communication is an emerging career path with diverse entry points and skillsets. Have you ever read about a science writer, filmmaker, or blogger and wondered, how in the world did they get THAT job? Or more importantly, how in the world can I get that job?

The ESA Science Communication (“SciComm”) Section was founded to address these questions and more. The section helps ecologists apply best practices in science communication and empowers ecologists to better communicate the stories of science (including stories about the people doing the science) in creative, compelling, and innovative ways.

In addition to resources and workshops, the SciComm Section publishes a blog series – #MySciComm – that addresses two core section efforts. We are committed to professionalizing science communication efforts within and beyond ESA and providing mentorship to ecologists interested in trying out, or transitioning to careers in, science communication. The #MySciComm series works toward these goals by providing a platform where science communicators can be candid about their work and what it takes to do it. #MySciComm contributors range from journalists to filmmakers, from those at private institutions to public universities, from trained formally to self-taught. Each post ends with advice and resources for people looking to build a career in science communication.

Unlike much of the material we are exposed to as scientists, the tone of #MySciComm is personal. Contributors divulge the details of their personal and professional journeys, sometimes touching on the deaths of loved ones, the humiliation of a bad presentation, or the inner desire to make a difference in the world with the realization that the desire may not be met in an academic setting. Annaliese Hettinger explores how an epic flood and her mother’s death propelled her toward scicomm in her quest to make her science matter. Virginia Schutte tackles imposter syndrome, and Diogo Verissimo introduces his initiative, Lost & Found, to bring hope and optimism back into the scicomm equation.

A hallmark of the #MySciComm series is the candor with which contributors detail the non-linear ways they got into SciComm careers. In a notable example, Skylar Bayer, who studies scallop sex organs, takes readers behind-the-scenes of her appearance on The Colbert Report and how that appearance led to producing podcasts and live science storytelling. Priya Shukla describes how her advocacy for marginalized ecologists led to launching a major diversity/inclusivity scicomm platform. Shane Hanlon describes what it’s like to be an ecologist training geophysicists in scicomm and how that has affected his own research.

Certainly, there is much to be learned from #MySciComm contributors regarding how to incorporate scicomm into research and how to transition into a scicomm career. But we think equally important is the humanity this series exposes, the person behind the science.

Given that the public often perceives scientists as cold or distrustful, one role of #MySciComm is in empowering scientists and science communicators to tell their stories in a way that connects with readers on a personal level. We know the series is inspiring other ESA members, because they write to us to say, “This series of features is amazing!” “Can we feature more of this at the annual ESA conference?” and “These stories are motivating!”

The series is also inspiring the SciComm Section to think beyond technical skill-building workshops (i.e., our 2015 and 2014 multimedia sessions) to further emphasize the human element of scicomm. At #ESA2017, we are hosting the workshops “Improv your science” and “Branding is not a dirty word”. Both sessions focus on identifying how you, as a scientist/science communicator, can be authentic and approachable for a variety of audiences. We are also hosting a series of “Ask a Pro” mixers to give attendees a chance to connect with experienced SciComm-ers. We’re also co-hosting several sessions with The Story Collider and the Springer Nature Storytellers program, Before the Abstract. See the entire slate of our #ESA2017 scicomm events, along with loads of other scicomm-related sessions on our website.

Our #MySciComm series and annual meeting activities are examples of how the SciComm Section serves as a resource for ESA members. But there is a lot more we can and want to do. A vibrant SciComm community exists within ESA, which is part of why we were established. As our section grows and evolves, we are actively looking for ways to collaborate and encourage the use of best practices, enhance professional recognition, and facilitate training and networking for people in all levels and varieties of SciComm.

We welcome your suggestions. Join us at #ESA2017, particularly during our business meeting where we’ll be discussing strategic planning, how best to spend section funds, officer candidates, future annual meeting sessions we can host, and more. If you can’t make it to #ESA2017, we’ll be live-tweeting much of the week. Follow the hashtag #ESASciComm to engage in that conversation. Meanwhile, whether you are at the annual meeting or not, please join the Section when you renew your ESA membership and connect with us at our public Facebook group.

Author: Liza Lester

ESA's Communications Officer came on board in the fall of 2011 after a Mass Media Science and Engineering fellowship with AAAS and a doctorate in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Washington.

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