Washington Update

Boot Camp Teaches Anatomy Researchers the Art of Science Communication

By: Jennifer Zeitzer
Thursday, July 25, 2019

In early July, a diverse group of scientists stepped out of their labs and classrooms and traveled to Indianapolis to participate in a three-day workshop designed to help them be effective science communicators.

Organized by members of the American Association of Anatomists (AAA) and hosted at the Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine, the Science Communication Boot Camp brought together new faculty, senior investigators, postdocs, trainees, and AAA leadership for a unique training experience that none will soon forget.

Funded by the AAA Innovations Program as part of the organization’s strategic goal to “lead in science communication,” the boot camp provided AAA members with training, resources, and tools they can use to improve their engagement with legislators, media representatives, and the public. Participants were selected through an application process that demonstrated their interest in and commitment to learning new skills.

“Recent communication research indicates that simply providing more and better information will not improve public understanding of science,” said workshop co-organizer and IU faculty member Krista Hoffman-Longtin. “Our workshop was designed to address this issue. By focusing on storytelling and message framing, we hoped to give participants the tools needed to change public perceptions and encourage future scientists.”

The highlight of the program was two days of intense training by engaging and energetic facilitators from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Sessions focused on seeing and being seen, designing a vivid message, relating to your audience, talking to skeptics, story-telling, honing your message, and providing constructive feedback.

Alda Center trainers used a variety of interactive exercises and improvisation techniques to help participants get to know each other and feel comfortable in both small and large group interactions. A workbook was also provided to reinforce the main points and techniques taught in the individual modules.

On the final day of boot camp, attendees practiced everything they learned from the Alda Center training. The day started with a series of exercises on creating engaging visual communications, including how to use graphs and stories to present data, and designing effective charts. A special panel discussion providing tips for working with journalists featured valuable advice from local radio and television reporters and a staff person from the IU School of Medicine media relations department.

Participants completed their boot camp experience by filming mock on camera media interviews and watching the playback to receive feedback on their performance. In addition, FASEB staff were honored to be invited to the boot camp to provide advice and guidance on how to craft and deliver messages to policymakers; these sessions featured role-playing of interactions with Congressional staff. During the final session, organizers led a discussion about how attendees could develop a shorter version of the workshop at their own institutions.

The Science Communication Boot Camp was so successful that AAA plans to offer it again in subsequent years. Photos and other workshop details are available in Anatomy Now, the AAA newsletter.