Can advanced science be easy to understand?

UO communicating science

Have you heard someone use the cliché “it’s not rocket science,” implying whatever task at hand is easy?

Scientists may be notorious for their ability to handle complex information and balance many variables, but two dozen faculty, postdoctoral students and graduate students from the University of Oregon are out to prove that anyone can understand what they study.

Recently, the group spent two days sharpening their communication skills in a workshop led by faculty from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. The workshop was made possible by support from several organizations at the UO, including the Science Literacy Program, STEM CORE and a program grant from the College of Arts and Sciences.

“It was pretty impressive to see how my group members grew in their ability to explain (their research),” said Elly Vandegrift, associate director of the UO’s Science Literacy Program and an organizer of the event. “It was very powerful to have (so much) time devoted to thinking on our feet about our science.”

Vandegrift, along with Bryan Rebar, associate director of UO’s STEM CORE program, organized the workshop at the UO after hearing actor and writer Alan Alda speak at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“I was impressed by Alan Alda’s storytelling and passion for helping scientists learn how to better communicate,” Vandegrift said. “I was even more convinced that learning how to communicate science well is a skill that could help in the classroom and other less formal interactions.” 

Over the course of the two-day workshop, the group participated in sessions covering everything from guided improvisation to discussions about distilling a message. They also had the opportunity to hone their media interview skills.

Of course, communication is a skill that always can be improved upon, and Vandegrift says there are more trainings on the horizon.

“There is interest in continuing the conversation about how we communicate, developing a regional network and finding other ways to provide training to a wider audience,” she said.

For more information about the communicating science workshop, read the full story on the research and innovation website.