October 7, 2015
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a science communication event at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia. According to their website, “Start Talking Science is a free public event where STEM researchers present posters detailing their research to a general audience. We hope to foster insightful conversations and connections, and increase public interest in the cutting-edge research taking place right here in Philadelphia!”
This was the second year for Start Talking Science (STS), which included 23 poster presentations from scientists and graduate students in the greater Philadelphia region (photos can be found at the end of this post and were taken by myself). The two-hour evening poster session took place in the Dinosaur Hall of the Academy. Although the overall lighting was dark in the Hall and the posters were packed close together, there was definitely a “coolness” factor of attending an event in the museum that mounted the first-ever dinosaur skeleton for display (the Hadrosaurus foulkii, for fans of trivia). The energy level was high among the presenters and ~100 attendees, some from the Philadelphia Science Society Meetup Group.
I was impressed with the lead up to the event. STS founder Dr. Christina Love was proactive in getting scientists to keep the non-scientist audience in mind when preparing the posters. Dr. Love and the STS program board held two optional communication workshops for the presenters ahead of time to help reduce/eliminate the jargon and to bring the technical descriptions of the research process to an appropriate level for the audience. STEM and communication experts helped edit and modify posters, as well as work on elevators speeches. Knowing that these resources and science communication development opportunities were available to the presenters ahead of time, I was really looking forward to a great night of learning across the STEM disciplines.
So, was the event a success? Despite the best efforts of the STS organizers, some scientists did not do their part in making their science accessible to those in attendance. Most of the titles hit the mark (such as, “Can we measure how a victim responds to chest compressions during CPR?”, and “Engineering viruses to stimulate regeneration in the damaged spinal cord”). Yet some of the posters displayed were ones that clearly were used for a previous science conference presentation, and just brought over to recycle for the Academy event. This was disappointing to see, as it made it difficult for attendees to understand some of the biology and chemistry posters – I can’t imagine a non-scientist even stopping and trying to read one of those posters. My “gold star” for the night would go to the group from University of Pennsylvania for “Using dogs to detect ovarian cancer in blood samples.” The title was easy to understand, the poster was extremely well laid out and stressed the importance of their work and its application. And two thumbs-up for the enthusiastic presenter that kept her presentation jargon-free!
Scientists, we’ve got to do our part – just having a Start Talking Science event isn’t enough, and it isn’t going to make a difference if we don’t give an appropriate presentation to the target audience. And I’m going to step up and do my part next year to make sure Earth science is represented at the event on at least one poster!