June 8, 2016

StoryCorps – missing the stories of Earth & space scientists

Posted by Laura Guertin

storycorps Searching for “geology” yielded no results. Next, I tried “oceanography” – no results. Then I tried “astronomy” – still no results. “Earth”? Not a thing. A search on “space” yielded one space-related story – the voice of Carl McNair remembering his brother, Ronald McNair, who was one of the astronauts killed aboard the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986 (listen to the story). I was moved – and that’s the impact of a personal story and journey in life, told through audio.

I’m talking about the StoryCorps organization and searching on their website through their library of stories.

StoryCorps is America’s oral history project. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected more than 60,000 interviews with over 100,000 participants from all backgrounds — the largest single collection of human voices ever gathered. Recordings are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress so that future generations can hear the stories – and the voices – of today. We share stories online and through our popular weekly NPR broadcasts, podcast, animated shorts, and best-selling books. StoryCorps is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. — StoryCorps main page

Why write a blog post on StoryCorps? It is my hope that scientists consider contributing to this incredible library. There are several podcasting series hosted by science organizations and that focus on interviewing just scientists (People Behind the Science, Story Collider, etc.). But the only listeners these collections attract are the listeners specifically looking for a story about a scientist. If scientists want to make a broader impact and let a larger audience know who we are and hear our stories, I suggest we start sharing our stories outside of science-centered and science-focused outlets. Why not add our voices to the “largest single collection of human voices” that is then archived at the Library of Congress? People from diverse backgrounds, ages and locations can then hear our Earth and space science voices when exploring the StoryCorps collection.

If you are unfamiliar with StoryCorps, please view the video below of StoryCorps founder David Isay, the 2015 TED Prize winner (see New York Times article).

As the recording involves two people – one asking the questions, one telling the story – I could envision getting students involved with the capture of Earth and space scientist stories. Students, individually or as a group, could come up with their list of questions – what do they really want to know about our backgrounds? Our adventures? Our challenges? And we could help guide the students with question design. Then, students could interview the faculty in the department – a mini-StoryCorps collection that captures a snapshot of the program at a certain time. Students could also interview alumni to discuss their journeys to becoming a professional in the field. Involving students not only helps them take ownership of the process, but they also develop their listening skills – a skill that employers say is poor in our graduating students. And, students may be inspired to tell their own stories.

StoryCorps has an app available that might make the process more appealing to students to record with their smartphones. This video demonstrates how simple the question design, recording procedure, and upload process can be.

What could go wrong? Faculty may not feel comfortable opening up and going on record about some of their greatest challenges, prior/current fears of failure, instances of being bullied/harassed, etc. Our egos may get in the way, and impostor syndrome may make an appearance. But what can go right? We can add our voices to the largest collection and make a difference in the lives of our students and people across the globe that can access the audio files. We can break stereotypes. We can break down barriers and encourage younger listeners to be scientists, as our stories will be real stories, in our own voices.

We absolutely need multiple collections of scientist stories, such as Nautilus Magazine’s What was your spark of science? (see previous blog post). But we can make an even bigger impact with a larger audience if we add our stories to collections that are lacking in scientific voices.


Additional StoryCorps resources

StoryCorps website – https://storycorps.org/

Book website – Listening is an Act of Love – https://storycorps.org/books/listening-is-an-act-of-love/ (additional StoryCorps books available online) (see also Google Books)

PBS has animated StoryCorps Shorts and a full 30-minute feature – http://www.pbs.org/pov/storycorpsspecial/video/listening-is-an-act-of-love/

Brown, B. (2015, March 18). StoryCorps founder Dave Isay reveals his wish at TED2015. NPR. (Article online)

May, K.T. (2015, March 17). Dave Isay shares his TED Prize wish: to take StoryCorps global with an app anyone can use. TED Blog. (Post online)


Using StoryCorps with students

A Teacher’s Guide to Listening is an Act of Love, edited by D. Isay (PDF online)

Simmons, N., & K.E. Tenzek. (2016). “Listening is an act of love”: Learning listening through StoryCorps. Communication Teacher, 30(1): 17-21. DOI: 10.1080/17404622.2015.1102307 (abstract online)

Choi, A.S. (2015, September 21). How telling stories can transform a classroom. TED Blog. Available at: http://blog.ted.com/how-stories-can-transform-a-classroom-storycorps-interviews-affect-both-students-and-teachers/