Tag Archives: science communication

do you have a 30 second elevator talk about your research?

I attended an interesting talk at the AAAS Meeting about science cafes (Link) organized by NOVA on PBS. Their science cafes are groups that meet once per month in a cafe or casual setting, where a scientific expert on an interesting topic has a conversation about their research with whomever wants to attend. The science cafes are open to the public and appeal to scientists as well as those who may be intimidated by coming to a research seminar at a university.

Sciencecafes.org has some tips for their speakers (Link), since speaking at a science cafe is not like giving a seminar or lecture. It’s all about creating a science with the public.

Their tips:

1. Introduce yourself and why you got interested in your research. Tell a story and maybe a funny anecdote.

2. Talk about your research using no jargon for a max of 10 minutes. No slides! You can still have visuals, such as pictures on a tablet.

They stressed that visual hooks can be very powerful. Powerful visuals can motivate the problem and be produced by someone other than you. They recommended props, such as microbes that can be passed around. In OR, we could pass around a polytope or a picture of an optimal TSP route.

3. The last 40-50 minutes are for Q&A and dialog.

This advice is really good for some settings, but it’s not something that you should do in a conference talk or seminar, which is why I am putting the advice in a blog post. There is a difference between talking to your colleagues and talking to your dean or an NSF program officer while in an elevator or while waiting in line for coffee. You have to be good at both.

Part of being successful is having a good 30 second “elevator talk” about your work that outlines:

– what you are working on
– why it’s important
– what we will be able to do differently if you are successful

I tell PhD students that they should be able to explain their dissertation contributions to me in a 30 second elevator speech at their defense. It’s really hard to put your dissertation into a 3o second box after you put all your blood, sweat, and tears in it. But this skill will be invaluable on the job search and afterward.

For tips on 30 second elevator speech visit NOVA’s secret life of scientists and engineers.

Do you have a 30 second elevator talk?

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researchers should embrace talking about their research in 140 characters or less

I recently blogged about my experience at the AAAS Meeting, where I talked about my research findings to a broad audience that included journalists. In one of the sessions, it was revealed that only 3% of scientists will talk to journalists over the course of their lifetimes. Maybe we as a nation should be more interested in science news. But I also think that scientists and engineers should embrace the broader impacts of our research and be proactive with outreach efforts.

A tweet from one of them (Liz Neeley from CompassOnline) drove home the point that part of the reason that scientists can do a better job. I put my twitter handle and blog URL on my title slide, and pointed this out when I started my talk.

I was surprised that my twitter handle was “news.” But apparently it’s weird for an academic to include a twitter handle on slides.

I got ~12 new followers during my talk. I have no regrets.


operations research, disasters, and science communication

I had the pleasure of speaking at the AAAS Meeting on February 17 in a session entitled Dynamics of Disasters: Harnessing the Science of Networks to Save Lives. I talked about my research that addresses how to use scarce public resources in fire and emergency medical services to serve communities during severe but not catastrophic weather events. My research has application to weather events such as blizzards, flash flooding, derechos, etc. that are not so catastrophic that the National Guard would come. Here, a community must meet demands for fire and health emergencies within a community using the resources that they have during “regular” days – e.g., ambulances and fire engines – while the transportation network is impaired due to snow, flooding, etc. Everything is temporarily altered, including the types of 911 calls that are made and travel and service times as they are affected by an impaired transportation network. Plus, it’s always a lot of fun to mention “Snowmaggedon” during a talk.

Anna Nagurney organized the session, and the other speakers included David McLaughlin, Panos Pardalos, Jose Holguin-Veras, and Tina Wakolbinger. They talked about a number of issues, including:

  • how to detect tornadoes temporally and spatially by deploying new types of sensors
  • how to evaluate people and even livestock during hurricanes and floods
  • what the difference between a disaster and a catastrophe is
  • what types of emergency logistics problems require our expertise: national versus internationa, public vs. non-profit, mitigation vs. preparedness vs. response, short-term disaster vs. long-term disaster

I applaud Anna Nagurney for organizing a terrific session. It was fascinating to talk to people in my field about disasters without focusing too much on the modeling details. We all mentioned which types of methodologies we used in the talk, but we focused on the takeaways, actionable results, and policy implications. And it’s clear that the opportunities in this area are almost endless.

The AAAS Meeting is all about science communication to a large audience. The talks focus on broader impacts not specific model details. It’s not always easy for me to take a step back from my research and explain it at a higher level, but I get a lot of practice through blogging and talking about my research in my classes. Still, I was nervous. I am a mere blogger – the conference is heavily attended by real science journalists. In fact, I had to submit speaker information and a picture ahead of time so that journalists prepare for my talk. I truly felt like an OR ambassador – it was quite an experience.

I attended another session on disasters, where the topics often revolved around forecasting power, false alarms, and risk communications. I have blogged about these issues before in posts such as what is the optimal false alarm rate for tornado warnings? and scientists convicted for manslaughter for making a type II error. This appears to be an ongoing issue. According to the scientists on the panel, part of the problem stems from journalists who want to make a good story even juicier by not portraying risk accurately, thus leading to false alarm fatigue.

Other sessions at the AAAS Meeting addressed several fascinating topics. One session was on writing about science, and it featured a writer from the Big Bang Theory. Another session was about communicating science to Congress. Many of the speakers were from science publications and PBS shows.

I have at least one other blog post on science communication in the works, so stay tuned.

My slides are below: