Why take a SciComm Course?

A guest scicomm blog post by Jeff Dunn.

Do you want to be a science communicator? My answer was “yes” and so I committed two intensive weeks of my life to learn at the Banff Science Communication course. Learn I did! Hanging out with a super group of like-minded people talking about things I love—what could be better? OK, it was in Banff, that was a big perk too!

The course that I attended was the full two weeks. I was a bit nervous knowing that it ran 14 days without a break. This version is still available every three years. In the other years there are smaller more focused modules for people looking for more tailored learning.

Why go, and what did I take away?

First, I have to clarify the terms (after all, I’m a scientist, a Prof at the University of Calgary in brain imaging science). I thought science communicators were journalists, radio announcers, documentary producers and book writers. As a professional scientist, I lumped myself into that group. What I now realize after talking to course members, and others such as the Canadian Science Writers Association, is that science communication is for anyone with an interest. Many communicators are those who just enjoy talking about science. Most have other jobs. Communication is a life skill and everyone can benefit.

Which brings me to one of the strengths of the program. You learn the art of the story. Who are you communicating with? It changes from the Saturday party to the office meeting. Are you talking to people who know your jargon or not? Once you know who it is you want to talk to, then you learn how to create a story to engage your audience—educating without lecturing. Nurturing that “inner creativity” to think out of the box. This thread permeated all the training, regardless of the medium being discussed.

Of course, you can get exposure to just about any type of communication.

The most accessible option is often a website or blog. We also had training in speaking and body awareness (through improvisation training). There are options for technical training in all forms of communication including writing, websites, blogs, film, voice/radio, etc..

I communicate mainly through writing and public speaking, and so I was particularly attracted to those areas. Imagine how blown away I was to get personal editing advice from John Rennie, editor of Scientific American for 15 years. In the speaking side, I was exposed for the first time to the fun and power of podcasting through an instructor who also has international stature: Rose Eveleth, who mixes serious skills with a touch of craziness and a dash of the whimsical. This spurred me on to make my own podcast on concussion which is up on my blog site (oh yes, I was motivated to start a blog after this). In short, the faculty are exceptional. Go search them out. They are all people who have made amazing contributions to science communication.

And so I ended up finding more than I was searching for. Isn’t that the sign of a good program?

Who went? Who might you meet? What an interesting crowd. In research, there is something called “imposter syndrome” where students and faculty find themselves associating with super amazing people and start to feel inadequate. For the first few days that was my state of mind. The program is run on such a personal and informal basis though, that barriers began to fall and friendships grew. It was clear that many felt the same way. In the end, we were all on the same page with the goal of learning while having a blast.

And I got to have beers with Jay Ingram in a Banff pub while challenging locals to see who knew the geneticist “Mendel”. But that is another story.

Written by Jeff Dunn
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For more information on the upcoming SciComm courses, please visit the Science Communications page!

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