Nancy Baron Captivates the SFU Biology Department

On Thursday March 28th the Biology Departmental seminar featured the yearly Grad Hosted Speaker. This year the graduate students (with some help from the Department) got Nancy Baron, a naturalist, science writer and communications coach from COMPASS and Leopold Leadership to teach a thing or two about communicating our science more effectively outside academia.

"The Insect People"

Graduate students in “The Insect People” group sit down to chat with Nancy Baron about their research.

Nancy spent the morning meeting with graduate students that had been roughly broken up into three groups: “The Fish People”, “The Bird People”, and “The Insect People”. After hearing about the exciting, innovating, and surprising research being done here at SFU, Nancy stood before an audience that packed C9000 to give her official address. She started with some take-away messages from her discussions earlier in the day. (1) People are hungry for science stories like ours: we need to start sharing them (maybe we should start some kind of departmental blog!). (2) We all need to get on twitter to hear and participate in the ongoing global conversation.

Grad Student Lunch with Nancy Baron

Some graduate students sit down to enjoy lunch and more Sci-Comm discussion with Nancy Baron (who is sitting on the left).

Before cutting into the meat of her afternoon talk, Nancy reminded her captive audience of keen academics of the importance of not just doing good science – but communicating it too. I’m sure every scientist has heard the old adage “publish or perish”. I believe the truth behind this is two-fold; first, if you don’t have pubs under your belt, you wont win grants or jobs. Second, if no one knows about your results but you or your lab-group, then that research might as well not have happened at all. Nancy’s talk took this a step further. Many of us hope our research will make a difference, have some impact on the way people think or how policy is made. The sad truth is that it can’t have an impact if no one knows about it, and people wont know about it unless we can tell it to them in a way they’ll understand.

Prep for the seminar

Preparing for her seminar: Does Nancy look nervous at all? I don’t think so.

The talk was titled “One Minute to Impress: And Deliver a Clear Message”; it focused on how we can get our point across by shaping our science stories to be quick and understandable. Attendees completed a rough draft of a “message box” prior to the presentation and workshopping them became the highlight of the seminar. Our thesis-length stories became elevator pitches that we practiced on our peers. Along the way we collected some important take-aways. For example, know your audience – frame the material so they will care, or you’ll lose them before you start. The secret to being a bore is trying to tell everything (~Voltaire). And “the three Ps”: Preparation, Practice, and Passion – the audience cares if you care.

Workshopping our Message Boxes

Workshopping our Message Boxes and practicing our elevator pitches.

All-round, this year’s Grad Hosted Speaker turned out to be a great success. Typically this event is followed by a second day (the Olympiad) where graduate students present their work. This year the Olympiad will be replaced with a poster session style symposium to showcase the message boxes we learned to make with Nancy. This event will be held in the downstairs section of the Highland Pub on Friday April 12th, 2:30-5:30. Between 2:30 and 3:30 there will be materials available to make a poster with your lab mates (please sign up with Lindsey Button to participate: lindsey_button@sfu.ca). Posters will be displayed starting at 3:30, so even if you aren’t participating, come by for free food, beer, mingling, and science! At 5:00 best poster and door prizes will be awarded, followed by an evening of socializing in the Highland pub.
See you there!

Be Fearless!

Nancy ended her talk by encouraging us to be fearless!