Only one eye on the prize

From my journal, November 2015, my third year in grad school:

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That gray silhouette is my mom. I call her most days, but sometimes we text instead. We probably spend half our time talking about daily life — yoga, work, what we’re cooking for dinner — and the other half of our time talking about our thoughts. My thoughts are often future-oriented. For example, I talk about trips that are scheduled for 6 months out as if they’re tomorrow because the future just always feels so imminent. I also talk a lot about my professional future, even though I’m not even sure what my professional goals are. I’m constantly asking myself (internally and aloud), what I can do to secure that all-fulfilling (and elusive) job that’ll allow me to positively impact the world, stay challenged, and help pay the bills for a comfortable home in a stimulating city.

My mom listens so much (thanks, Mom!). She validates my ideas, suggests other things to consider, and maybe most importantly, reminds me that the present is pretty great too. Goals are crucial, and we attain them by having our “eye on the prize.” But luckily we have two eyes. Our biological eyes may not be able to focus on two different things, but our metaphorical ones can. We can keep one eye on the prize while focusing the other on the present. When I do that, I remember that this current stage of my life — 4th year of my PhD, exploring different ways that metaphor shapes thought, in a mind-blowing Cognitive Science department in America’s Finest City — is pretty darn amazing.

For a while, this was the prize that I kept my eye on. When I was an undergrad at Vassar, as I started to learn more about language and cognitive science and more about research, I set my eye on graduate school, and soon after set my eye on THIS graduate school. I wanted to be accepted so much that I cried. Then I was accepted. I came to UCSD and started grad school. In typical human fashion, as the former prize became the present, I looked forward again to the next prize. Even though that next prize is still foggy in my mind, I know there must be a prize there, and I know I want to position myself as best as possible to attain it. So one eye will stay there. But as for the other…

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Ocean Beach Pier, San Diego, CA. Photos By Clark. CC BY-NC
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Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda (Chapter 1 TLDR Guide)

Happy New Year! If one of your resolutions is to do better science communication this year, you might be interested in this 127-page guide for communicating science effectively published by the National Academy of Sciences. It’s thorough, filled with references to empirical work on science communication, especially about controversial topics (like climate change, energy, vaccines, obesity, and food safety). But it’s 127 pages. I’ve broken it down to share my greatest takeaways, and will post my TLDR guide to one chapter each day this week.


Chapter 1: Using science to improve science communication

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“What is this ‘science communication’ you speak of?” written by Sarah Boon

Most science communication rests on the assumption that when science is communicated well, the public has a better understanding of an issue and more science-backed attitudes toward the issue. But actually we don’t know this assumption is true.

Science communication can be broken down into different goals, and the particular goal at hand should be considered for communication efforts. The report listed:

  • Share findings and excitement for science
  • Increase appreciation for science as a useful way of understanding and acting in the world
  • Increase knowledge and understanding of science related to a specific issue that requires a decision
  • Influence opinions, behavior, and policy preferences to accord with scientific evidence
    • Related debate: Where should scientists draw the line for using science to persuade? Sometimes what may start out as science communication can become communication about policy or behaviors that lie outside the strict domain of science…
  • Learn about diverse groups’ perspectives about science for consideration in seeking solutions to societal problems

A common but misleading model of science communication is the deficit model.
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The deficit model is inaccurate for most science communication concepts since scientific “facts” are complex and can often be interpreted in different ways. Plus, there are often many mediators in science communication. Information doesn’t simply go from scientists to audience (often), but instead is first disseminated to different organizations, media, and others, who in turn add their own voice to the issue when communicating it. Plus, as mentioned earlier, communication of knowledge does not necessarily mean the communication goals will be achieved. And of course there are layers of complexity, for example that different messages will achieve different successes with different audiences.


I’ll blog about the next chapter tomorrow. It focuses on the complexity of communicating scientific information to provide scientists and communicators with explicit awareness of the challenges they face and begin to overcome them.