Chemistry students host second annual ComSciCon conference

SciComATL swag for attendees. Photo by @ComSciConATL on Twitter.

Earlier this month, Emory University hosted the second annual ComSciCon ATL. ComSciCon is an organization that provides workshops hosted by and for graduate students with a focus on science communication. The ComSciCon ATL event was a collaborative efforts between organizers from UGA, Georgia Tech, and Emory. Dyer Group graduate students Helen Siaw and Brooke Andrews, both in their fourth year, were Emory’s event leads. The conference was funded, in part, by a generous gift from Emory’s Laney Graduate School among other sponsors. All conference expenses and meals were covered for participants.

SciComConATL participants (attempt to?) take a photo together on the stairs in the Science Commons Atrium. Photo from @SciConComATL on Twitter.

The event, which took place in the Atwood Chemistry Center, was two days full of professional panels, networking, activities, and breakout sessions. Attendees were given the unique chance to hone their communication skills, while hearing from a diverse cast of science communication experts.

The event included four panels:

SciComm Audiences

This panel was organized to address the questions surrounding the target audiences of science communications. The three panelists, Barbara Coble (Founder of Emory’s Graduation Generation), James Porter (Professor of Ecology and Marine Sciences at UGA), and Marc Merlin (Executive Director of the Atlanta Science Tavern), shared their unique experiences to provide insight into a variety of SciComm audiences.

Ethics of SciComm

This panel, which addressed some of the ethical considerations in the realm of science communication, was comprised of Veronica van Montfrans (Director of Learning Sciences Innovation and Research at Georgia Tech and the joint Emory/GA Tech Biomedical Engineering program), Aaron Levine (Associate Professor in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech), and Paul Root Wolpe (Professor of Jewish Bioethics and Director of the Center for Ethics at Emory).

Data & Visual SciComm

Mica Duran (Board-certified medical illustrator), Michael Shaw (MD, educational filmmaker), Alex Nazzari (Emory undergraduate student, President of Science.Art.Wonder), and Becky Scheel (Service Designer with Harmonic Design) shared about possible advantages, obstacles, and applications of visual media in science communication.

Advocacy & Policy

The panel of Jasmine Clark (Lecturer of Microbiology and Anatomy and Physiology at Emory University), Berry Brosi (Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Emory), John Bowers (Chief of Game Management for the Wildlife Resources Division), and Robert Butera (Associate Dean for Research and Innovation in the Georgia Tech College of Engineering) discussed how scientists can use their voice to influence political action.

The workshop also featured an afternoon of activities where attendees were given the chance to make use of the valuable information they were learning throughout the day. During a write-a-thon, attendees were given constructive feedback on writing samples. Mock interviews were hosted to give advice on best interview practices for the field. During “Improv Hour”, attendees had the chance to show up in front of an audience and participate in fun and informative improvisation-based activities led by Highwire Comedy Company.

After a full first day, the evening wrapped up with a pizza and movie night featuring the documentary “Chasing Coral“—one of the many projects from Dr. Porter. The film explores what coral reefs can tell us about the health of our globe and the future of our planet. In addition, the film also provides a wonderful example of how scientists can make an impact through film and other forms of communication.

Storytelling training with Janece Shaffer. Photo by @HelenSiaw on Twitter.

On the second day, panel sessions were punctuated with short breakout sessions. One session was hosted by Janece Shaffer, Founder and Chief Story Consultant for Storycentric. Storycentric collaborates with companies to build impactful stories for marketing, brand development, and public speaking. Another breakout session hosted by Dan Samorodnitisky gave attendees the chance to develop a pitch that could be submitted to a media outlet. As an Editor with MassiveSci, Dr. Samorodnitisky is familiar with the ins and outs of story pitching, passing along some words of wisdom to those who are interested in submitting. Finally, the third breakout session focused on developing an online persona. In this session,hosted by Social Media Strategist Manu Muraro, attendees were given practical advice on best social media practices for building a brand.

Dr. Shepherd’s keynote address in Atwood Hall 360. Photo by @MAjayi_907 on Twitter.

The event concluded with a keynote address from Dr. Marshall Shepherd, a leading international expert in weather and climate. He hosts The Weather Channel’s award-winning Sunday talk show, “Weather Geeks“, and serves as the chair of the NASA Earth Sciences Advisory Committee. He shared his unique experience with science communication and emphasized the importance of effectively communicating science to the public.

Overall, the two-day workshop was a wonderfully fun and informative event. The perfectly curated cast of science communicators was able to provide unique insights and advice from all corners of the science communications arena. Attendees were given practical advice, networking opportunities, and the chance to ask questions and develop their skills.

Professional development workshops like this one are undeniably valuable to graduate students, so a huge “Thank you!” to everyone who made this event possible.