I was invited to serve as the People’s Choice Judge for Canadian Science Publishing*’s 2021 Visualizing Science contest (which you can enter now!). In the course of launching the contest, CSP interviewed me about my take on creative approaches to visualizing science and doing science communication.
Here are the cliff notes:
I came to a career scicomm in a round-about way, only to later discover I had been doing scicomm most of my career.
My “creativity+scicomm” soap box centers around 3 principles: (1) Creativity can be practiced and enhanced. (2) Cross-training is essential. (3) Few innovations happen overnight or solo.
Despite the constraints and our conditioning in academia, we must ground our science communication and public engagement efforts in what our audience or target stakeholders value. “No amount of beautiful art or accessible color palette […] will salvage a visual communication effort that is developed in an echo chamber.”
This invited article in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment clarifies the role that public information officers play in modern science communication. It is essential reading for scientists looking to share their science and for science-trained folks considering moving from research into scicomm. The full article is available for free here.
Excerpt: “To some, the word “promotion” smacks of hype and spin. It’s certainly true that PIOs choose the most interesting and important stories to share, but we’re also keenly aware that our efficacy is contingent upon the trust of the communities we represent, the media, and citizens.
Science PIOs fill a space between scientists and journalists – and increasingly, between scientists and public audiences more directly. Rather than focusing deeply on one area of science, we are constantly scanning the horizon, searching for stories that will catch the attention of our audiences and showcase the accomplishments of our employers or clients. As a result, scientists collaborating with PIOs gain considerably from the PIO’s skillset, experience, and contacts. By working with a good PIO, a researcher can position their work to have real societal impact, far beyond what they could achieve alone.”
Full citation: Invited. Merkle, B.G., M. Downs, and A. Hettinger. 2019. In the space between: Public information officers in science. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 17(8): 474-475. doi.org/10.1002/fee.2102.
This invited commentary in Nature is a pep-talk for science educators considering integrating drawing into their science teaching and assessment. The full article is available for free here.
Excerpt: “Fundamentally, creativity is a whole-brain process, and artists and scientists use the same parts of their brains to do complex, creative tasks. Ensuring that students understand the value of drawing can help motivate them to draw.
When my colleagues try to integrate drawing into their laboratory and field courses, however, they frame their motives more matter-of-factly. For example, one biology-lab coordinator noticed that students mainly interact with specimens by photographing them. She suspected that students did not gain much from taking these photos, on the basis of their exam scores.”
Full citation: Invited. Merkle, B.G. 2018. Perspective: Drawn to Science. Outlook: Science and Technology Education. Nature 562: S8-S9. doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-06832-0.
I recently gave an invited career talk at the 2020 annual conference of the Ecological Society of America. In case others are interested, I thought I would share the video (with captions) here.
There have also been a number of responses to this talk which have led me to consider doing some recorded Zoom/video conversations, to capture discussion, advice, and more. Stay tuned for more on that front, and feel free to submit questions, advice, and resources via the comments section!
This article was such a fun research and writing project. We were working from the foundational question of how to connect scientists to the value of the practices of reading and creating poetry.
While the paper reports on ways of doing this in university classes, the advice, examples, and resources in the article will be equally useful for K-12 educators.
The article is available via open-access (for free) at the BioScience website. It is also featured here on the Wyoming Public Radio website, where you’ll find more context about the goals we had for writing this article.
Meanwhile, here’s a sample of what you might find useful.
Article abstract (aka summary):
“Creativity is crucial to the capacity to do science well, to communicate it in compelling ways, and to enhance learning. Creativity can be both practiced and enhanced to strengthen conservation science professionals’ efforts to address global environmental challenges. We explore how poetry is one creative approach that can further conservation scientists’ engagement and learning. We draw on evidence from peer-reviewed literature to illustrate benefits of integrating science and poetry, and to ground our argument for the growth of a science-poetry community to help conservation scientists develop skills in creative practices as a component of professional development. We present examples from literature as well as two short poetry exercises for scientists to draw on when considering writing poetry, or deciding on forms of poetry to include, in their practice. Opportunity exists to grow science–poetry projects to further our understanding of what such initiatives can offer.”
Our article also made the cover!
Reproductive structures emerging from a complex lichen community, photographed in Parc Jacques-Cartier (Quebec, Canada) provide an opportunity for close observation and focused reflection in much the same way that our poetry article indicates that poetry may help focus scientists’ and science students’ attention. The mutualistic potential of combining poetry and science evokes the underlying biology of lichen. Rather than an individual organism, lichens are the result of a symbiosis of fungi, algae, and/or cyanobacteria. As we noted in our paper, art and science, when integrated, can facilitate innovation, creative thinking, and more compelling learning experiences than when these disciplines are practiced in isolation.
Full article citation: Januchowski-Hartley, Stephanie R., Natalie Sopinka, Bethann G. Merkle, Christina Lux, Anna Zivian, Patrick Goff, and Samantha Oester. Poetry as a Creative Practice to Enhance Engagement and Learning in Conservation Science. BioScience 68(11): 905–911. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biy105.