Sketching Tip: Sketching Techniques Toolkit

Student practicing simplifying a complex image into essential line work (at a Sketching for Scientists workshop I taught at Harvard Forest)

I teach numerous Sketching for Scientists workshops each semester, for faculty, students, and science/science-allied professionals beyond academia. Each time, we do a lively, evidence-based crash course in habits of mind and foundational drawing techniques. I keep the focus tightly on integrating drawing with doing and sharing science, and for faculty, there is an additional coaching element where I help them think through curricular planning that can make grading feasible and productive and convincingly convey the value and utility of drawing for learning science.

Each time I run these workshops, I share a list of the techniques we’ve discussed, as a memory aid.

Here’s that list, in case it’s also helpful for you!

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Canadian Science Publishing interviews me about creative ways of doing science communication and sharing science

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:

  1. I came to a career scicomm in a round-about way, only to later discover I had been doing scicomm most of my career.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.”
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Article: In the space between: Public information officers in science

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.

Article: Drawn to Science

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.

Article: Drawn to Natural History: Facilitation advice and classroom examples for instructors integrating drawing into science classes

This summer, a publication I led was published in the academic journal Natural Sciences Education. Like other resources I’ve shared, this article aims to ‘demystify’ the use of drawing for teaching and learning in science classrooms.

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.

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