A transformative trip two summers ago inspired a new outlook on science and communication for Magnus Rittby, senior associate dean of graduate programs and administration. A physicist by training, Rittby attended a workshop series at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science in summer 2014 to better understand a common barrier between scientists and the public: communication.
The Alda Center workshops focused on improvisation games, on-camera training and storytelling – all in preparation for using these skills to create an engaging science presentation or discussion.
“We train students for presentations for other scientists, but not necessarily for the public. We have our own language as scientists and we tend to hide behind the jargon associated with our respective science disciplines,” Rittby said. “I saw the opportunity to create a new avenue for students at TCU to learn these skills.”
Rittby envisioned the opportunity to broaden student and faculty communication skills to better share science with general audiences. Rittby returned to TCU determined to provide similar training opportunities to CSE students. This new initiative is SciCom.
“The philosophy behind this program is that scientists must realize the importance of sharing their work with broad audiences – because science is how we will change the world,” Rittby said. “We should embrace the human aspect of science and provide this insight to students in their collegiate training.”
A series of science communication workshops, “Jargon is Jibberish,” began last fall, and provided training and tools to undergraduate and graduate students in the CSE. This is one of many SciCom activities that began within the past 24 months since Rittby’s return from the Alda Center.
“Graduate students that attended workshops improved their presentation skills and gained confidence to enter the College and University Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition,” Rittby said. “The vast majority of the students were enthusiastic about doing something that connects their work to society, as opposed to living in their academic silos.
SciCom has hosted several activities, such as a “Science Meets Fiction” science-fiction writing contest, science presentations at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History as well as the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and the expansion of the CSE and College of Fine Arts “Science Meets Art” collaboration, which is in its third year of existence.
SciCom’s vision is to become established within the College as a critical aspect of studying science. Eventually Rittby hopes to expand SciCom to include a fellow or ambassador program, and to develop a course that teaches science communication strategies.
“Through SciCom, faculty and students will produce new material to promote the sciences, their research and ultimately TCU,” Rittby said.