“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” – Isaac Asimov
As the argument surrounding facts, opinions, and beliefs continues to mire the dialog between scientists and the public, developing keen communication strategies is becoming increasingly important to science professionals. Even so, the field of science communication is relatively new and professional development opportunities that target this skillset are still lacking in quantity and quality (The Conversation). In their recent publication, “Broadening the voice of science: Promoting scientific communication in the undergraduate classroom,” the Miller lab at the University of Florida argued that science communication training should be a normal component of undergraduate science curricula (Ecology and Evolution). With this in mind, they developed and tested the impact of a new undergraduate science communication and research course that required biology undergraduates to convey their original research to a variety of public and scientific audiences. They modeled their course following guidelines from the classroom undergraduate research experience (CURE) model developed by Dr. David Lopatto of Grinnell College, which has been shown to build communication, analysis, and teamwork skills as well as tenacity and a sense of independence in undergraduate students (Association of American Colleges and Universities).
The University of Florida CURE program placed undergraduate participants in research labs where they generated, processed, and disseminated their own scientific data. During the course, students were required to practice translating and presenting this information in peer-to-peer, public, and technical contexts via conversations, talks, and posters under the guidance of a graduate-level teaching team. The course’s success was evaluated using surveys specifically designed to assess CUREs (Grinnell), which have been providing standardized values of the impact of undergraduate research experiences in the U.S. since 2003 (Cell Biology Education). Student participants reported high gains in their science communication skills and abilities, as well as in their development as scientists, i.e. their ability to analyze, interpret, and convey information from primary literature and data that they collected. Graduate co-instructors also reported meaningful impacts, as the program provided an opportunity to practice higher-level teaching and organizational skills that will make them more competitive in the academic job market (e.g., Australia’s Chief Scientist).
Interested in learning more or developing similar courses at your university? Detailed information about the University of Florida course is freely available at the Miller Lab website and in the supporting information of the Open Access publication at Ecology and Evolution.
Megan O’Connell and Rebecca Tarvin contributed to this post.