Science communication workshop expands to southeast, invites 2 CEE grad students

Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Ph.D. student Aaron Bivins, who has been invited to the first ComSciCon Atlanta. (Photo: Jess Hunt-Ralston)
Ph.D. student Emily Sanders, who has been invited to a new conference designed to help graduate students improve their communication skills.

A Harvard University workshop that teaches graduate students how to communicate about their scientific work comes to Atlanta in 2018 — and two of the 50 students picked to attend come from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Structural engineering Ph.D. student Emily Sanders and environmental engineering doctorate student Aaron Bivins have been invited to the Atlanta version of ComSciCon along with students from Emory University and the University of Georgia. Others are traveling from Tennessee, Florida and Alabama.

“Communicating scientific information with the general public is a critical feedback mechanism for our society,” Bivins said, noting that scientists seem to have pulled back on engaging directly with the public. He said that has had political consequences for big issues like climate change: “It's become clear that scientists can no longer cede the role of communicating with the general public.”

 “Great ideas are useless if they can’t be conveyed in a meaningful way or if nobody is listening,” Sanders said. “With so many types of media available today, there is great competition for the attention of an audience. It is important to be able to communicate in innovative ways, beyond writing and public speaking, in order to engage the target audience.”

ComSciCon Atlanta came together after several of the workshop’s alumni decided students in the southeast would benefit from a regional version of the conference. One of those organizers was a Georgia Tech environmental engineering Ph.D. student.

“Being surrounded by people who value this critical addition to research in a Ph.D. program was really inspiring,” said Laura Mast, who attended the Harvard workshop in June. “As the workshop came to a close, we knew we wanted to expand the reach of ComSciCon in the southeast.”

Mast said the Atlanta iteration of ComSciCon will draw from local expertise — like a local playwright who will lead a session on storytelling and two Georgia Tech professors who will talk about science and improv comedy. She said the group received more than 120 applications for the 50 spots.

Sanders and Bivins both said they’re looking forward to a session where they’ll get feedback on their writing and help polishing it for publication.

“Writing is a skill, and as such, it only improves with practice — especially practice with input from other writers,” Bivins said. “Consider Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and others rubbing shoulders in post-World War I Paris. Is it a coincidence that they wrote so many masterpieces? I think not.”