We are so excited to be back on the STS blogging train and are grateful to have so much support and enthusiasm from everyone that checked out our posts or various social media pages. To keep the momentum going, we want to bring back an ancient (like 5 years, y’all) type of post we both had on our personal blogs before combining forces. We will be compiling cool videos, articles, pictures, etc. covering multiple disciplines and posting them on the last Thursday of every month. We will post many of these as we find them on our Twitter or Tumblr pages, so check us out there if you don’t want to wait. Whenever we find something that makes our day, we’ll save it so we can make yours too.
HELLO FRIENDS! It has been a long, tough year since Rachel and I have posted here on Sweet Tea, Science. We’ve tried to keep up with people via Twitter (Mer’s, Rach’s, and the STS accounts) and Instagram (again we allhaveone!) but we started feeling that blogging itch once more, so we’re back. We wanted to start with updates on our academic and personal lives, because this blog is about the science journeys of two actual living people. We’ve had some highs and lows. Some heart-breaking tragedies and some magical love-filled unions.
This time last year I was enjoying the perks of summer in Colorado while exploring the in’s and out’s of working in an industry setting. I’ve had many summer adventures/internships/travels, but any work I’ve done has been 100% within the realm of academia. However, via a connection made through my advisor at the big statistics conference (Joint Statistical Meeting or JSM), I landed an internship at an environmental consulting agency. The further along I get in my studies the more certain I am I’d like to explore career options outside of academia; so this was an amazing opportunity.
I worked with Neptune & Co., a small but growing environmental consulting company focusing on environmental decision making though quality assurance, data science, and risk assessment. As an intern, I helped the other statisticians working on a project modelling the future (millions of years future!) risks and impacts of nuclear waste storage around the US. I loved being able to learn about an important issue from experts in various fields while applying what I’ve been learning over the past few years in my PhD studies.
We focused on the biotic impact portion of the models and worked to use what precious few data are available to create some distributions for variable such as: plant root shape,root depth, burrow depths, etc. All of these factors can potentially bring up buried contaminants if the burrows or roots venture too deep. It’s important to represent these as distributions (e.g. a Normal distribution LINK) rather than a point estimate (e.g. a mean or median) because it allows for more representation of uncertainty in the model.
As most regular readers of this blog know, I’m a speech nerd. I competed in forensics (speech and debate) for 11 years, all the way through the collegiate level**. As a result of this decade long inundation in communications training, I’m deeply invested in the subject of scientific communication. I’ve taken some really stellar courses and workshops on the subject, and there is a growing resource of training, which focuses on helping scientists get the right content for the right audience and producing a concise and compelling message. That is hugely important! As my communications instructor husband told me recently, “Don’t shirk when planning the content of your message. 90% of effective communication happens before you open your mouth.” It’s a point with which I completely agree. There are forums where this sort of training is not only hugely beneficial, but is also entirely sufficient: writing popular science articles, starting a blog, or giving a killer one on one interview with a journalist.
However, there are plenty of communication situations that don’t involve writing or speaking to a journalist one-on-one. That’s right, the thing folks apparently fear more than death, public speaking. I would contend that scientists are, often, not confident or competent public speakers. Furthermore, scientific communication training often lacks detailed instruction on this critical skill. Have I seen scientists who can throw down on a speech or a talk? Sure. But public speaking is really hard! Lots of folks have legitimate public speaking anxiety, and still others simply haven’t gotten many chances to practice this skill. Again, learning what to say is more important than how we actually deliver those words, especially for scientists, for whom accuracy is the barometer for competency. However, I’ve seen some really fascinating scientific subjects, things I was personally invested in, fall flat at conferences. I’ve seen keynote speakers who had amazing, well written stories to tell fail to really capture the potential of the moment. I’ve heard folks talking about eminent environmental threats on NPR and wanted to turn off the radio and take a nap. I think we can do better!***
Enough of that, you’re reading this because of the enticing title. Tips. Tricks! Life hacks (eh, that was probably euphemistic at best)! In the interest of being concise, I decided I would give you the public speaking advice I give all my friends before their conference presentations or job talks. Unfortunately, that’s only about two items, so I reached out to all my speech and debate friends on Facebook, and asked them about their best bit of public speaking advice. I wanted to know that one thing they advise their pals to do to prepare for a talk. I got some great feedback, and I’ve done my best to distill it all down into a few major themes and spin them in such a way that they will be useful to scientists in a few of the different forums in which we commonly address an audience. Thus, these tips should be useful to you if you are speaking to your peers or if you are speaking to the public. I’ve put these in reverse order of importance, so if you read nothing else, skip down to number 5, as this was the advice literally everyone gave, and I thought it deserved some substantial elaboration.