Many of you probably saw the recent article from Scientific American. It’s another in a long line of opinion pieces talking about how scientific communicators are probably doing it wrong in one way or another. We will get to my own hot take in a bit, but this article bothered me in particular because it’s thesis statement was, “…are we leading audiences to rely less on data than emotion?” I agree with the author that unscrupulous emotional appeals aren’t the best way to gain the public trust, but the Op-Ed left me with the impression that data driven argumentation is the one good way to do science communication. That’s a premise I do not support.
I think the real problem is many folks giving advice to scientific communicators have a real misunderstanding about what persuasive communication actually is. If we are seeking to persuade audiences, and as scientific communicators our basic goal should at least be to persuade folks that our work is interesting and worthwhile, we need to understand how persuasion works from a communications perspective.
What I’m not saying in this essay is that using data to drive your scientific communication is wrong. I think data driven communication efforts can be effective and compelling! I am saying persuasive communication is a flexible tool and we, as a scientific community, are doing ourselves a disservice if we don’t understand all the different ways we can use it.
Like in so many instances, we ignore the wisdom of the Social Sciences at our own peril.
Buckle up buttercup. Get ready for Persuasion 101 in 500 words**.
Staying motivated in the unstructured work environment of academia can be difficult. For me, it has always been easy to stay on task during the field season because the summer ticks away regardless of how much I get done. I have to be organized and get in while the plants are growing and the tides are favorable. As summer gives way to fall, I have often gone through productivity slumps. This was especially true after I was done with my coursework and, more recently, when I was struggling with some mental health issues. In spite of these challenges, I have been at this graduate school game for (*gulp*) nine years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two about how to bring structure to my days and set myself up for maximum productivity. In other lucky news, I have tons of smart friends who kindly offered up some of their best advice on a Facebook thread I started. Thanks Tanya, Jeff, Christy, Brendan C, Danielle, Haley, Kevin, Sarah, Brendan H, Anne, Vadim, Ashley, Chhaya, Jamie, Lyndsey, Eddie, Jessica, Caroline, Sacha, Becky, Bjorn, Carlos, Aviva, and Colin!
Here are my top tips for staying focused and productive!
I have been really busy the last several weeks working on writing my dissertation and preparing to teach an Introduction to Ecology course. All the time spent staring at my computer has me daydreaming about all the hours I have spent doing field work over the course of my PhD. I flipped through some half finished blog posts and journal entries form that period, and found the start of the story I’m about to tell you. I was instantly transported back to that day, which was memorable but also pretty representative of how most of my field days went. Some of this is certainly Type II Fun.
Sometime in August of 2016…
I wake up before the sun has inched its way above the horizon, and fumble to turn off my alarm as quickly as possible. At the foot of the bed, my dog whines softly. My husband, Daniel, turns over and away from me in his sleep. In my non-field season life, I often hit the snooze button. I know it’s not good for my brain, or whatever, but I don’t care. I love it. During the field season, my alarm is set so uncomfortably early most days, 4:00 am or maybe 4:30, that snoozing seems masochistic. Also, it’s a little rude to the sleeping partner and pup. Besides, when you’re racing the tides, time is always of the essence. So, instead of rolling over for five more minutes of sleep, I roll out of bed and try to land on my feet. The cat judges me from Daniel’s pillow.