Working with scientists to communicate broadly

December 3, 2009 in BI Blog by Janice McDonnell

I am Janice McDonnell and I will be Jim’s co-blogger for COSEE NOW.  I have been fortunate enough in the last 15 years to work with ocean scientists here at Rutgers and other institutions interested in communicating their science broadly, not to mention getting high marks in panel reviews for their proposal to meet criterion II!   My goal is to generate a useful discussion on writing better Broader Impact Statements and to explore what kinds of projects do scientists find interesting and rewarding.

I have had the great pleasure of working with our podcast host extraordinaire Ari Daniel Shapiro.  In doing so, I get a chance to chat with the scientists he interviews for the broadcasts.  Not too long ago I asked Professor Gwyn Griffiths star of podcast episode #13 Autonomous, enormous, ingenious to tell me what makes his visits to schools successful?

He summed it up with no false modesty (a British trait as he says):

1). Perhaps because I am a father and grandfather, I connect with young audiences.  I project enthusiasm and a sense of fun.

2) . I use props – for example to get across just how poor batteries are as energy sources for underwater vehicles, have an example, labeled with how many kilojoules of energy it contains, and have a soda can (non diet!) for a comparison. In the UK the energy is on the can in kJ.

3).   I provide opportunities for kids to tinker and do hands-on activities that allow them to explore the science.

Prof. Griffiths also shares some great resources.  Dr. David Price’s  Science Made Simple project and a related project Engineering Explained provide presenter training, consulting, and other ideas to help you translate your science to public audiences.

As educators, we are always looking for new and innovative ways of partnering with scientists to create programs and resources that make a difference and contribute to science literacy.  What are your tips for success?  What resources do you find most useful?  I thank Prof. Griffiths  for sharing his ideas and ask you to post your ideas today.  It will “take a village” to turn the tide of the seeming decline of public science literacy.  Tell us what you think.

Working with scientists to communicate broadly


  1. Hi, Janice:

    I’m intrigued by the second part of your sentence: “I have been fortunate enough in the last 15 years to work with ocean scientists here at Rutgers and other institutions interested in communicating their science broadly, not to mention getting high marks in panel reviews for their proposal to meet criterion II!”

    Do you have a data set you’d be willing to share? I ask for a couple of reasons, one somewhat selfish (in a way), and the other more altruistic (sort of).

    Selfishly (although I hope and expect that the research will have a broader impact!), I ask because I’m collecting data about both how scientists address broader impacts in their NSF proposals AND how they review broader impacts. This is part of a research study funded by NSF on the Comparative Assessment of Peer Review:

    In a more altruistic vein, this sort of data could be used to develop performance measures that could help demonstrate that partnering with folks who have some expertise in addressing broader impacts is actually a smart move for scientists. This is something I’ve been arguing for a while — but it would be great if we could develop empirical support for the claim. I know a few other folks who also believe their input helped improve the broader impacts “scores” given by reviewers, so perhaps we could develop something that would encourage scientists to partner with us BI types.




  2. Hi Britt – I do have some data. I have mostly case studies where I can demonstrate that the scientist was funded because of their high quality BI statement. We also have some evidence that that work translated into high quality educative materials that will have a positive impact on K-12 audiences.

    COSEE has a project funded now where we will as a network start compiling this information. As a community, we are dedicated to supporting this empirical claim. We would love to work with you on this. Let’s discuss how.

  3. Janice,

    That’s excellent news, and a great project! I will be at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Portland in February at a session organized by some folks you no doubt know (including Liesl Hotaling):

    If you and others interested in talking in person, and since I see from the program that you and Jim also will convene a session there:, maybe we should try to organize a meeting to talk about how to pool our resources.


  4. I wanted to let you know, ASLO’s education subcommittee, of which I am the chair, will be hosting a lunch meeting on Wed Feb 24th at 12 noon to discuss broader impacts. We will attempt to connect education and outreach providers with scientists to try to forge some new partnerships. Please join us Britt and everyone else interested in this topic. Look forward to meeting you,

  5. Hi, janice:

    Hope you had a nice break! Thanks for the invitation — I’ll be there. I think that’s the same day as the Compound Interest session and the associated poster session that evening. Portland should be fun. I look forward to meeting you, too!


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