telling stories about science: science communication in the digital age

The world is changing fast, and today’s scientists need to communicate with the media, policy makers, and the public more than ever before. Yet scientists are seldom trained to communicate with audiences outside of academia. Effective science communication achieves the goal of knowledge transfer. But great science communication captures the imagination and inspires. Great science communication takes advantage of one of the oldest human traditions - storytelling! And hey, there is science behind it - our brains induce oxytocin production when we are exposed to well crafted character-driven stories and oxytocin makes us donate to charity, cooperate with others, and be generally better humans. If that wasn’t benefit enough, character-driven stories that emotionally resonate with audiences also improve understanding of complex science concepts. In fact, great science communication is so important that it was even highlighted in the esteemed scientific journal PNAS! We all know that narratives are more engaging, but the research is clear - stories resonate more than data. Every 21st-century scientist can and must become an expert communicator! ence a course focused solely on science communication!
Course Objectives
(1) To provide scientists with skills to communicate to diverse non-science audiences through writing, audio, and video
a.  Story first
b.  Audio production (podcast format)
c.  Video production (short films)
(2) To produce and share stories about science and develop a portfolio

Course Content

This course consists of lectures, hands-on activities, and projects that put skills into practice. Lessons are drawn not only from faculty’s professional experience, but from the latest research on how to engage your audience — yes, the science of science communication. Students put their new knowledge to work with the help of expert science storytellers in every medium: writing, radio, photography, and film. They learn how to tell compelling stories, and use readily available hardware and software tools to produce professional-quality multimedia content. By the end of the course, each student has produced a science communication mini-portfolio — a collection of science stories told through writing, audio, and video.

This course was taught in Costa Rica in July-August 2015 (course website) and January 2018 (course website).

Organization for Tropical Studies Graduate Courses

Photo Credit: Day's Edge Productions

Photo Credit: Day's Edge Productions

Field Ecology: Skills for Science and Beyond is a condensed four-week course in field ecology that will take place in Costa Rica Dec. 28-Jan 24, 2015. This updated fundamental OTS field course uses the “field problems” to drive fast-paced formulation of research questions, experimental design, data collection, analysis, oral presentations, and written papers. Students take away advanced skills in research design, data analysis, writing, science communication, modeling, and collaborative research all in the breath-taking tropical setting that is Costa Rica. Long days and late nights, filled with science. Accepting applications for the winter 2015 cohort.

Tropical Biology: An Ecological Approach is an intensive, six-week course in field research and tropical ecology. This classic Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) field course, also called the “Fundamentals Course,” has trained tropical biologists since the 1960s, using highly regarded OTS “field problems” approach that focuses on the formulation of research questions, experimental design, data collection, analysis, and oral and written presentations.  Students  get extensive experience designing and conducting group and individual research projects across a range of tropical ecosystems. In addition, the course emphasizes skills for communicating science both to scientists and the general public in today’s media-based world and include a video project as well as a student blog and the production of a course podcast.

Both courses maintain a blog, post their podcasts, and other course-related activities at and have an active Twitter and Instagram feed.

The students from all the OTS graduate courses I've taught produced incredible short films about their research projects with help from Day's Edge Productions and Biff Farrell





The 2014 students also produced a series of short podcasts about their experience on the course, as well as interviews with visiting faculty.