I am an OMSI Science Communication Fellow

I just completed my training as a Science Communication Fellow at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and I can say in one word that the experience was FANTASTIC. You can read more about the program here and see a list of past and current Fellows.

I was in the sixth cohort to go through the OMSI Science Communication training program, which has its roots in the Portal to the Public program. PoPNet began in 2007 as a National Science Foundation-funded program led by Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. It has since expanded to 52 sites nationwide (well, technically internationally, as there is now one site in Canada).

The OMSI Science Communication Fellowship program is designed to help Fellows build skills to communicate effectively and engage with public audiences. Fellows can be industry or academic researchers or science professionals, including faculty, graduate students, technicians, or other individuals in science, health, or technology related positions. In sum, there are 65 active fellows! Of the 30 Fellows that have come from Oregon State University, 43% are from Chemistry and 10% are from the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences where I am a postdoctoral fellow. The rest of the OSU Fellows represent Biochemistry & Biophysics, Integrative Biology, Botany, Food Science, Geography, Microbiology, Physics, Statistics, and Environmental & Molecular Toxicology.

Post-training, Fellows are certified by OMSI as current science ambassadors and skilled communicators. Fellows join OMSI in helping public audiences engage with science in meaningful and relevant ways through participation in OMSI public programs, including Meet a Scientist, After Dark, Family Science Nights, and Outreach Science Festivals. Fellows typically participate on the OMSI Meet a Scientist events, a public program held on the second Saturday of each month, featuring OMSI Fellows with their hands-on, table-top activities and demonstrations.

Last weekend was our fourth and final professional development workshop for the fellowship program. The workshop was an opportunity to test the hands-on, table-top activities and demonstrations each Fellow created in collaboration with OMSI educators. Fellows in my cohort developed a wide range of activities based on their research programs. I do not want to give away all the surprises, but there were dog skulls, an X-wing, and lots of games. A fellow Fellow, Elizabeth King, and I are going to write a joint blog post that will include more information about each of our activities, so stay tuned.

Preparing the microscope to view two-day-old Pacific oyster larvae, courtesy of  Sue Cudd and the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery.

In the workshop, we set up as if we were at a Meet the Scientist event. Six volunteer-groups visited each of our activities and took notes on what did and didn’t work. My first two groups did not go as smoothly as my fifth and sixth groups. At first, I talked at my visitors too much. I forgot to ask questions. I lost track of my goal to facilitate a dialogue while deciding in real-time what of my science to share depending on my visitors’ interests – which I would only discover through asking questions, reading body language, and encouraging hands-on participation. Once I got the hang of what true engagement felt like, I was even more excited about what I was there to do.

These mock-visitors kept me on my toes. They are students in the OMSI Teen Science Alliance program and they drilled me about ocean acidification and pH.

We were offered a piece of advice from each volunteer (see below).

Rules of Engagement

  • Go with the flow. The experience will be different every time; don’t sweat it!
  • Keep up the energy and be welcoming and enthusiastic.
  • Have visuals of the real thing you are modeling your activity after,
  • Know thy audience: Start the conversation with a question: “So, what have you heard about x?
  • Don’t panic! If you do not know the answer to a question, think of it as an opportunity for mutual learning and deeper conversations.
  • Always have a back-up!
  • Use analogies. Real life examples are a nice way to connect with people and make the subject relevant to the audience.
  • Make it a dialogue – a two-way conversation.
  • Ditch your expectations.
  • Think about the language you are using: use synonyms and avoid jargon.
  • Have FUN!
  • Have a wide range of information at your disposal … be ready to personalize each interaction depending on the interest of the individual.
  • Bring a water bottle and wear comfortable shoes!

Please come out to an OMSI Meet a Scientist event to see what the newest OMSI Science Communication Fellows from Oregon State are up to. The next event is Saturday, June 11th!

**The photographs in this blog post are courtesy of Mike Wilson, OMSI Teen Science Alliance Assistant Manager and freelance photographer & cinematographer.**

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