Science & Society Communications Fellows -- Deadline July 31

Three-part training program prepares researchers to share their work

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Sickle cell anemia researcher Rahima Zennadi, an associate professor in medicine, participated in last year’s Science & Society communications training. (Benjamin Shepard)

If you had a great idea and nobody understood it, would it be able to reach its potential?

Not likely. That’s why the Duke Initiative for Science & Society is inviting faculty members and postdocs to participate in a three-session communications training program this fall that helps researchers learn to develop skills that will help them connect with policymakers, potential funders, journalists and the lay public.

“The premise of our program is simple: the more clearly a researcher can explain her work to a broad audience, the more likely funding agencies, policymakers and the public will be to support it,” said Misha Angrist, associate professor of the practice and a senior fellow in Duke Science & Society.

“Like any other kind of performance,  communicating about your science is more effective and fun when you’ve had a couple of lessons and practiced,” said Jory Weintraub, the science communication director for Science & Society who runs the program. “Our faculty for the program introduce the concepts, and then we all take turns trying it.”

“The most helpful aspect of the course was the way we got feedback on everything,” said Liz Cirulli Rogers, an assistant professor of medicine in molecular genetics and microbiology who participated in the 2015 course. “We didn’t just listen to how to do things, we were put into situations that were outside of our comfort zone and sometimes difficult, and then we got really helpful feedback about our performance. I came out of the class feeling more confident about my abilities to communicate science.”

Graduates of the program have gone to Washington to meet with policy makers, done media interviews about their work, had Op-Eds published in local and national newspapers and given well-received informal talks at “Periodic Tables,” the Durham science café.

“Scientists have focused for decades on learning to produce data at the expense of learning how to communicate results,” said Diego Bohórquez, an assistant professor of medicine in gastroenterology and neurobiology. “Hence the unfortunately popular phrase, ‘let the data speak for themselves.’ Today, learning to communicate science in an effective manner not only is a valuable skill but a matter of social responsibility.”

“I think the most useful activity was practicing doing an interview on camera and getting to watch myself and receive critiques afterward,” Cirulli Rogers said. “I have always been terrified at the prospect of being on camera, and now I think I could handle it.”

The application deadline is July 31, 2016. Applicants will be notified no later than August 17, 2016. Please visit “Science Communication” to learn more.