An example of science communication in uncertainty – from a physician

In science communication/outreach/engagement, I continue to push myself and others to remember we have to value the knowledge in our audiences – they are not blank slates or empty pails waiting for us to fill them up. It’s hard, because I grew up in and managed to learn well enough from a system that works with that deficit model of experts as know-it-alls and everyone else as know-(virtually)-nothings.

However, I just found this article about a physician dealing with Zika in her patients. The teaser in the email really hit home to me as an example of what scientists are trying to work with every day, to at least some degree, when communicating about science and its inherent uncertainty:

“Physicians like me are learning about Zika along with our patients. This takes a dose of humility on our part and an understanding from our patients that we learn something new every single day.”

I think this is an awesome example of what scientists are dealing with all the time in terms of communicating science in uncertainty – though I think the physician could also go on to say that she learns from the patients as well …

Of course, Zika as an emerging phenomenon is a pretty extreme case, but it’s not that far off from the type of decision-making we are participating in as a global community around climate change, other health issues, technology, agriculture to feed an exploding population, you name it.

Here’s the full article: I’m an OB-GYN Treating Women With Zika: This is what it’s Like.

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LITW students present at NMEA 2016

Two of my undergraduate research students, Esther and Meghana, presented a poster of our preliminary research plan for “talk science with me” at the National Marine Educators Association 2016 Conference this week in Orlando. They also took part in the day-long Youth Conference. 

Esther commented: “I actually have a deeper passion for the project seeing how interested others were in it.”

Here are a couple of photos of them talking with folks at the conference:

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Meghana

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Esther

Meghana is a rising sophomore in engineering, and Esther is a rising pre-med sophomore. Both have been working with me since January. Way to go, ladies!

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More updates – from an undergraduate collaborator!

Check out all the progress on a museum data visualization prototype exhibit I am working on with two colleagues in UF’s Computer and Information Sciences department. These posts are by Annie Luc, our undergraduate collaborator, in the lab of Dr. Lisa Anthony.

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Education Research/Outreach/Communication Interns wanted!

I’m always on the lookout for a few good interns – undergraduate level, generally, but motivated high school students are welcome to contact me as well, or graduate students looking to broaden their experiences. Here are some of my current needs.

To apply, please send a resume, cover letter, and the names and contact info for two references via email to stofer AT ufl.edu

Summer 2016:

Event planning/promotion intern for talk science with me. I am looking for someone to help me put together a manual for this ongoing series of events and assist with all elements of scheduling, promotion, and arrangements. The next event is in July, so someone who can start in early-to mid-May is ideal as planning begins early! Students with event planning coursework or experience preferred. Course credit (particularly for undergraduates) available if desired.

Fall 2016:

Contact me around July for Fall 2016 research opportunities. See example listings on the UF Center for Undergraduate Research page. Or check out the other sections of this blog or my web page or the Ag-STEM Education Research Lab page for more ideas of projects on which I work.

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The best laid plans for data collection went awry in almost every way imaginable!

For a recent round of data collection with a new prototype exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History, Lisa Anthony, Annie Luc, and I made our plans. We decided we needed a phillips-head screwdriver to dissassemble the touch-table we needed to transport, a cart from the department to carry the table to the freight elevator and loading dock, and consent documents approved by the IRB. So we decided I’d bring the screwdriver and print the consent documents, and Lisa arranged for the cart. Annie finalized the coding of the prototype software. We all took a look at the freight elevator to understand how it worked. We arranged the dates and times with FLMNH. The night before data collection, we felt confident we had it all set.

The morning of, almost all of those elements went wrong in ways we didn’t anticipate. The screwdriver I had had a neck that was too fat to fit into the deep socketed holes where half the screws were. The department person who had control of the cart was out sick. The freight elevator was out of order (but there were no signs), and the printer was out of paper! So we spent about four times longer than the 15 minutes we’d planned to disassemble the table and get it to the loading dock. So long that FLMNH emailed us and wondered if we were still coming. We assured them yes, we were just running late. We located paper, borrowed a screwdriver, found someone else to bring us the cart, and used the personnel elevator. Of course, our troubles weren’t quite over – the table fit in the back of Lisa’s car but not without putting down both of the back seats, meaning only two of the three of us could ride in the car. Backup plan: Annie rode the campus bus and met us at the museum.

Once there, the borrowed screwdriver was great, but some of the screws kept falling out at the beginning. We had also made the decision not to take the calibration materials for the touch table with us to the museum. Bad choice. We ended up sending Annie back on the bus to central campus and back to the museum to get those, as the table was having trouble operating the touch interactions correctly, perhaps due to the change in climate from the lab to the car (it was a “warm, dry, humid” Florida day – more on that oxymoron elsewhere) and into the museum.

Ultimately, things worked out and we collected data, great data, with real people, over the three days we were there. However, we will plan even better next time: a magnetic Phillips head screwdriver of the correct size (we got lucky that our screws were not a strange phillips size – we had just eyeballed it), at the very least, and taking the calibration materials with us for sure. I’ll also print the consent forms further in advance … maybe.

Read more about adventures in data collection and museum research at my alma mater: The Free-Choice Learning Lab at Oregon State University – also lots of great stuff about life as a grad student!

 

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Another grant I’m working on – #USDAHEC

In 2015, Dr. Brantlee Spakes-Richter and I, with members of the American Phytopathological Society, received a USDA Higher Ed Challenge award to study introductory plant pathology (plant disease) curricula across the U.S. We want to know: what and how are people teaching in these courses, and how they match (or don’t) employer expectations? Stay tuned!

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See me talk about careers in translational STEM communication

A belated link to a panel I was part of for the UF STEM Translational Communication Research program last summer on career opportunities in science/technology/engineering/math communication for broad audiences.

I was also a “Member of the Month” in July 2015 as an affiliate researcher with the initiative.

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