Trainees Hone Science Communication Skills during Workshop

On November 15, EMPOWER seminar students honed their science communication skills in a workshop led by Kathy Lambert, a senior advisor with The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard C-CHANGE) and Co-founder of the Science Policy Exchange.  The three hour workshop led by Lambert engaged students in communicating their research to lay audiences using three different mechanisms.  In an elevator pitch-off, students rated each other’s responses to the age-old question – “what do you do?”  Four senior trainees also shared their research via five minute lightening presentations, and six senior trainees prepared scientific abstracts on their current research using plain language intended for a lay audience.  All participants provided feedback to one another and received input from Lambert.  We look forward to seeing them communicate their science outside of the academy!


The Value of Plain Language Summaries

Written by: Peter Brennan, Courtney Gammon, Eliza Hurst, Sara Schulkowski, Yngrid Marques and Nimisha Thakur

Though translating complicated science into layman’s terms can be a surprisingly laborious task, it’s beneficial to both the reader and the author to include plain language summaries (PLS) within research articles. PLS serve as a way to directly increase readership and make the scientific process more inclusive. As a large percentage of scientific research is funded with taxpayer dollars, scientists should strive to make our research more accessible and understandable to the average citizen. Thus, the PLS is an excellent way to bridge the communication gap between the scientific community and the people we are aiming to help with our research.

Communicating your science outside of academia can help to inform political or economic choices, inspire future scientists through outreach, or to share your findings with the community so they know what is happening in the natural world around them.

The language used in a PLS should be kept simple. Jargon or discipline-specific terms should be avoided.

Thinking of the PLS as an upside-down pyramid helps. The first sentence should introduce the key point readers must know about your research while the following sentences broaden this key point. The summary should end with the significance of the research. Another helpful tip for writing a PLS is to tell your science like a story. It should be short and focus only on the most important details; however, remember that the PLS may require more context than the abstract since the audience likely has less preliminary knowledge about the subject than the scientific community.

Josh Henkin Visits SU and EMPOWER for Professional Development Training

EMPOWER along with SU’s Graduate Careers Office and the Engineering Graduate Student Office hosted STEM Career Service’s Josh Henkin on October 24th & 25th  for a series of workshops. Thursday’s workshops were open to all graduate students on campus and several hundred took advantage of the opportunity to attend first-class professional development training sessions delivered by a current STEM hiring manager. Friday’s workshops were developed just for EMPOWER trainees and began with “Creating a Powerful Resume – Inside Tips from a Hiring Manager” in the morning followed by “Perfect Pitch and Scoring the Initial Interview” in the afternoon. Dr. Henkin also met with eight trainees 1-on-1 to review their current CV’s or resumes and to do strategic career planning.

Sicker, Fatter, Poorer – Exploring the Effects of EDC’s

Written by: Connor Olson, Shiru Wang, Jefferey Wade, Qasim Mehdi & Mengyi Zhang

Every day we are exposed to chemicals through the water we drink, the food we eat, and the clothing we wear. Although many of these chemicals have been deemed safe by regulatory agencies, questions still remain concerning the long-term effect that exposure to some of these chemicals can have on humans. In particular, the past several decades have seen increasing interest in the effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), a group of chemicals that can alter or disturb the hormone system of the body. EDCs can have a wide array of effects on individuals and have been linked to cancers, obesity, and reproductive issues. Suspected EDCs are commonly found in clothing, plastics, food, pesticides, and packaging. Due to the difficulty of screening and regulating the vast number of chemical constituents that we encounter every day, many have sought to minimize their exposure to EDCs by changing personal lifestyle practices.

EDCs were the subject of several recent EMPOWER student activities. EMPOWER students participated in student-led discussion on the prevalence and health implications of EDCs. Together, students discussed the difficulties of EDC regulation and developed different personal practices that could limit an individual’s exposure to common EDC sources. In particular, this discussion focused on two peer-reviewed manuscripts published by lead author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, whose work focuses on investigating the effects of EDCs on children.  Dr. Trasande authored the book, “Sicker, Fatter, Poorer”, in which he discusses the urgency of addressing EDC exposure.

Because of his expertise in the field, Dr. Trasande was invited to Syracuse University as a guest speaker. Dr. Trasande met with EMPOWER fellows over a student lunch to discuss his professional career path and his current research. That evening, Dr. Trasande gave a lively presentation discussing the prevalence of EDCs and the need for action on preventing exposure. Following his presentation, Dr. Trasande held a book signing

Challenges with Scientific Writing

Written by: Eric Deutsch, Eric Doering, Nicholas LoRusso and Linghui Meng

Scientific writing is difficult, especially for students and early-career scientists. It is vital to develop your ability to communicate complex ideas to a wide variety of audiences, such as the general public, your boss, or to your academic peers. Clear and concise writing is of similar value to the research itself because ambiguous writing will not be accepted by journals, and scientific findings are only meaningful if others can understand and act upon them.

In a series of seminars, EMPOWER students learned techniques to improve their own scientific writing skills. The series began with a video lecture by Dr. Joshua Schimel, author of “Writing Science: How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded.” In the lecture, Dr. Schimel discussed the role of “active voice” in communicating compelling but still unbiased science. EMPOWER students identified key challenges with scientific writing in their own lives, then participated in a student-led discussion addressing these key issues such as: organization, writing style, distractions/procrastination, and English as a second language. Students found that sketching a “mind map,” utilizing a journal’s “Guide for Authors,” setting specific writing times, and creating peer accountability were effective in addressing some of these challenges.

The series concluded with an activity on writing abstracts, led by Dr. Charley Driscoll. Students brought in either their own abstracts or others from literature to be constructively criticized by the class.

EMPOWER Welcomes Final Cohort of Trainees – Orientation 2019

Current EMPOWER students and faculty welcomed ten new trainees on August 30th 2019. Fall orientation for EMPOWER’s final (and largest) cohort took place in Falk 335 and was led by new PI and Program Director, Charles Driscoll and co-PI, Christa Kelleher. Current and new trainees were paired for an introduction exercise to help everyone get to know each other. Program elements were explained and then speaker panels (led by current trainees) were held so our newest members could understand how they might fulfill the professional development, science communication and internship requirements. Dan Olson-Bang from the Graduate Career Development Office joined us to highlight available services from their office and take questions. The afternoon concluded with a reception in the EMPOWER suite that included food, drink and bingo! Welcome New Trainees!

EMPOWER Students Take to the Field

EMPOWER held it’s second Domestic Field Course on Sunday August 4th through Friday August 16th. Throughout the two week class, participants worked collaboratively to design research questions, execute a field campaign, analyze water samples in the laboratory and interpret their findings at several regional sites, including Hubbard Brook Long-term Ecological Research Site and Fayetteville Green Lake.

Week one was directed by SU Engineering Professor and EMPOWER PI Charley Driscoll. The class traveled as a group to Hubbard Brook in Conway, New Hampshire. There, students designed nitrate addition experiments and conducted streamflow measurements using salt dilution and velocity-area measurements.

Week two was led by Laura Lautz and Chris Junium. Students learned about the geochemistry of both Fayetteville Green lake and Meadowbrook in Syracuse. While at Green Lake, students conducted water chemistry profiles, water sample collection and field observations. Laboratory techniques including ion chromatography were performed in the Lautz lab back on campus.

Through self-designed research projects, students brought complimentary expertise in field work, analytical chemistry, data analysis and public speaking to their experiences at Hubbard Brook and Green Lake. Experience working on collaborative, interdisciplinary projects is an important component of our trainees professional development training. Next summer, EMPOWER will again hold an international field course in Rwanda to visit a shale gas basin in the process of formation and to explore unique energy systems in the developing world.

Coastal Risk in an Age of Sea Level Rise – Robert Kopp visits EMPOWER

Written by: Laura Markley, Qasim Mehdi, Nick Zaremba and Mandy Klaben

On April 15th Dr. Bob Kopp came to campus from Rutgers University.  Defining himself as a climate scientist and a geobiologist, Dr. Kopp in a well published author on the likely effects of sea level rise and the impacts of climate change.  Dr. Kopp attended a lunch with students from EMPOWER during which he shared information about fellowships including the Science, Technology & Environmental Policy Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson School, as well as American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellowships.  Focusing a bit more on the latter, Kopp shared his experience as an AAAS fellow, as well as the skillsets required to be a successful AAAS candidate.   At 6pm Dr. Kopp gave a talk in the Maxwell School which centered around risk management associated with climate change.  He discussed several large impacts that severe weather has had on infrastructure in the past few years including month long power outages from hurricane and flooding events.  Kopp also discusses several adaptation techniques that have been implemented such as raising houses to avoid flooding.  After this Dr. Kopp began to show figures of potential sea level rise estimates for a number of different scenarios.  The main take away from his talk included that sea level rise will be happening, we don’t know by how much, but it is something that will start to effect humans more and more, as well as that the consequences of our decisions last longer than we think, so it is important to design for conditions that we have yet to experience.

During EMPOWER seminar, students Amanda Klaben, Laura Markley, Qasim Mehdi, and Nicholas Zaremba gave an introduction on climate mitigation and adaptation. After discussing the differences between mitigation and adaptation to climate change as a group, seminar students played a board game called ‘Mitigate, Adapt, or Sink!’. In pairs of two or three, seminar students and faculty were given a coastal state and a climate change resource card (either a mitigation or adaptation) and had to fend off their state against climate disasters, such as flooding, sea level rise, hurricanes, or drought as they progressed along the game board. The game also featured question cards about climate change to brush up on key points from the talk and the recent IPCC summary report. Chance spots on the board initiated random events, like policy and economic changes, that could help or harm states as they tried to mitigate or adapt to climate change. In the end, California arose as the victor of the game and were given laser pointers for their knowledge and prowess.

Life on a Scorched Planet: Are we Paying Attention Yet?

Written by: Julianne Sweeney, Lachlan Wright, Shaidu Shaban, Joseph Wasswa

We live in a time when nearly any information is available at our fingertips and breaking news stories reach our cell phones before the major news outlets. As a result of this fast-paced information overload, warns New York Times writer Justin Gillis, we are losing our long-term memory. When talking about climate change – the “grand challenge of the 21st century -” this loss is especially concerning.

On April 4, 2019, Justin Gillis visited Syracuse University as the first speaker in the Environment, Policy and Sustainability seminar series. His talk, titled “Life on a Scorched Planet: Are we Paying Attention Yet?” began with a reminder of how the U.S.’s approach to climate change mitigation has changed in the last 5 years. As a former science writer for the New York Times – including the award-winning multimedia series “Temperature Rising” – Gillis is no stranger to climate change science, misinformation, and the interplay between politics and climate change awareness and action.

Following a politically-charged introduction, Gillis shared stories and images of the places he has traveled to see the impacts of climate change firsthand. Rather than a sense of despair, Gillis remains hopeful. He believes in the younger generations and their demands for change. The solution, he says, will come from voting, mass mobilization, and cleaning up the energy sector by amplifying renewable energy development and after that, “electrifying everything.” Gillis’ visit provided trainees an opportunity to discuss different science communication techniques and the importance of understanding the audience when framing a conversation about climate change.

Using Science Communication to Uphold Scientific Integrity

Written by: Julio Beltran, Micah Wiesner and Shiru Wang

When the integrity of science is upheld, it provides insulation from bias, fabrication, falsification, and censorship of results and effectively communicating science to a general audience can reinforce integrity in science. Dr. Maria Caffrey visited Syracuse University as part of the Environment, Sustainability, and Policy Seminar Speaker Series to share her experience of having her work censored. Dr. Caffrey was contracted by the United States National Park Service to examine the impact of sea level rise and storm surges on 188 of America’s favorite coastal park units. Dr. Caffrey’s report included sea level projections under different carbon emission scenarios and the flooding caused by stronger hurricanes due to human impacts on the environment. The process of publishing her results were slowed down and only released if the words “anthropogenic” and or “human causing” were taken out. After sharing her story with reporter Elizabeth Shogren and receiving some publicity, her report was rereleased uncensored.

During the EMPOWER’s Water-Energy Seminar, students broadened the discussion of censoring to scientific integrity. They examined case studies that tackled unconscious scientific fraudulence, unreproducible results, and the need of modern scientist to publish results with “impact” rather than results that are correct. Students also express the need of emphasis on effective science communication to a broader audience that can lead to national discussion, such as when Dr. Maria Caffrey shared her story.