For 11 years, Alan Alda hosted PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers, where he talked to hundreds of scientists about their research. The conversational style he used during these interviews helped generate relatable and lively explanations of science topics. From this popular television show, a science communication training program was born, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, housed within the journalism school at SUNY Stony Brook in Long Island, New York.
The Center, founded by Alda in 2009, “empowers science and health professionals to communicate complex topics in clear, vivid and engaging ways,” according to the program’s website, www.aldacenter.org. These hard-won skills allow scientists to convey their knowledge more effectively to both scientists and non-scientists alike. Howard Schneider, the dean of Stony Brook’s journalism school said science departments were initially skeptical, with many thinking Alda’s improv-style science communication training would be a distraction. In the years since the school began at Stony Brook, however, the culture has shifted. Now, two graduate programs require students to take the center’s classes and all SUNY Stony Brook medical school students receive 10 hours of training.
EMPOWER trainees attended a full-day Alan Alda workshop on February 8th, 2019 at the Syracuse University Sheraton. In total, 19 of them worked through a series of improvisation and communication exercises to test their skills and challenge their understanding of how to best convey their science.