SfN18: Telling Stories of Science

Guest post by Kayt Sukel 

There’s an old Hopi proverb: “Those who tell the stories rule the world.”

In today’s world, where science seems to often get short shrift, Wendy Suzuki, a neuroscientist at New York University and a member of the Dana Alliance, believes that storytelling can be a powerful tool for scientists to share, teach, and connect with the world outside their laboratories. She convened the second storytelling session at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting this year, recruiting scientists and science educators like Monica Feliu-Mojer, director of communications and science outreach at Ciencia Puerto Rico; Rachel Yehuda, director of the traumatic stress studies division at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine; Paula Croxson, senior manager for education programs at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute; Jean Mary Zarate, senior editor at Nature Neuroscience; and Uri Hasson, professor of neuroscience at Princeton University, to discuss why stories can be so compelling—and what they can offer the average budding neuroscientist. Part storytelling event and part scientific presentation, each participant demonstrated how personal narratives can transform science communication in different ways.

Monica Feliu-Mojer tackled the elephant in the room with the first presentation in the session, “Who Speaks for Science?”  Continue reading

Fumiko Hoeft Receives SfN Science Educator Award

Fumiko Hoeft  (photo by Peter Morenus/UConn)

Each year, the Society for Neuroscience recognizes outstanding neuroscientists who have strongly added to public education and awareness about the field. The Dana Foundation sponsors these awards. This year’s award was presented to Fumiko Hoeft, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of the Brain Imaging Research Center (BIRC) at the University of Connecticut and director of the Laboratory for Learning Engineering and Neural Systems (brainLENS.org) located at UConn/UCSF , during the society’s annual meeting, in San Diego, on Tuesday.

Q: Was it a conscious decision for you to do a lot of education and outreach, as well as research?

Dr. Hoeft: Yes. The experience of education and outreach is not so different than what we do as physicians. I always wanted to be a physician: In my elementary school graduation album I wrote, “I want to be a physician and help the underserved.” When I started research at Harvard, three years after graduating from medical school in Japan, I missed clinical work and interacting with people terribly. Continue reading

Science Communication: Dana Resources

In the past decade, I’ve seen more and more scientists step outside their labs—or invite people in—to share how science affects our daily lives and why basic and translational research is important. Spreading the science love isn’t just the purview of reporters and PR people anymore, and interest is high.

Groups like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have included plenty of sessions on science communication in past years, including workshops to help researchers hone their “elevator pitches” and find compelling stories in their data. In 2017, both the International Neuroethics Society and the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) included scicomm sessions during their annual meetings. I couldn’t even get into one of the workshops at SfN because it was so popular the room was already packed before the session started, with a standby line down the hall! (See also video of SfN’s 2017 “Dialogues” chat, with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and physician Siddartha Mukherjee chatting with SfN President Eric Nestler about “the excitement and importance of communicating the promise of scientific inquiry to the public.”)

Since part of the Dana Foundation’s mission is educating the public in a responsible manner about brain science and the potential of research, we’re glad to see this trend. Here are a few of our resources to help you reach out.

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Advice for Scientists on Engaging the Public: From the Archives

Researchers Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik and journalist Devin Powell recently ran an informal survey of scientists who had made an effort to popularize their research. You can guess the tenor of their results by the headline they ran under in Scientific American: “Scientists Should Speak Out More.” That story is behind a paywall, but an anecdotal list that goes with it, “How Scientists Can Engage the Public without Risking Their Careers,” is free to read.

We interviewed Martinez-Conde in 2014 on her outreach, including her talks featuring magicians and illusions and starting the annual “Best Illusion of the Year” contest. On the question of why do outreach now, she said:

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