“Be enthusiastic!” and other SciComm highlights from Winnipeg 2019
By: Jay Whetter
Eureka! You just discovered how to clean up the Earth and save lots of lives. But if you speak about the breakthrough in a dull monotone, betraying its value with your lack of emotion, it may not get the attention it deserves. You certainly won’t get a spot on CBC’s Quirks and Quarks. “You have to be enthusiastic!” the radio show host Bob McDonald implored to his audience during his closing keynote address at the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada conference in Winnipeg.
Think about the science conversations you remember. They’re the interviews where the investigators are fired up about their work. You latch on to the rising voice, bright eyes and arm gestures, and you can’t help but engage in the conversation and absorb the message. Enthusiasm is an essential science communication tool.
Bob McDonald’s “Be enthusiastic!” was one of many scicomm tips and tools from the Winnipeg 2019 conference. I gathered another 12:
Some of my most memorable moments from the conference came during the side conversations. This networking is often the best reason to attend a conference in person. I met Meghan Azad, who researches the breast-milk microbiome and mother-to-baby and (surprise!) baby-to-mother sharing of beneficial microbes. She pitched her discovery to Quirks & Quarks and they interviewed her.
Sharon Basaraba, whose questions coaxed a lot of dig-deeper conversations throughout the event, also reminded me that it’s OK to take time to balance work and family.
During our ‘Dine Around’ supper at Peasant Cookery in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, Carolyn Brown, who has done a lot of work in Mexico, shared a few Nahuatl words in common use today. The old Indigenous language of Mexico gave us the words avocado, tomato, coyote, cocoa and more.
As my final example, I present Phil Ferguson, space systems engineer. He explained to me, a farm journalist, how researchers are programming satellites and drones to read large farm-field images and work together to provide targeted useful information without humans having to sort through terabyte-sized files. He also suggested that, when it comes to aerospace research and investment, we might advance more quickly if researchers could take a few more chances and have a little more scope to fail. Ferguson has the most awesome beard and waxed moustache, but what really stood out for me was his enthusiasm. He provided strong supporting evidence that Bob McDonald’s “Be enthusiastic!” advice works to bring your work to a broader audience. I will be talking with Ferguson again.
I’ll close with a paraphrase of another line from Bob McDonald: “Canada needs more science communicators”. I encourage anyone with an interest in science communications to attend the annual Science Writers and Communicators of Canada conference. Being there in person expands your personal and our collective breadth of knowledge, communication skills and community. With colleagues and mentors and friends from across the country improving together, we strengthen the #SciComm community and hopefully create a welcome home for more science communicators. See you in Ottawa in 2020.
Jay Whetter grew up on a farm in Manitoba, attended journalism school and has worked 20 years as a farm journalist. A big part of his job is taking new agriculture science and sharing it with farmers. His Twitter handles are @CanolaWatch and @KenoraJay.
If you have more highlights from Winnipeg 2019 or ideas for Ottawa 2020, share them with the SWCC at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook @SWCCanada.
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