Assignment: outreach project

One recurring theme in this course is that scientists need to communicate with non-scientists, not just with each other – and doing so entails unique challenges, as well as great opportunities.  Your next assignment is to develop a way to communicate some aspect of your work to non-scientists. You’ll be working on this for much of the rest of the semester; here’s the overview:

1. Audience. What are some audiences for your work, other than your fellow scientists?

Think carefully about different potential audiences: what they might already know, or not; what language, arguments, analogies, connections, etc. might be meaningful to them; why they might care about your work, or how you’re going to convince them they ought to care, if that’s part of your agenda. How can you get their attention: what’s the “hook”? (Something Beth Potier will talk about in class next week…)

What’s the motivation for communicating to these groups?

What might they get out of understanding your stuff?

What might be in it for you: how might you benefit from their understanding your stuff?

What, exactly, do you want these folks to know/understand/believe/appreciate as a result of your communicating with them? (How could you tell if you succeeded??)

2. Mode. Pick one of those possible audiences, and choose a communication mode you think might work well: blog, lecture, poster campaign, visit to their “home base” (office, school, workplace, business, ….), video, compelling visual images, interactive web site, workshop, science café, whatever.  Describe your choice and why you chose it.

3. Implementation. You may not get to fully implement your project by the end of this semester, but you should develop a detailed plan for how you could go about it. Include how and where you might get funding or other support. (This connects to the question of “broader impacts” sections of grant proposals – which we’ll be talking more about.)

Where to begin: In the next week, post on your blog some ideas about your possible audience. Reflect on the questions listed above, and draw on what you learn from Dave Howland in class on 2/26. Find and share a good example of outreach/communication, and explain why you think it’s good/likely to be effective, and what you could take from it to help you design (or improve) your own.

Down the road: You’ll develop a written plan for your outreach project, addressing all 3 aspects listed above; those plans will be posted on the blog site, and you’ll have an opportunity to provide feedback to one another. Stay tuned for logistics and details.


7 thoughts on “Assignment: outreach project

  1. I just wanted to add this here… the point was raised that a blog should not be the end all solution for outreach. What are the alternatives? wikis? comics? what others? I share the sentiment that I fear I am not a very good blogger.


    1. My favorite form of outreach involves dead sharks and live(ly) 5th-graders. I’m going to try it with 3rd-graders this spring. I’m enjoying learning about blogging as a teaching and intra-academic form of communication, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for outreach.


    2. I suppose a lot of outreach is not totally internet based – like lectures, school programs etc. Things that involve actually talking to people. Maybe it is easier to create this kind of outreach for the general public in certain fields. For example, I measure plants. With a ruler. Anyone can understand that (I hope!).


  2. I recently attended a meeting in Lee and commented on the experience on my blog. I currently do outreach programs with children, but now I am interested in a different demographic, the elderly. Most of the older people I know are facinated by science, but have no “real time” contact with new scientific ideas and research. Here is a largely untapped population that are eager to help (i.e. collecting data) and quickly become avid learners. Just a thought.


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