2014 syllabus of 2-11-14 is here: Sci Comm syllabus 021114!

The PDF of the syllabus, version 1-21-13, is here. The text follows.

Update on 3/30/13. Outreach assignment:

Outreach assignment:

Previously  we asked you develop a way to communicate some aspect of your work to non-scientists. You have all been considering how you might do this (or do this better), and we all want to see your plans in concrete form.

Please develop a clear, written plan of work for your outreach effort. If you wish you may post this as a page on your blog and even use this page as the foundation for your outreach, but this is not necessary. You can post your plans of work as attachments to the post on the password-protected site for the class here. It is difficult to define the optimum length of this work, but we expect addressing all below will require 8-10 pages.

The length of your plan will certainly vary but must clearly address the following considerations:

1. Audience. Who is your audience? What do they already know about your work? Why might they care, and how will you convince them they ought to care, if that’s your agenda. What’s the hook?

2. Motivation. What’s in this for you and/or your group? Is this a short-term or long-term play? What, exactly, do you want these folks to know/understand/believe/appreciate as a result of your communicating with them? And perhaps most importantly, how could you tell if you succeeded?  You must outline an assessment plan to gauge effectiveness (this is hard).

3. Mode. What communication mode do you think will be most effective for your goals, and why? This might include a 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.

4. Implementation. Describe a timeline and the required resources (material and personnel) to produce your outreach. 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 describe further.

5. Comparators. With your plan well developed, please describe three comparator outreach efforts that share your topic and/or your mode of communication. Be forthright in assessing the effectiveness of these prior outreach efforts in comparison with your own expectations. For this assessment, please explicitly draw upon the material presented by Dave Howland, Beth Potier, and Frankel/DePace in class.


Update from 3/20/13, Plans for the rest of the semester:

(The following schedule will be updated with relevant links as we post them)

Week 7 – 3/20 – Politics and economics of academic publishing

Suggested readings posted in advance

Due this week – A post responding to readings; if you haven’t done it yet, do it now, in light of our discussion in class.


(i) visual communication project

(ii) post for next week on ethical issues

Week 8 – 3/27 – Ethical issues: Dr. Julie Simpson

Due this week (post): response to case studies, Qs for Julie/discussion

Next assignment: by Monday 4/1, post progress so far on visual communication project, including comments and – especially – Qs or challenges; we’ll ask next week’s guests to look over your posts before they come. You should also look at and comment on each other’s.

Week 9 – 4/3 – Frankel and DePace visit. This will be a special 3-hour (2×80 minutes) class, held in DeMeritt 240. Do your best to be there the whole time, and also strongly consider attending the public seminar from 4-5 pm. Please help spread the word about the public seminar, and invite your advisors, colleagues, and others who may be interested: share this link with them.

Week 10 – 4/10 — Roundtable: progress/work session on outreach projects, for those who are not participating in the NSF communication workshop.

Start with: Why be together in a classroom? (quick, around room)

Brief live presentations (5 min each!), including:

– who (audience); what (topic); why (motivation); how (mode)

– what you’ve done so far

– challenges, where you want help/feedback

Start discussion about how to use remaining two class sessions/continue online

Assignment: post (as comment on the main blog page) your priorities/preferences for what to do in the next 2 classes

Week 11 – 4/17 – TBD based on student interests/priorities

Week 12 –  4/24 – TBD based on student interests/priorities

Week 13 –  5/1 – Last class. DEBRIEF. Post beforehand about what you think you’ve gotten out of the course, what you didn’t get that you wish you had, suggestions for next time….

Scientific communication  – LSA 950

Spring 2013 (2 cr)

Dr. Vaughn Cooper, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Genetics – MCBS; 862-3422    Office: Rudman 212

Dr. Jessica Bolker, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences/Zoology – DBS; 862-0071    Office: Rudman 216


Background and course description: 

Professional success in science depends on the ability to communicate one’s findings, both by publishing research in professional journals and by explaining its implications to a broad audience. This course will focus on developing and applying the essential skills of scientific communication across different genres and audiences. Students will examine the attributes of effective articles, both peer-reviewed and popular, while learning how to read critically and edit each others’ work. In addition to improving their writing, students will examine and enhance their skill in visual communication – a modality that is central to successful oral presentations and to data presentation in papers, and especially critical in online formats.


The course will combine face-to-face meetings with a significant online component. Contemporary forms of scientific communication span a broad range from traditional print publications and professional meetings, to online news and research blogs that have become important scientific venues in their own right. Students will begin establishing an online professional persona, including a simple web page and participation in blogs or other online communities relevant to their own research. Students will explore contemporary (online, Web 2.0) methods of scientific exchange and, if possible, participate in online commentary about emerging or controversial work in their field.


The class will also address topics such as ethical issues relating to publication (e.g. open access, authorship), and the ways in which new forms of connectivity and communication affect the culture and structure of scientific research.


Goals for participants:


1. Become familiar with multiple forms of scientific communication

2. Learn to analyze and generate effective visual representations of scientific data and ideas

3. Practice communicating science to the general public

4. Strengthen essential skills in critical peer review of publications and proposals

5. Build knowledge, confidence and professional identity in online scientific communities

6. Enhance awareness of economic, legal, and ethical issues related to scientific communication


Expectations: By signing up, you are committing to actively participating in the seminar, including providing thoughtful, timely, and constructive feedback to your colleagues on their work; posting, reading, and responding in online blogs; contributing to team projects as appropriate; engaging with guest speakers and peers in class, and with public audiences outside of class; and attending class meetings (no more than 2 absences without a very good reason).



We will have one two-hour meeting each week for live discussions, interaction with course guests who have expertise in specific areas, and other in-person activities.  There will also be a lot of intellectual and academic action – and interaction – online, via the course blog.  Students will contribute to the class via blog posts and responses, organizing/leading group discussions in the classroom, and off-campus activities related to public communication and outreach (e.g. presentations in schools, science cafés, or other venues).

We are using a variety of in-person and online formats because effective scientific communication is not limited to publishing well-written articles in peer-reviewed journals. Rather, oral presentations to peers, dialogue with the public, and increasingly, online exchange are essential components of scientific success. To build these skills, each student will develop their own blog to share their perspective on readings and in-class exercises. All blogs will be visible to other course participants, and commentary on the writing and multimedia of classmates is strongly encouraged. Assignments will demand conversation, interaction, creativity, and reflection. Most importantly, the blog is yours and should reflect you. Be creative, be provocative, be critical, be humorous.

Texts/other materials: A variety of print and online resources will be recommended during the course. Many readings will be available online, and found here.


Each assignment provides an opportunity to apply knowledge and practice specific skills related to the themes and objectives of the course. You will choose one assignment to scale up into a major project for the course; where appropriate, scale-ups may be carried out by small groups rather than individuals.

• Blog posts, including comments on readings and responses to other people’s posts, will be required weekly and assessed on a simple scale. 

• Online persona assignment: Assess your identity in the online world.  Examine strategies for enhancing the visibility of your work, and building connections and communication networks in virtual professional communities.

• Visual communication: (a) Design a visual representation of some aspect of your own work for specific venues (e.g. a seminar, a research paper, or a web page). (b) Find and analyze visual representations of some scientific concept, data, or process – from any public source. Analyze their strengths and weaknesses of each in general, and then with respect to the context in which they occur.

• Outreach project: Students will generate a list of possible activities (e.g. presentations at schools or other community venues, science cafés, writing pieces for local media), evaluate their audiences and potential impacts, and then choose one activity to pursue or scale up, either individually or as a group.

Grading: Satisfactory and timely completion of all required assignments is required to earn a passing grade in the class.

  1. Blogging and discussion of readings (45%)
  2. Individual projects: visual communication, reviews, and research synopsis for lay public (35%)
  3. Scale-up/outreach project (30%)

Accommodations for students with documented disabilities: The University is committed to providing students with documented disabilities equal access to all university programs and facilities. If you think you have a disability requiring accommodations, you must register with Disability Services for Students (DSS). Contact DSS at (603) 862-2607 or If you have received Accommodation Letters for this course from DSS, please provide us with that information privately so that we can review those accommodations. 

Topical outline (order and time allocation may change) 

1. Introduction to topic and course: what is “scientific communication,” and why bother?

text – form, content, genres and expectations

online vs. print vs. in-person: what are the differences and similarities?

course blog as tool and example

a rapidly changing landscape: keeping up with fast-evolving tools and modes

2. Collaboration within and between disciplines

Scientific and other reasons to collaborate (reading: Maienschein, 1993)

Managing collaborations (reading: Birney, 2012 re: ENCODE)

Logistics and ethics – RCR training modules on authorship, data management

Interdisciplinary collaboration: pleasures and pitfalls

3. Overview of online platforms and virtual scientific communities

basic introduction to web page design and function {guest}

online persona assignment

4. Visual communication

what we know about how/why it works; Tufte, principles

ways of looking at data – past, present, and possible future; interactive visual formats

moving pictures (animations, videos, other dynamic forms)

visual communication assignment

5. Science is not just for scientists: who’s out there and how to reach them

considering audiences

the roles and practice of science journalism

PR and outreach; practical and ethical issues

NSF broader impacts

outreach project (start)

6. Ethical issues related to scientific communication

(use/review selected RCR training modules as appropriate)

ownership and use of your work

IP in the online world

perception and promises

case studies, e.g. Italian earthquake, Exeter HepC, Alaska fisheries, MMR vaccine

7. Politics and economics of publication

who pays, who is paid, and how to decide what is fair and who is served

open access

8. Keeping your footing in a changing landscape

what’s constant, what changes, and how to keep track

priorities: determining what matters/what is important to do (or not)

medium and message



5 thoughts on “Syllabus

  1. This post ( from the blog Speaking of Research, addresses a perceived lack of public understanding on how research proposals involving animals are formulated, developed, and executed. The author, Allyson Bennett, argues that this lack of understanding “serves as an impediment to an informed evaluation of science…and weighs heavily against productive dialogue about core issues of public interest.” Bennett takes the reader step-by-step through the process of conducting research with animals.


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