When you have a new idea in a field so steeped in tradition as science or education, as a newcomer, how can you encourage discussion, at the very least, while still presenting yourself as a professional member of your new field? This was at the heart of some discussion that came up this weekend after Shawn and I presented his “Better Presentations” workshop. The HMSC graduate student organization, HsO, was hosting the annual exchange with the University of Oregon’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology grad students, who work at the UO satellite campus in Charleston, Oregon, a ways south on the coast from Newport.

The heart of Shawn’s presentation is built around learning research that suggests better ways to build your visuals to accompany your professional presentation. For most of the audience, that was slides or posters for scientific research talks at conferences, as part of proposal defenses, or just with one’s own research group. Shawn suggests ways to break out of what has become a pretty standard default: slides crowded with bullet points, at-best illegible and at-worst incomprehensible figures, and in general, too much content crammed onto single slides and into the overall presentation.

The students were eager to hear about the research foundations of his suggestions, but then raised a concern: how far could they go in pushing the envelope without jeopardizing their entry into the field? That is, if they used a Prezi instead of a PowerPoint, would they be dismissed as using a stunt and their research work overlooked, perhaps in front of influential members of their discipline? Or, if they don’t put every step of their methodology on their poster and a potential employer comes by when they aren’t there, how will that employer know how innovative their work is?

Personally, my reaction was to think: do you want to work with these people if that’s their stance? However, I’m in the enviable position of having seen my results work – I have a job offer that really values the sort of maverick thinking (at least to some traditional science educators) that our free-choice/informal approach offers. In retrospect, that’s how I view the lack of response I got from numerous other places I applied to – I wouldn’t have wanted to work with them anyway if they didn’t value what I could bring to the table. I might have thought quite differently if I were still searching for a position at this point.

For the grad student, especially, it struck me that it’s a tough row to hoe. On the one hand, you’re new to the field, eager, and probably brimming with new ideas. On the other, you have to carefully fit those ideas into the traditional structure in order to secure funding and professional advancement. However, how do you compromise without compromising too far and losing that part of you which, as a researcher, tells you to look at the research for guidance?

It occurred to me that I will have to deal with this as I go into my new position which relies on grant funding after the first year. I am thinking about what my research agenda will be, ideally, and how I may or may not have to bend that based on what funding is available. One of my main sources of funding will likely be through helping scientists do their broader impacts and outreach projects, and building my research into those. How able I am to pick and choose projects to fit my agenda as well as theirs remains to be seen, but this conversation brought me around to thinking about that reality.

As Shawn emphasized in the beginning of the talk, the best outreach (and honestly, probably the best project in any discipline, be it science, or business, or government assistance) is designed with the goals and outcomes in mind first, then picking the tools and manner of achieving those goals only afterwards. We sometimes lament the amazing number of very traditional outreach programs that center around a classroom visit, for example, and wonder if we can ever convince the scientists we partner with that there are new, research-based ways of doing things (see Laura’s post on the problems some of our potential partners have with our ways of doing research). I will be fortunate, indeed, if I find partners for funding that believe the same, or at least are willing to listen to what may be a new idea, at least about outreach.

Katie Woollven tells us about how she’s learning more about getting everyone DOING science research, aka Citizen Science or Public Participation in Science Research:

“I’ve been interested in Citizen Science research since I began my grad program, so I was really excited to attend the Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR) conference Aug 4-5 in Portland. The speakers were great, and it was nice to see how my questions about citizen science fit with the current research in this field.

Although public participation has always been important to science throughout history and is NOT new, the field of research on citizen science IS relatively new, and is somewhat disjointed. Researchers in this field lack a common language (prime example: should we call it PPSR? or citizen science?), which makes it difficult to stay abreast of the latest research. There have been calls for a national PPSR organization, one of the conference goals was to get feedback from people in the field about what they would want that organization to do.

One of my favorite talks was from Heidi Ballard of UC Davis, who is interested in all the possible individual, programmatic, and especially community-level outcomes of PPSR projects. She asked questions about the degree and quality of participation, such as: Who participates in these projects, and in what parts of the scientific process? Whose interests are being served, and to what end? Who makes the decisions, and who has the power?

Another interesting part of Heidi’s talk was when she touched on the relative strengths of the 3 models of PPSR projects. Citizen science projects can be divided into 3 categories (see the 2009 CAISE report): contributory (generally designed by scientists, and participants collect data), collaborative (also designed by scientists, but participants may be involved in project design, data analysis, or communicating results), and co-created (designed by scientists and participants, and some participants are involved in all steps of the scientific process). I found this part fascinating, because I think learning from the strengths of all 3 models can make any program more successful. And of course, learning about different citizen science projects during the poster sessions was really exciting! Below are a few of my favorites.

PolarTREC- K-12 teachers go on a 2-6 week science research expedition in a polar region, and then share the experience with their classroom. I think this is really interesting because of the motivational aspect of kids participating in (and according to Sarah Crowley, even improving) authentic scientific research.

Port Townsend Marine Science Center Plastics Project– Volunteers sample beaches for micro-plastics around the US Salish Sea. I’ve heard a lot about this center, and the strength of their volunteer base is amazing.

Nature Research Center, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences– I really want to visit this museum! Visitors can engage in the scientific process on the museum floor, in one case by making observations on video feed from a field station.”

Conference talks, poster abstracts, and videos

Katie Woollven is in the Marine Resource Management program, focusing on Marine Education.

ed. note – apologies for the sporadic postings these last few days. Katie Stofer has been out of town, and things weren’t quite as well set up for other lab members to start posting themselves.

Note: This will be my last post as a regular blogger, though most of you will have observed that Katie has taken over as Your Friend and Humble Narrator in recent weeks. You’ll still hear from me. I have much work to do on my project—work that will warrant intermittent updates within the physical context I am studying. Otherwise, I will be working with the animals again due to my appointment as Visitor Center aquarist.

“Who the f*** knows and who the f*** cares?”

The words were on a pin. The pin was on a boonie hat, among many other pins endorsing various causes. The boonie hat was on an old man—an Alaska Native, by my reckoning—riding the Number 3 bus through downtown Anchorage.

“Who the f*** knows and who the f*** cares?”

I thought about that pin for several minutes before I realized why. Those two questions, though glib in intent, inform much of our work. If you ask them of yourself, sincerely and urgently, you might detect some familiarity in them.

Along with several of my colleagues, I spent last week in Anchorage at the National Marine Educators Association conference. We mingled with fellow educators (formal and informal), remembered Bill Hastie (whom I never had the good fortune to meet), explored the city’s FCL facilities and shared research.

The sharing is really it, isn’t it? I think the reasons for exchanging knowledge freely and graciously are more immediate than we tend to recognize. I hear a lot of talk about protecting resources for the future and making the world a better place than it was. I think it’s simpler than that.

Our world has also faced problems. Problems and their solutions change over time. Creation and destruction are not discrete chronological points. They are continuous, ever-present processes. When we exert ourselves toward the preservation of the things that matter—to us or to someone or something else—we save the world. We’re not saving it from the past or for the future, but right in that place at that moment—not a step toward a final goal, but a valuable act in itself. That’s the way it’s done. It’s the way people have always done it, and we’ll never be finished.

“Who the f*** knows and who the f*** cares?”

Let’s find out. Go save the world today.

Okay, so I started things off as a bit of a downer. Considering this is only the third Oceans conference to include education strands, it’s great that it’s being supported.


However, I wonder if a large scientific conference is the best place to sell outreach to scientists for a number of reasons. For one thing, the education research sessions basically competed with the scientific sessions, almost as if it was a parallel conference, scheduled at the same time so one physically could not attend both. Shawn noted that the evening and lunch workshops on outreach are often well attended, for example (at least by graduate students), but that doesn’t get our research out there.


For another thing, the education presentations focused a lot on specific program evaluation results, as I mentioned yesterday. In that way, they really were not speaking to scientists who were looking to get involved in outreach, at least beyond trying to make the case for it in terms of the personal fulfillment results and opportunities for increased funding. The sessions were by and large not aimed at delivering the skills to a broad audience that people could take back to whatever institution they worked with. The specificity of many projects showed more that such programs were possible and rewarding, without offering opportunities for people at other places ways to get involved. On the other hand, Ari Shapiro of Woods Hole (and often heard on NPR) gave many how-to examples for either partnering for general media publishing or do-it-yourself podcasting and multimedia presentations. The low-cost, do-it-yourself options of course appealed to the educators in the audience as well.


Nevertheless, for those of us that are going back to our institutions and hoping to help the scientists we work with there, there were several interesting findings from the sessions:


1) Scientists are still largely unaware of the work we do, especially that there is educational literature out there about what works.

2) All participants in these programs, educators, scientists, and the ostensible “audience” each play roles as both teachers/facilitators and learners at various times. Educators and public audiences both have frequent opportunities for reflecting on their experiences during programs. Most of this occurs via feedback to each other as both groups are fairly familiar with their roles in these situations. On the other hand, the scientists often lack such opportunities outside of program evaluations, to reflect on either of their roles, or even the fact that they play both of those roles during the experience. They probably also need tools to help them do that reflection.

3) There are a lot of great programs reaching maybe 50 teachers at a time. If each of those teachers reach say 200 students each per year, that’s still only 10,000 students, with perhaps a little more via “trickle down” to other teachers that the program teachers work with. In a country with maybe 100 million students, we have a lot of work to do. And we need a lot of money to do it. And we need evidence of these things working and ways to can scale them up wherever possible.

4) We have a bit of work to do even among our education community about the value of qualitative data and what it can tell you, including the fact that there are people out there that can help analyze that data if you have it.

5) We need more research that’s applicable to a lot of situations, not just evaluations of great projects.


I love being in an emerging field, but some days it’s not emerging fast enough.