Prepare and present, orally and in writing, to audiences outside the sciences

Many classes in the biology curriculum at Longwood focus on the ability to communicate science. We emphasize that it’s important because if someone has the most ground-breaking discovery but can’t communicate what they found, it won’t matter to most people because they won’t even know it happened. In the Longwood program, we may not be discovering hypothesizing field changing theories like Darwin or Mendel, but the same point still applies. Even in the research we do, it doesn’t matter what we find if we can’t communicate it not only to scientific peers, but to all audiences.

The importance of understanding science: In my evolution class that I took last semester, I explored the topic of the public perception of science by writing a review paper about how Americans–especially religious Americans–tend to reject the theory of evolution. I found that while preexisting religious beliefs are a large factor in whether or not Americans will accept the theory, that it can also be due to a lack of understanding or education on the topic which can come from public school teachers not doing the topic justice or not teaching evolution at all. While writing this paper, I realized that science education and understanding matters a lot and that communicating a topic the right way can lead to someone understanding something and even accepting a theory they may have had valid reasons not to accept before. The literature review paper I wrote on this topic was also chosen to be published in Longwood’s student journal, Incite. I had to make sure when revising the paper for Incite that I explained any jargon and kept a general audience in mind so that everyone could read and understand what I had written.

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General Audience Paper: A few times throughout my biology career at Longwood, I was tasked with writing a “general audience paper”. A general audience paper is a short summary of a typically more advanced scientific concept. My introduction to ecology class is when I wrote my first general audience paper, and our professor asked us to write so that anyone could understand what we were writing. I may have taken this a little far, but I essentially addressed my paper to children. While I didn’t directly write the research question I had studied or my results, I found what would be most interesting to children and wrote it in an engaging way. It was probably some of the most fun I’ve had writing a scientific paper because I got to be silly, but I also did convey science. When you show science to kids, you typically don’t go in depth into the science behind it, you just show them a baking soda volcano or an indicator that changes color. This paper was my equivalent of that. Just keeping it interesting and engaging for a younger audience. If they were interested in the science behind it, they could have read my experiment and actually learned the science of what was happening.

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Summary Projects: In my cancer biology class that I took last semester, we had projects for each topic that we covered where we were tasked to explain the topic that we had learned to a general audience in a format of our choosing. This proved difficult, because we were learning about the nuances of cancer development, and a general audience isn’t as well-versed in genetics and cancer as we had become. While creating my first project explaining oncogenes and proto-oncogenes and their function in cancer development, I tried to describe concepts as generally as possible before realizing that when there are so many technical terms being thrown around, you have to teach your audience a little in order for them to understand, not just dumb down the information. I realized that using jargon was okay as long as it was explained thoroughly in a way that made sense. I showed my project to a few of my roommates who are not biology majors or particularly knowledgable on cancer topics, and they all said that they learned something.

Artifact (link to video): https://watch.screencastify.com/v/cukpsXjgqyBtaAjKj6Fr