Many classes in the biology curriculum at Longwood focus on the ability to communicate science. We emphasize that it’s important because even if someone has the most ground-breaking discovery, it won’t matter if they can’t appropriately communicate what they found.
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.
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.
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