In a world where policies change overnight and breaking news comes with morning coffee, the scientific community is recognizing a profound and increasingly urgent need for communication and engagement. Science communication, a relatively new field of scholarship and practice, aims to bridge the long-standing gap between scientific research and public decision-making – and in many cases, escort scientists themselves across it.

On January 30th, 2017, nearly twenty MIT graduate students gathered in the ESI offices to learn how to more effectively communicate their research and knowledge. The all-day training was presented by COMPASS, a nonpartisan organization committed to helping scientists engage with different audiences and communicate their information and insight beyond technical journals and scientific circles. Attendees learned about and applied COMPASS’s ”message box” method to frame their research (and fit it into 30 seconds!), discussed social media as an outreach tool for scientists, and experimented with principles of storytelling to convey a message with impact.

Most importantly, however, the day resonated around a theme of engagement, with scientists learning to adapt their messages to align with what’s important to different audiences, and to establish trust, a point echoed by oceans policy expert Caitlyn Antrim ‘71 in an ESI-hosted student lunch just a few weeks later. Both events emphasized the importance of understanding local context and values in our tribal social organization, and the need for, above all else, an approach that emphasizes dialogue – “people talking with people” – rather than a monologue. As scientists today enter public discourse and policy conversations with increasing urgency, it is paramount that they engage with their audiences, with a willingness both to share and to listen.

contributed by Julianna Horiuchi, ESI Programs Intern