Five MEOPeers reflect on the opportunity to attend a Beakerhead’s Science Communication residency in Churchill, Manitoba

  • Posted

Our feet barely touched the cold, snowy ground in Churchill, MB, as a precaution against the polar bears roaming around nearby. A Beakerhead training course in science communication brought us MEOPeers to this subarctic town for three intensive days in the classroom at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre followed by two days of adventure on the tundra at the 10 foot tall Tundra Buggy Lodge. 

Photo credit: Oye Adebayo 

The beauty of this course was in the different take home messages left with each participantFor Jonathan Kellogg, the greatest value was getting the chance to connect with world class science communicators Jay Ingram, Mary Anne Moser, and John Rennie, who have been in the business for decadesDuring the first few days of the workshop, the faculty helped us to craft our research questions into enjoyable stories that would leave our audiences wanting to know more about our work. One exercise, that involved quickly writing the beginning of a personal story, was particularly useful for Laura Kehoe as it showed us that even as scientists we are, in fact, surprisingly decent creative writers. Learning how to inject real emotion into our presentations and, importantly, getting over concerns that it might be unscientific to do so, was a valuable lesson for all of us. This sentiment was echoed by Marvin Quitoras who found the workshop to be one of the most wonderful experiences of his PhD program because it improved his science communication skills by merging storytelling with his usual visuals and slides.

Photo credit: Jonathan Kellogg 

The voice of one of the faculty members bellowing “Your slides are not your speaking notes!” hit Oye Adebayo like a splash of cold water after years of using her slides to cover up her self-perceived accent. The tools we learned throughout the workshop will allow us to dislodge some of the default, ineffective, and often boring modes of presentation typical of scientists.  

Photo credit: Karyn Suchy 

With all of these lessons in place, we were rewarded with a unique opportunity to spend the remainder of the workshop on the tundra viewing polar bears – a great bonding experience that helped to cement the professional network forged over the first days. What stood out for Karyn Suchy was that the emotion and excitement we all felt in the heart-pounding encounters with polar bears was the same emotion that the faculty were encouraging us to incorporate into our own presentations 

Photo credit: Karyn Suchy 

Having this workshop in Churchill truly made it the trip of a lifetime – a trip that would not have been possible without MEOPAR’s support. Although our feet barely touched the ground, the science communication course on the tundra is now a part of each and every one of us.