SCC_logo2This is a GradHacker guest post by Nathan Sanders, an Astronomy PhD graduate student at Harvard University. You can learn more about the AstroBites group at and follow them on twitter at @astrobites.

What did you do yesterday?  I can tell you exactly what I did, because it’s the same way I spend almost all my time as a graduate student.

As soon as I woke up I was writing emails.  One of the other graduate students I work with had some questions about some analysis I had done and I needed to explain my methods.  My advisor wanted a few bullet points about my project to include in a talk.

I spent a few hours in the morning tweaking a figure for a paper.  I wanted the spacing between axis ticks and the color scheme for the plot data to be just right.

Part of my afternoon was absorbed by preparing a sheet to pass around at our next group meeting.  I know I’ll have about two minutes of the group’s attention and I want to make sure I can get across what I’ve been working on this week.

The balance of my day was devoted to preparing for a class I’m teaching next semester.  I was trying to come up with a way to make clear some of the more arcane aspects of the curriculum, something beyond the textbook explanation.

I think of my work as an astronomer as technical, and I do spend a lot of my time programming, calculating, and operating the occasional telescope.  But that’s definitely not what I spend most of my time on. I spend most of my time communicating science, in one way or another, to many different audiences.

But here’s the problem – I haven’t taken a course in writing since I was a Freshman in college, and it’s been even longer since anyone taught me how to give a talk. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten any kind of formal instruction on how to interact one-on-one.

What skills I do have as a communicator, I’ve picked up along the way. Post-docs in my group have impressed on me the importance of the proper color scheme for figures, I’ve watched my favorite professors show me the best teaching techniques in action, and I’ve learned the hard way how difficult it is to harness everyone’s attention at group meeting.

And maybe the best way to learn these skills isn’t in a classroom, after all, but by interacting with expert communicators.  I’m fortunate that I have access to some fantastic mentors here in our Department, but in an ideal world, I would absorb experiences from more than just faculty in my field.

That’s why my colleagues and I are organizing a workshop on science communication, and inviting professional communicators including journalists, press officers, educators, and authors, to share the skills they’ve developed to express complex and important technical ideas.  We want you to come, too!

Applications are now open and available here  for the Communicating Science 2013 workshop, to be held in Cambridge, MA on June 13-15th, 2013.  Graduate students at US institutions in all fields of science and engineering are encouraged to apply – funding is available for travel expenses and accommodations.

There will be panel discussions on the following topics:

* Engaging Non-Scientific Audiences
* Science Writing for a Cause
* Communicating Science Through Fiction
* Sharing Science with Scientists
* The World of Non-Academic Publishing
* Communicating using Multimedia and the Web

In addition to these discussions, ample time is allotted for interacting with the experts and with attendees from throughout the country to develop new science outreach collaborations.  Workshop participants will produce an original piece of science writing and receive feedback from workshop attendees and professional science communicators.

The workshop is organized by the graduate students authors of Astrobites ( and Chembites ( and supported by Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

[Image provided by Nathan Sanders]


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