Deepening Understanding Through Science Communication Sheila Saia Graduate Student, Cornell University
Ben Brown-Steiner Postdoc, Cornell University
As scientists we are part of a larger community and are called to serve that community by sharing our research in meaningful ways. However, our research is only a portion of a greater whole, so interactions with our community are as much about learning as they are about teaching. By volunteering in our community we gain a sense of purpose and context for our work, build a unique skillset, develop a deeper understanding of the scientific complexities we study, and ultimately become better scientists, researchers, and community members. Here, we share two experiences that demonstrate the value in volunteering and interacting with our communities through science communication. Understanding a community through science communication (By Sheila Saia) As a graduate student studying the transport and cycling of nutrients in the environment, I believe it is my responsibility to share my insights from the lab and field with the community (e.g. farmers, land owners, educators) to improve local water resources. I reached out to a local Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) office and have been volunteering there for the last year and a half. For readers who are not familiar with the Extension services of Land-Grant Universities, the mission of CCE is to “...[put] knowledge to work in pursuit of economic vitality, ecologically sustainability, and social well-being…[and] bring local experience and research based solutions together…”. As a volunteer with CCE I have had the opportunity to write several articles on water quality and soil health for a local newspaper column. Writing to a broad audience has enabled me to further develop my communications skills. I have also attended farmer and community meetings to learn about relevant local water quality issues. These experiences 16
have been especially educational as they expose me to the complexities of managing water resources for different stakeholders. Volunteering with CCE has provided me with some more nuanced opportunities as well. Specifically, my interactions and collaborations with CCE staff, local farmers, community members, and county leaders have offered a refreshing change from my daily routine as a graduate student. At times, it is easy to get overwhelmed with deadlines or frustrated with a line of code, but returning to the CCE office week after week reminds me of the larger positive impact my research and the research around me has on local and global water resources. As I look forward to the future, I believe volunteering with CCE has provided me with a unique skillset that will benefit me as I work to tackle complex and pressing water quality and quantity issues. In addition, these experiences have inspired me to develop research questions that inform local and global water resources issues. It is easy for me to imagine my future-self being more fulfilled in a working environment where I can share my research with the community.