Caring to Communicate

EP Class holding banner

In K-12 grades, we learn to learn, to think, to ask questions. When we write, it’s mostly for the teacher, to earn a grade and maybe a little praise. In college and graduate school, that continues, and in many fields including the sciences, we learn things that we want to tell the world. Writing is to tell what we know and, ideally, why it matters. But why should anybody else care? To encourage people to want to listen, we need to learn to connect with them. We need to care what our audiences are thinking in order to communicate with them. How does that happen?

In academia, caring about others and learning to communicate is often not as highly valued as gathering grant dollars and publishing results. ASU values communication more than most universities, and so we have opportunities to contribute. Here are some examples:

Writing to share. The Embryo Project Encyclopedia and “Embryo Tales” offer students the opportunity to carry out research, write, learn to revise, edit, fact check, and in the end publish in a trusted information source. The whole process is called the Embryo Project and includes a writing seminar every fall and spring semester. These publications have proven accessible and heavily used by wide audiences from scholars to school students. The goal is to share anything about the general topics of reproduction and development in their broader social and historical contexts. The graduate student instructors for the writing seminar have won numerous teaching awards. Even the Embryo Project itself has won a national education award from the History of Science Society. Writing to share reaches many people through this open-access online offering.

Writing because you care. Sometimes a topic is just so important and compelling that it cries out for communication. This does not mean yelling at each other, nor advocating for a particular political point of view. Perhaps it is worth calmly explaining the biological facts behind political debates, as Center Director Jane Maienschein did recently in an article for Issues in Science and Technology entitled “The Camouflaged Metaphysics of Embryos.” She noticed that the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling and many state discussions make assumptions about the developing embryo (up to 8 weeks) and fetus (after 8 weeks) that are just not true biologically. We should, she argues, at the very least start with accurate scientific facts. Similarly, she wrote about the idea of fetal remains: “Dead Fetuses Are Not ‘Remains,’” and about individuality of embryos, “Politics in Your DNA,” both for Slate’s Future Tense series. In all these cases, she is working to reach larger and not just academic audiences to show that she cares and we should care to be factually accurate and build our political and social decisions from there. Some may want to yell and maintain their biases, but we don’t have to.

Caring through sharing. Yet another way to communicate effectively is through story telling. Think about what matters to you, find a story, craft a way of sharing it with others. Two Biology and Society PhD alumni did this recently at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences meeting in Washington, DC. Logan Gin and Kelle Dhein were selected to participate in a “Story Slam.” They both presented—performed, really—their stories to an audience of science researchers from all fields. They shared their experiences and challenges in finding their way to successful careers. They inspired everybody in the room. And they made us want to do more of this kind of sharing.

This fall, the Center for Biology and Society is inspiring SOLS to begin a series of activities to learn to develop and share stories we really care about. The world desperately needs this kind of communication, and we’re excited to help others find their voice. More info to come soon—stay tuned!
By: the Center for Biology and Society