In the age of COVID-19, communication between leading researchers and the general population has never been more important. However, sharing epidemiological information clearly and succinctly is no easy task—which is why a science communications course series offered by the University of Chicago College tackles this problem.
The goal of the courses is to teach students crucial communication techniques unique to scientific fields, thereby preparing them to convey complex research and information to the public without forfeiting scientific accuracy.
Co-taught by Prof. Peggy Mason and Sara Serritella—a UChicago lecturer and director of communications at the University’s Institute of Translational Medicine—the Science Communication courses cover written, visual and hands-on methods of sharing data with the general public.
"It allows everything students have learned in their UChicago career to live outside the lab and change the world," Serritella said. "Science can impact and change people's lives. You have to understand how things work with very concrete details in order to accurately say what it is and why it matters so that the public can use it."
Against the backdrop of a pandemic, the sequence has been extraordinarily useful to those interested in science communications.
“Communicating science to non-scientists, non-academics, is a goal that should go hand in hand with learning science,” said Mason, who is appointed in the Department of Neurobiology. “We're giving students a very good opportunity for them to show us, themselves and the world what they have learned.”
Fourth-year student Kelli Hu, who studies biological sciences, used the skills she learned to create both a web presence for a University of Chicago medical research team and a behind-the-scenes video highlighting surgical protocols.
“Everybody at UChicago needs to take this sequence,” Hu said, who took the writing and video courses. “It’s not normally a class I would have signed up for, because my personality is quiet and not as outgoing, but it really got me out of my comfort zone, and I feel like that’s where the true growth really happens.”
Another student, Swathi Balaji, AB’20, used her time in the sequence to produce a video on UChicago Medicine’s diabetes registry, and she went on to earn a highly coveted spot at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.
Be it a published article or a professional video, each student completes the courses with tangible experience and polished final products that they can carry with them for the rest of their career.
“From training how to interview someone to learning to avoid medical misinformation, there’s so much we learned in such a short amount of time,” said Ingie Sorour, a fourth-year who took the digital “SciComm” writing course. “These courses helped me grow with confidence and a love for spreading science the right way. This was by far my favorite class here at UChicago.”
There are currently two courses in the sequence: “Writing a Digital Science Story,” which is offered during the fall and “Producing a Science Video Story” offered in the spring. Next year, Serritella and Mason expect to add a course on “Building a Science Exhibit.”