One of the most exciting outcomes of our ComSciCon workshops is the enduring impacts that they have on the professional direction and nascent careers of our graduate student attendees. We touched base with Megan Litwhiler, an alum of two ComSciCon events, this week as she settles into her new position in Research Communications at the Museum of Science in Boston.
"The ComSciCon workshops definitely solidified my decision to pursue science communication as a career. I left both workshops feeling confident in my ability to communicate science and an ignited passion to help develop a more scientifically literate society," Megan reported.
We first met Megan at our flagship national workshop in 2015, and then again at ComSciCon-SciWri15, the special workshop we held in association with Science Writers 2015, the annual gathering of science communicators and journalists held jointly by National Association of Science Writers (NASW) and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW), ScienceWriters2015.
Megan's new role at the Museum of Science involves coordinating professional development workshops to help scientists develop better communication skills, organizing outreach events, podcasting, frequent stage presentations to audiences visiting the Museum from around the world, and the development of new demonstrations an stage presentations. These are not the skills that a typical PhD in biology develops, but Megan sought out opportunities in communication throughout her degree and now will help other young scientists improve their communications preparation through her new position.
Megan explains, "I became interested in science communication during the last two years of my PhD. The more time I spent in outreach and communication, the more I realized the need for it. I slowly began to shift my career trajectory from research to science communication. When I saw the posting for ComSciCon, I thought it would be a great opportunity to gain more training in sci comm and build my network in the field."
ComSciCon played a very direct role in guiding Megan to the Museum of Science. "When I was interviewing for my current position as a Research Communication Associate at the Museum of Science in Boston, my interviewers asked several questions about my experience with ComSciCon and were impressed that I had been a part of it," Megan said. "I'm just getting my foot in the door with my new career, but I honestly feel like ComSciCon helped prepare me for a future in science communication, and I'm looking forward to it!"
Megan presented some of her past work in science communication at the poster session at ComSciCon-15. She recalls, "I developed and taught a professional development workshop for K12 science educators in collaboration with Rockefeller University's outreach department back in 2014. Working with the stellar team at Rockefeller was a great experience and conducting the hands-on workshop was the first time I really felt like my outreach efforts were having an impact. "
Reflecting on her experience at the ComSciCon national conference, Megan said, "The feedback was great, both from peers and experts. The peer reviews and group discussions facilitated a sense of community and encouragement, while the expert reviews truly had an impact on the quality of my communication skills. It was intimidating to sit down with [NPR's] Nancy Shute for a writing review, but it turned out to be an amazing and hugely helpful experience!" She continued, "the panel discussions (with an impressive caliber of panelists!) and the opportunity to network with experts was equally valuable."
The ComSciCon-SciWri15 workshop was a pivotal opportunity for Megan. While she had already been blogging for about a year when she attended the workshop, she "had no clue where or how to start" a career in science writing. Megan reports, "ComSciCon-SciWri was the perfect opportunity to boost my writing skills and get an introduction to the ins and outs of the science writing world."
Like all ComSciCon-SciWri attendees, Megan was given special access to one of the researchers featured at the ScienceWriters conference. Her piece, about Harvard Medical School geneticist Ting Wu's research into "stunningly stable chunks of DNA" in our genome called ultraconserved elements, was published by the CASW. "Attending the ScienceWriters2015 meeting and reporting on a New Horizons talk gave me a crash course in science journalism and an impressive writing sample, which I believe helped me land my job at The Museum of Science."