A standing-room only audience packed Harvard's Geological Lecture Hall to hear NPR reporter David Kestenbaum's keynote address for the ComSciCon-local workshop on Friday evening.
David spoke about his experience with NPR's Planet Money team, where he uses innovative journalistic methods to make the brutally complicated processes and interactions of the world economy accessible and understandable to a mass audience. To ground the most esoteric subjects, they have personalized their reporting by inserting themselves directly into their stories. Their most ambitious projects have seen them actually purchasing and exploring the fabled "toxic asset," a tranche of subprime mortgage loans — literally a chunk of the 2007 financial crisis — and raising more than half a million dollars on Kickstarter to follow the manufacturing process of a t-shirt from start to finish.
The talk was attended by more than 300 students, faculty, and other members of Harvard University and MIT, hosts of the Communicating Science (ComSciCon) workshops for graduate students. About 40 of them were the graduate student attendees of the ComSciCon-local workshop, a professional development program that empowers young researchers to communicate complex technical concepts like those arising in science and engineering to broad and diverse audiences. Earlier in the afternoon, David had joined ComSciCon's other invited experts to sit down with workshop attendees. The experts offered extended, one-on-one feedback on the writing attendees produced during the two-week workshop.
David drew explicit connections between the complex financial and political subjects he covers and the difficult and abstract concepts that scientists must communicate. He offered the audience his top four suggestions for constructing interesting, informative, and engaging stories from these notoriously dry topics. David illustrated his lecture audibly, with a mixture of polished radio pieces from the NPR archive and raw tape he and his colleagues have recorded during interviews with economists, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, and others.
David was introduced by Erin Driver-Linn, Director of the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT); Melissa Franklin, Chair of the Harvard Department of Physics (and David's former PhD thesis advisor at Harvard); and Kara Manke, ComSciCon-local Organizing Committee co-chair. The ComSciCon-local 2014 workshop was sponsored by HILT and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard.
The next ComSciCon workshop will be held in June 2014. Applications will be open soon to graduate students nationwide. Please subscribe to our informational email list for further updates about all ComSciCon events.