What is ComSciCon?

ComSciCon is a series of workshops focused on the communication of complex and technical concepts organized by graduate students, for graduate students.  ComSciCon attendees meet and interact with professional communicators, build lasting networks with graduate students in all fields of science and engineering from across the US and Canada, and write and publish original works.

Recent Publications by ComSciCon attendees or about ComSciCon

Deibert E. Science graduate students hone communication skills at inaugural ComSciConCAN conference. The Varsity [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

U of T students, faculty represented at Canada’s first national science communication conference for graduate students

 

 

Science communicators from universities across Canada sharpened their skills at ComSciConCAN, the country’s first national science communication conference for graduate students, held from July 18 to 20 at McMaster University.

The two-and-a-half-day event drew inspiration from the US-based ComSciCon workshop series on science communication, which was first held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2013.

ComSciCon has since expanded to include flagship workshops across the US, but ComSciConCAN marks the first time the conference has been hosted in a different country.

The inaugural Canadian conference featured four panel discussions, six hands-on workshops, and over 25 experts from a diverse range of science communication careers.

In attendance were 50 graduate students from 26 different institutions across Canada, who were selected out of a pool of over 400 applicants from a wide array of scientific backgrounds.

 

Schmehl M. Which Weighs More, a Pound of Stone or a Pound of Styrofoam?. Scientific American Observations Blog [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

It’s not a trick question: your brain answers differently depending on whether they’re part of the same object or not.

 

 

For more than a century, scientists thought they knew the answer to a curious question: why does 10 pounds of a low-density substance such as Styrofoam feel heavier than 10 pounds of stone? It isn’t heavier, of course, but repeated experiments have shown that it feels that way.

Now psychologists say their initial explanation may have been incomplete, and the new explanation could have far-reaching consequences, including for the way Netflix designs the algorithms that recommend movies to its customers.

Scientists have known for decades that when asked to lift two objects that seem like they should have different weights but are actually equally heavy, people will say the lighter-looking one feels heavier. Experts believed this illusion, called the material-weight illusion, occurs when the brain’s expectations about weight are contradicted: Throughout life we learn through experience that some materials are heavy and others are light. Over time we become skilled at guessing an object’s weight from its appearance alone.

But new evidence suggests that the brain bases some guesses on how weight is distributed across an object. In a recent study scientists looked at how people perceived the weight of a block made of two materials. A team led by Roland Fleming, a psychologist at the University of Giessen, created blocks composed of two halves that appeared to be made of materials with different densities and thus could be expected to have different weights: stone, wood or Styrofoam. The team asked people to lift a block made of two of these materials (such as stone paired with Styrofoam) and rate the relative weight of each side of the block.

 

Whitaker M. ComSciConNY 2019: Competence, warmth, and knowing your audience. PLOS ECR Community Blog [Internet]. 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Have you ever found yourself listening to an academic lecture peppered with unfamiliar words, feeling a little clueless? God knows I have. I usually cope by sheepishly googling words on my phone, hoping that the speaker doesn’t think I’m on Instagram. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of feeling like you’re the one at fault, you could throw a big red sign into the air telling the speaker, “Hey! You need to explain that better!”

 

Just over a week ago, I got to do just that, and it was awesome.

 

During the first weekend of August, I attended ComSciConNY at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. ComSciCon is a conference series which was started by Harvard graduate students interested in science communication. At their New York-focused iteration of the program, I was able to meet with other early career researchers who are passionate about sharing science with others, and hone my skills during the event.

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