Invited Speakers


Keynote Lecture -- Dr. Raychelle Burks

Image result for raychelle burksAfter a few years working in a crime lab, Dr. Raychelle Burks returned to academia, teaching, and forensic science research. An analytical chemist, Dr. Burks enjoys the challenge developing detection methods for a wide variety of controlled and regulated substances (drugs, explosives, chemical weapons, etc.). Beyond the bench, Dr. Burks writes a monthly true crime column called Trace Analysis for Chemistry World, the magazine of the Royal Society of Chemistry. In addition to true crime, Dr. Burks delves into fictional crimes by evaluating how some of our favorite (at least favorite… King Joffrey) characters might have met their end.



Engaging Audiences

Alicia Comer is the Science Outreach Grants Manager ar the UM Museum of Natural History who develops and manages science education programs for school and public audiences. Alicia has an extensive background in reaching a variety of audiences from preschool through college in a variety of ways including formal and informal classroom settings, through exhibit development, and by writing for non-academic audiences.

Alicia started her Museum career as a docent at the UM Museum of Natural History and has since come full circle to her alma mater. After receiving her graduate degree in biological anthropology, Alicia worked for The Children's Museum in Indianapolis, the Indiana State Museum, as a lecturer at IUPUI, and as an instructor at First Steps through the Ann Arbor Public Schools. She uses her passion for science and love of teaching to further promote science communication.

Alicia holds a BS from the University of Michigan and an MA from the University of Arizona in biological anthropology.

Dr. Monica Dus received a PhD from the Watson School of Biological Science at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory working in the lab of Greg Hannon. Her thesis work focused on studying the role of small RNAi in transposon control. She pursued a PhD in neuroscience at the Skirball Institute for Biomolecular Medicine, studying how brains process nutrient information distinctly from taste. She has been the head of the Dus lab and an assistant professor at Michigan since 2015. Her lab focuses on studying the effect of sugar on the brain. She was a 2013 K99/R00 Pathways to Independence and a 2016 NIH Innovator awardee. Dr. Dus is also a Sloan (2017), NARSAD Young Investigator (2015), a Rita Allen Foundation (2016), and Klingenstein-Simon Fellowship in the Neurosciences (2016) scholar.


Dr. John Besley studies public opinion about science and scientists opinions about the public. He writes a biennial report on public views about S&T on behalf of the National Science Board and has also studied attitudes about a range of technologies involving perceived health and environmental risks (e.g., nuclear energy, GMOs, nanotechnology, etc.). For recent work, John has surveyed thousands of scientists and interviewed a broad range of communication trainers to better understand the North American landscape for science communication. He is a AAAS fellow and on the editorial boards for Science Communication, Public Understanding of Science, Risk Analysis, and the Journal of Risk Research. The NSF, the USDA, and a range of foundations have funded his research. He received his Ph.D. in communication from Cornell.


Julie HalpertJulie Halpert is a freelance journalist with more than three decades of experience writing for numerous national publications, including The New York Times, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Real Simple, CNBC, AARP, Scientific American and The Wall Street Journal. At The Wall Street Journal, she is a regular contributor to the retirement section, writing about those who have switched careers late in life. She is also the co-author of Making Up With Mom: Why Mothers and Daughters Disagree About Kids, Careers, and Casseroles. Julie has reported on the air for many public radio programs, including Michigan Radio's Environment Report. She was part of an Environment Report team that won the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award for the documentary, "Coal: Dirty Past, Hazy Future." She covers a multitude of topics, including parenting, health, education, science, environment, finance, how boomers are reinventing retirement and the future of self-driving cars. Since 2012, her print work has received five Excellence in Journalism awards from the Detroit Chapter of The Society of Professional Journalists. For over 15 years, she has co-taught an environmental journalism class in the University of Michigan's Program in the Environment.

She is a founding member of The Society of Environmental Journalists, a professional organization devoted to enhancing the quality and quantity of environmental coverage. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan. You can visit her website or find her on Twitter to learn more.

Nick Wigginton is Assistant Vice President for Research Initiatives at U-M. He works with faculty and staff to support the development of new interdisciplinary initiatives that build on the strengths and priorities in research and scholarship of the schools and colleges, as well as of the university as a whole. He holds a B.S. in geology from Michigan State University and a Ph.D. in geosciences from Virginia Tech. He was previously a Senior Editor at Science, one of the world's premier science journals, where he selected papers for publication, directed the peer review process, and focused on communicating results to a broad audience. 


Kara GavinKara Gavin, M.S., specializes in writing engaging stories about discoveries and issues in science, medicine and health policy. For more than 25 years, 19 of them at the University of Michigan, she has helped bring the work of researchers to broad public audiences and to the attention of reporters. A science writing graduate of Lehigh University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she serves a Lead Public Relations Representative for Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center, and as Research & Policy Media Relations manager for the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

Science Policy

Dr. Laura R. McCabe is a Professor in the Department of Physiology at Michigan State University (MSU).  She received her B.A. and Ph.D. from University of Chicago.  Her graduate training examined intestinal physiology, while her post-doctoral research (at U. Mass. Medical Center) examined mechanisms regulating bone formation.  Her research at MSU focuses on targeting the intestine to treat osteoporosis.  McCabe has published more than 80 manuscripts and has been federally funded for >20 years. She is active in teaching and training undergraduate, graduate, professional and post-doctoral students, participates in training programs including McNair/SROP and BEST, and advises the Council of Graduate Students.  She serves on University interdisciplinary advisory groups and in the leadership of academic governance.  She is involved with journal editorial boards and serves on national (NIH, DOD, NSF) and international grant review panels.  She is also active in scientific societies and currently is the Chair of the American Physiology Society (APS) Science Policy Committee and serves on the FASEB Science Policy Committee, APS Council, Federal Demonstration Partnership Committees.  Communicating science and being an advocate for students, faculty and science are critical parts of her day.

Sara PackSara Pack is an activist, mother, artist, science enthusiast, differently abled person, writer and organizer. Sara brought the very successful 2017 March For Science to Michigan. She served as the lead organizer of the Lansing March For Science, and, as the lead promoter of the 9+ Michigan marches. She loves to make the important information accessible to all, allowing people to become easily engaged and involved in the important issues. Sara specializes in large scale organizing, spreading information, mobilizing resources, and communicating via social media.

Jon MillerJon Miller has measured the public understanding of science and technology in the United States for the last three decades, and has examined the factors associated with the development of attitudes toward science. He directed biennial national surveys for the National Science Board for 20 years, the results of which were reported in Science and Engineering Indicators. He has pioneered the definition and measurement of scientific literacy and his approach to the public understanding of science has been replicated in more than 40 countries. He continues to conduct important studies on civic scientific literacy and lifelong science learning with support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Jon is the founder and director of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY), which has been renamed the Longitudinal Study of American Life. The LSAY began tracking approximately 5,000 public school students in grades 7 and 10 in 1987 and continues to collect data once each year. He is also the Director of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. He has published four books and more than 50 journal articles and book chapters. Jon is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has served two six-year terms on the AAAS Committee on the Public Understanding of Science and Technology. His expertise in the measurement and analysis of the public understanding of science and technology is recognized internationally.



Communication Fundamentals (hosted by UofM's RELATE organization)

Dr. Elyse Aurbach is the Office of Academic Innovation’s Public Engagement Lead, where she develops and manages programs to optimize and reimagine dialogue models of engagement. Elyse previously pursued a double-life as a scientist studying the neurobiological underpinnings of major depression and leading a number of projects to improve science communication and public engagement. These included developing and teaching communication courses with Michigan Medicine, leading the Teach-Out “Stand Up for Science: Practical Approaches to Discussing Science that Matters,” and Co-Bossing with Nerd Nite Ann Arbor. She is also a co-founder and director of RELATE, a science communication and public engagement organization. Elyse holds a PhD in neuroscience, was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and named a finalist for the AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science.

Using Improvisation to Boost Communication Skills

Dr. Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher is Associate Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education and Research Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan. Trained in decision psychology and behavioral economics, he designs communication methods to make health data such as risk estimates and test data intuitively meaningful to patients, providers, and the public. He also studies how and when to use narratives (stories) in health communications and explores the use of improvisational theater games as tools for building health and science communication skills. He developed and teaches graduate courses in health risk communication and designing memorable (“sticky”) health messages.

Finding Your Voice (hosted by UofM's Sweetland Writing Center)

Jimmy Brancho has pictureDr. Jimmy Brancho is a non-tenure track faculty member at the University of Michigan's Sweetland Center for Writing. He teaches classes to undergraduate and graduate students across fields of study, specializing in scientific writing and communication. Through classes and workshops such as this one for ComSciCon, he invites students to see writing as a series of choices made in order to connect with another person and less as injecting knowledge into a (more or less) willing brain. An independent writer, his freelance publications have appeared in Lateral Magazine. Jimmy completed a Ph. D. in inorganic chemistry at the University of Michigan in 2017.


Creating Educational Modules (hosted by UofM's DNA Day)

MI DNA DayMichigan DNA Day is an outreach organization that connects scientists and classrooms across the state of Michigan, to facilitate conversations about genetics, research, and STEM careers. MI DNA Day is an extension of National DNA Day, which is celebrated annual on April 25th and commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the discovery of DNA’s double helix in 1953. Our mission is to build a bridge between Michigan's leading research institutions and high school science classrooms to promote and enhance science education in our state. We match scientists with high school science teachers, creating an opportunities for scientists to meet students face-to-face and share their experiences and passion for all things science with that teacher’s classroom. High school students learn about important scientific issues and cutting-edge facets of genetics and genomics that are relevant to their lives and to society. Importantly, by connecting students and scientists, we are demystifying what it means to be a scientist, and introducing career paths that many students may not have encountered or thought possible for them. This experience also helps the scientists' communication skills, by connecting with the public and sharing their research and discoveries with their local communities. Our vision is to reach as many schools across Michigan as possible with an emphasis on serving those that have limited exposure to career scientists. It is our pledge to focus our efforts toward cultivating the minds of the next generation of scientific leaders for the benefit of the local and global community. MI DNA Day was founded in 2017, and over the last two DNA Days we have sent over 100 scientists to 13 cities across Michigan, reaching more than 3,100 students

Science Illustration and Graphics

Rachel PricerDr. Rachel Pricer is a recent graduate of the Program in Chemical Biology at the University of Michigan. While completing her doctoral training, focused on the study of regulatory protein-protein interactions between transcription factors, she became interested in visual science communication. She is a self-taught graphics designer and started doing freelance work during her graduate degree at the University of Michigan. Her work has been featured on 3 journal covers and in 10 scientific publications.  She now owns a small business specializing in producing scientific graphics for presentations, posters, grants, and journal articles.



Expert Editors

Jim Erickson has been writing about science at the University of Michigan news office for 11 years. Before that, he was a newspaper reporter at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. As a science writer, he won a Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Science in Society Award from the National Association of Science Writers. He was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor's in English from Hamilton College.

Kelly MalcomKelly Malcom is lead research communicator for Michigan Medicine. With more than 15 years’ experience in science and health communication, she served as communication officer for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and provided strategic communications expertise for various government agencies, including CDC, HRSA, AHRQ and PCORI. She was editor of the former Health Behavior News Service, part of the non-profit Center for Advancing Health, and served as a research communicator and web content specialist at the Johns Hopkins and Duke University Health Systems. She got her start in science journalism as an editorial assistant at Science News magazine.

Ian DemskyIan Demsky has been a science writer and editor at U-M since 2010. His current role is Director of Communications for the U-M Life Sciences Institute, where he oversees  external and internal communications including media relations, LSI Magazine, e-newsletters, social media and the institute's web presence. He spent the first decade of his career as a newspaper reporter.