ComSciCon debuts in the Pacific Northwest

April 14, 2017
ComSciCon-PNW 2017 group photo

This post was authored by Eleanor Lutz and the Organizing Committee of ComSciCon-PNW 2017

This spring, we held the first ComSciCon conference in the Pacific Northwest. The two-day event took place in the heart of Seattle at the Google Fremont campus on March 24 and 25, and brought together 60 graduate students and science communication experts. Throughout both days, we heard short one-minute “pop talks” from attendees about their research and enjoyed ample breaks to facilitate networking.

Our workshop started off with a panel on Public Engagement and Education, with expert panelists Marley Jarvis, Elizabeth Kranich, Julian Olden, and Torrey Stenmark. The panelists, who bring scientific engagement to the general public, K-8, university, and community college classes, shared insights on teaching to diverse audiences and sharing an enthusiasm for science.

In the afternoon we hosted our Write-a-thon event, with 12 experts giving individualized feedback to groups of 3–4 students. Students created science communication pieces using diverse media, including written articles, videos, comics, and children’s books.

ComSciCon-PNW 2017 write-a-thon
ComSciCon-PNW attendees interact with experts during the write-a-thon at the 2017 workshop.


We finished our first day with an inspiring keynote talk from Jennifer Nemhauser, a biology professor at the University of Washington. Jennifer shared her experiences with combining art and science, hosting an artist-in-residence in her lab, and carving out her own path in academia. She encouraged everyone to critically examine scientific institutions and actively look for areas where we can make a positive change.

At an evening networking mixer following the keynote, we were treated to a concert by the PDX Broadsides who sang about scientists, Nathan Fillion, and octopi. While listening to sciencey music, attendees chatted informally with panelists and fellow graduate students. The mixer was held at the Red Door restaurant in Fremont, who kindly accommodated a live band and our large group.

The second day of ComSciCon-PNW opened with a panel on Creative Media in Science Communication. We welcomed a group of experts from a variety of backgrounds: Tami Tolpa, a medical illustrator, Monica Cortés Viharo, a public communication expert, James Davenport, a postdoc and science blogger, and Lindsey Murphy, creator of a children’s science video series. We talked about embracing unexpected career trajectories, collaborating with artists, and interacting with the public via social media.

Our final panel, Communicating Science in Your Career, introduced Janet Bryant from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandi Doughton from the Seattle Times, Hillary Lauren from the Woodland Park Zoo, and Ken Stedman, a Portland State University biology professor and founder of StoneStable Inc. We discussed how to tailor science communications to different kinds of audiences such as business investors and families as part of your career.

ComSciCon-PNW 2017 write-a-thon introduction
ComSciCon-PNW invited experts are introduced at the 2017 workshop


We wrapped up the conference with Unconference Workshops, which were a pair of hour-long sessions of self-structured group conversations. Throughout the ComSciCon conference, students and panelists were asked to brainstorm science communication topics they wanted to discuss in more depth. The organizers compiled the most popular topics and created small break-out sessions for each. A few noteworthy discussions centered on inclusion and diversity in science, dealing with anxiety in public speaking, communicating uncertainty to a public audience, and integrating science and art.

ComSciCon-PNW 2017 was generously supported by Sigma Xi Columbia-Willamette, The BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, Adaptive Biotechnologies, Portland State University Graduate School, University of Washington (UW) Graduate School, UW College of the Environment, UW eScience Institute, UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, and several departments at UW: Atmospheric Sciences, Biology, Chemistry, Earth & Space Sciences, and Genome Sciences. We also thank Google Seattle for the generous use of their conference space and the four Google volunteers whose presence throughout the entire workshop made ComSciCon-PNW 2017 possible.

ComSciCon-PNW 2017 group photo