Blanchard A. The Importance of Science Communication. Discover OSA, The Optical Society Blog [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Science communication plays an increasingly important role in our society, but today’s PhD students have few formal training opportunities. The Communicating Science workshop for graduate students, formally known as ComSciCon, was created to help fill this gap by teaching science communication skills to graduate students from across a wide variety of scientific disciplines in an intensive four-day experience. ComSciCon is nonprofit and student-run, organizing workshops on both the national and local level. At these workshops, students convene with science communication experts and learn via a combination of hands-on creative activities, panels, and small-group and one-on-one discussions. The workshop is funded by a combination of academic entities (MIT, Harvard, UC-Boulder), scholarly societies (AASACS, and OSA) and media organizations (Institute of Physics publishing, Science, astrobites, and HHMI Tangled Bank studios). At the national workshop, all 50 students’ travel and housing was fully funded to promote a more inclusive representation.
Jones S. Science for All: Shifting Academic Communication at ComSciCon. UCSD Qualcomm Institute News [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

“Whose advisor is unhappy that they’re here today?” asked Leanne Chukoskie, an assistant research scientist at the Institute for Neural Computation at UC San Diego and an affiliate of the Qualcomm Institute. Looking around at a sea of raised hands, she continued, “Know that the act of writing clearly for the public and preparing well supported arguments is an incredibly important skill.”

San Diego’s second annual Communicating Science workshop (ComSciCon) was held September 15-16th at the University of California San Diego Qualcomm Institute, drawing researchers (primarily graduate and postdoctoral) from all over Southern California who wanted to hone their communication skills through a combination of lecture, discussion, and hands-on workshops.


"At the Qualcomm Institute, our approach is to be somewhat blind to disciplines, to do research that doesn't necessarily begin with a particular discipline as a starting point," said Ramesh Rao, director of the Qualcomm Institute. "Even if you're an engineer, for example, and you want to get into the neurosciences, here you can wade right in. But it also requires that researchers learn to communicate in other 'languages,' so to speak. Knowing the key terminology and ways of thinking in other disciplines is a pathway into that discipline."

ComSciCon began in 2013, and the first national conference—sponsored by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology—was held in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since then, a growing number of local ComSciCon workshops have been popping up all over the country.  


Hendricks R. ComSciCon: Science Communication Workshops for Graduate Students, by Graduate Students. PLOS Blogs [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Publishing in scientific journals has long been a linchpin of success in science. But many scientists want their work to enrich the lives of the public and positively influence society. They’re increasingly realizing that communication solely among scientists is not sufficient for meeting those goals. Science communication (scicomm) is growing rapidly, and many organizations have begun to play a part in helping scientists improve their scicomm skills.

ComSciCon is one organization committed to doing just that. ComSciCon is a workshop series organized by graduate students, for graduate students, focused on leadership in science communication. Each year since our inception in 2013, we’ve held a national conference where 50 attendees from around the US converge with invited experts from a range of scicomm backgrounds for three days of discussions and hands-on workshops.

Graw M. These tiny methane-eating organisms have an outsize impact on our climate models. Massive [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Human industries and their output—oil fields, smokestacks, and cars—are usually thought of as the largest contributors to greenhouse gases. But humans are not the only source of emissions. Microorganisms in the ocean floor have been producing methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more effective at warming the planet than carbon dioxide, since long before humans evolved. In fact, microorganisms in the seafloor produce 45 teragrams of methane per year, about 10% of the total amount of methane on earth that reaches the atmosphere each year.

While the amount of methane produced by microorganisms in the ocean floor is small relative to the amount produced by humans, it is no less important in driving climate change. And unlike human contributions to climate change, methane emissions from the ocean are not that well understood. This poses a problem for scientists using models to predict how the earth’s climate will change over coming centuries. Multiple small errors in a larger model can ultimately add up and lead to important differences in the model’s predictive capacity. 

Enriquez P. GM-food regulations: engage the public. Nature (Commentary) [Internet]. 2017;548 (31). Publisher's VersionAbstract

Your call to harmonize rules for genetically modified (GM) animals and plants (Nature546, 327–328; 2017) echoes scientists' pleas to modernize the 1986 Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology. The framework grants jurisdiction over biotechnology products to US federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Yet urging researchers to scrutinize definitions and look for legal loopholes is impracticable. Increasing public education and engagement of the scientific issues concerning GM food should be researchers' main focus.

The importance of public engagement was illustrated decades ago with the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone in dairy cattle. The practice sparked widespread speculation about its safety and prompted the FDA's unprecedented decision to publish health and safety data ahead of formal approval, in efforts to allay public concerns (J. C. Juskevich and C. G. Guyer Science 249, 875–884; 1990). The decision applied only to that case, but may become relevant in the future.

Policymakers should consider the growth-hormone case when outlining new boundaries for data disclosure and regulatory exemptions applicable to gene-edited products. Regulations must take into account the interests of GM-product developers to ensure that public disclosures do not undermine intellectual-property rights (see also

Enriquez P. Genetically modified food is too advanced for its out-of-date regulations. The Hill [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Last week, the USDA published a series of questions seeking input to establish a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, as mandated by amendments to the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 that went into effect in July 2016.

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard Act requires the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture to establish disclosure standards for bioengineered food. The Act preempts state-based labeling laws for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), such as those adopted in Vermont last year. 

The USDA is considering public input on the disclosure standards until July 17, 2017. Two key issues are under consideration. The first is whether certain genetic modifications should be treated as though they are found in nature — for example, a mutation that naturally confers disease resistance in a crop. The second concerns what types of breeding techniques should be classified as conventional breeding — among "conventional breeding" techniques are hybridization and the use of chemicals or radiation to introduce random genetic mutations.

These seemingly mundane questions strike at the heart of GMO controversies and implicate the use of breakthrough CRISPR gene editing technologies. Gene editing allows novel and precise genetic modifications to be introduced into crops and animals intended for human consumption. The answers to the USDA's questions are significant because the Disclosure Standard Act exempts from mandatory disclosure genetic modifications obtained without recombinant DNA (rDNA) techniques that can otherwise be found in nature. 

Mantica G. Why we need more scientists in government. Boston Globe [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Having grown up in Massachusetts, I love the idea of warmer winters. A winter where I will not have a $150 heating bill? A winter where I will not need to shovel for hours when it snows?

While warmer winters are convenient for my poor circulation and wallet, they are less convenient for other animals, like seals and polar bears. These animals live on Arctic ice, and if temperatures are high in the winter, their icy homes will melt.

Meng Q (W). Green light is more useful to plants than you might think. Urban Ag News [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

You’re considering new LEDs for your vertical farms. What colors should you get? Would you be better off with classic red and blue light or broad-spectrum, white light? It mainly comes down to whether green light is useful to plants, how much it costs, and how we perceive it.

To answer this question, we need to better understand light and how plants use it.

Brodbeck A. COMSCICON PNW. University of Washington School of Marine and Environmental Affairs News [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract



A couple of weekends ago, I held signs with these words to provide feedback for my peers as they practiced their one-minute ‘elevator’ speeches about their research. As one of forty graduate students who participated in the two-day science communication conference called ComSciCon PNW, I left feeling truly empowered to increase the role of science in public discourse.


Serr M. Mice as Conservationists?. Scientific American Guest Blog [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

A naturally occurring gene in house mice may help eliminate their invasive cousins that live on islands.

Jones M. Drawing on the Past: Ancient Cephalopods Produced Ink Similar to That of Their Modern Relatives. Natural History Magazine. 2016 :16.
Satterthwaite E. The Motion of the Ocean: Sex in the Sea and the Fascinating Life of Ocean Babies. Hippo Reads [Internet]. 2016. Publisher's Version
O'Keeffe K. What is it about this soil that protects plants from devastating disease?. Ensia Magazine [Internet]. 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Figuring out why certain soils keep plant parasites at bay could be a boon for agriculture around the globe

Mika A. Circadian misalignment: the common problem you never knew you had. Huffington Post [Internet]. 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Modern life is messing with our clocks

Gamboa-Varela J. DNA Damage Causing Aging or Aging Causing DNA Damage?. Nature Blogs: SciBytes [Internet]. 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

How will I die?

This is a question most of us have thought about. Have you ever wondered what is it about our bodies that “makes us die”? What is it in our bodies that tells our cells “that’s it folks”? Is it something that happens over time or is it just as simple as flipping a switch?

Vinal K. Getting to the bottom of TB transmission. Biodetectives [Internet]. 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

A surprising new finding was released recently that reports an entirely novel route of transmission for a well-known global health threat: tuberculosis (TB). As is often the case with scientific research, a line of seemingly straightforward inquiry yielded an unexpected discovery – in this case, researchers have identified a link between TB transmission and anal secretions of mongooses. Yep, you heard it here first.

Chen W. Why Freshwater Fish Are Awesome. Nautilus Magazine [Internet]. 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Think of your favorite animal. Perhaps Harry Potter’s snowy owl comes to mind.  Or, maybe the lion, king of the jungle? If we were to take our thought experiment under water, you might think of the massive whale shark, or the majestic sea turtle. Perhaps not. But I bet I can guess what wouldn’t come to mind. Freshwater fish rarely, if ever, have the celebrity status of these other animals. Yet, they can be just as fascinating.

Generous A. Mayo Researcher Contributes to Immune System Collaboration. Discovery's Edge (Mayo Clinic's Research Magazine) [Internet]. 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Mayo Clinic, along with researchers at Harvard University, Temple University, Tufts University, and Boston Children’s Hospital are collaborating on a project to discover new therapeutic responses to infection.

Caldwell A. The Neuroscience of Language. Neuro Transmissions YouTube Channel [Internet]. 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Let’s use our words to talk about words - how does our brain process language? Join us this week as Alie dives into some of what we know about the neuroscience of language, and some of what we don’t know, too! 

Fagre A. Why Don't Bats Get Ebola? Bats Get Ebola?. Scientific American Guest Blog [Internet]. 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

They're infected with the virus, but it causes them no harm—and the same goes for more than 60 other pathogens they transmit to humans, often with lethal effect