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Launching SCOPE, a Free Online Science Communication Program

Free and open to any graduate student, SCOPE is an NSF-funded online science communication program designed for graduate students without access to in person training. The program has been in the works for the last two years, and was created to be as flexible as possible while being held entirely online. It was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation, through the IDEAS (Integrated Data-Driven Discovery in Earth and Astrophysical Sciences, Vicky Kalogera PI) Research Traineeship program.

“Communication skills are so very important for scientists,” said Michelle Paulsen, the Director of Education, Outreach, and Communications Programs at CIERA. “To obtain funding, to get support from the public, for collaborations with people in other disciplines — scientists have to be able to communicate the depth and importance of what they do, but not all PhD programs provide that training.”

Paulsen designed the initial concept of the course and worked with Sadie Witkowski to bring in experts to construct the different modules to give graduate students the skills they need to talk about their research. The program is composed of traditional classroom components like readings and homework assignments in addition to uploaded presentations and discussion boards.

Participants in the course develop speaking and presentation skills, practice creating data visualizations using graphic design principles, and learn to adapt their research story to their audience. Graduate students learn how the roles of science journalists, university press offices, and researchers come together to further science communication.

The course opened for the first time in March with a cohort of about 40 students going through the program, working through modules individually while progressing through the course as a group. The course contains eight different modules which can each be completed in about two hours time completely asynchronously, while the group is able to provide peer feedback and an audience with which students practice different forms of communication and storytelling. The modules were created by highly skilled science communication educators and practitioners who all collaborated in order to create SCOPE.

The course launched again this month with a group of about 60 students, divided into 3 different cohorts. There is already an ongoing waiting list for those interested in the program. Registration is open for a Fall session, which will launch at the end of August, 2020.

“There are some incredibly talented people involved in the creation of SCOPE,” said Paulsen. “Sharing their expertise and building a course that is active, interesting, and relevant to graduate students engaged in any type of scientific research.”

By Lydia Rivers