Lessons from Scientific Idol

I attended the AAAS meeting in Boston, MA this weekend. Expect a few posts to come from that conference!

The AAAS meeting was fun because they didn’t just have lectures on hard science topics. They also had sessions on effective scientific communication, which were so popular that most had the audience spilling out the door. One favorite was Scientific Idol.

Like American Idol, the scientists had a few minutes in which to impress a panel of judges. In that short time, however, they needed to explain their scientific research clearly and with some detail. The judges wanted to hear why the research mattered as well as how it was done.

All six were critiqued by their three judges Jennifer Bogo (editor for Popular Science), Corey Powell (editor of Discover), and Indre Viskontas (host of Point of Inquiry). They gave very similar commentary on each performer’s act:

  1. Give the audience time to digest information,even though you only get 3 minutes. Less is more (but still be specific)
  2. Anecdotes and narrative structure grab an audience
  3. Use humor

And most importantly: Have a clear take-home message!

I loved watching the contestants. In 3 minutes bursts, I learned about engaging women in sustainability research from Gillian Bowser, how dust storms form and why they’re terrifying from Maura Hahnenberger, sources of gamma rays from Joshua Schroeder, male choosiness during insect sex from Jenna Jadin, a rap about fluorescence microscopy (yes, a rap, it was amazing) from Dan Gerow, and why we should all respect meterology forecasts from Tom DiLiberto. What a fun event!


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