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Patty Raun, a professor in the School of Performing Arts at Virginia Tech and director of the Center for Communicating Science, demonstrates ways to communicate behind a face mask. Photo by Ray Meese for Virginia Tech.
Patty Raun, a professor in the School of Performing Arts at Virginia Tech and director of the Center for Communicating Science, demonstrates ways to communicate behind a face mask. Photo by Ray Meese for Virginia Tech.

Learn With Us

Some of the many ways you can benefit from the work of Virginia Tech's Center for Communicating Science are 

  • Enrolling for our graduate course (Communicating Science, GRAD 5144) or undergraduate course (Introduction to Applied Collaborative Techniques, TA 2404) (see “Courses” below)
  • Requesting a workshop or intensive tailored to your group’s needs (see “Workshops, intensives, and consultations” below
  • Checking out the many science communication resources we’ve collected on our Resources page
  • Signing up below to receive our e-newsletter so that you'll hear about upcoming events and projects.

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Courses

We have been offering Communicating Science (GRAD 5144) since 2012, with two sections now available both spring and fall. This course is capped at 18 students and is highly participatory, using theatre improvisation games and exercises as well as writing to help students become more effective at distilling their research and communicating it to non-specialist audiences. A focus on relaxation and deep listening helps participants make their communication more personal, direct, spontaneous, and responsive. The course provides opportunities for students to present their research to public audiences.  

We hope to develop new graduate-level courses, focusing on social media, writing for a public audience, media interviews, and more.

Endorsements:

". . .through the activities and exercises, not only I am learning valuable skills about communication, but I am also having the opportunity to build a comfort with just talking to people that come from a different 'world' than what I do."
-- Industrial and Systems Engineering graduate student

"I used to say I didn't want to go into academia. This was because I didn't have that teaching experience but also primarily because I don't like public speaking. Now that I am getting more comfortable with public speaking a career door is opening up. I won't let my fears hold me back."
-- Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise graduate student 

"Thank you again for teaching this class. I feel like I learned so much and it really helped me get outside of my comfort zone. It's amazing to me that in just 10 weeks of class, I feel so much more confident and capable of communicating effectively with others. This is such an important skill to have and I hope your class continues to grow in the future."
-- Mechanical Engineering graduate student

TA 2404, Introduction to Applied Collaborative Techniques, was launched in 2017 and serves students across the broadest possible range of academic disciplines. The course applies principles of collaborative theatre performance within the context of a non-theatre focus. Students experiment with practice-based approaches to effective interpersonal and small group communication; interdisciplinary team creativity; iterative processes to develop audience connection; and innovation through improvisation. Special emphasis is placed on situational awareness, listening, effective storytelling in both scripted and unscripted work, team conflict resolution, non-verbal signaling, and communicating across difference. Students in the course use collaborative techniques in a variety of public and professional settings.  The course meets Pathways 1a (Advanced Discourse), 6a (Critique and Practice in the Arts and Design/Arts), and 6b (Critique and Practice in the Arts and Design/Design).

Endorsements:

“The course opened my mind to a part that has always been closed. It made me think a way I never thought before and made me more introspective while also encouraging me to reach out of my comfort zone."
 
“Favorite class I've taken at Tech.  And I'm a graduating senior!"

“I have developed in collaboration, communication, and conflict management more than I ever thought I would. I have learned a lot of different intricate ways of dealing with conflict in order to create a more positive resolution. I have learned good collaboration practices and challenged myself when working with others and in the class. Everything we've learned is useful right now and I expect it will be useful for the rest of my life."

 
“"I am so happy with this class and my growth. Very sad that it's ending. I really wish there was a part 2 to this course."

     

Workshops, Intensives, & Consultations

This is a photograph of a group of students
Improvisation exercises allow researchers to build skills of awareness, attention, responsiveness, and spontaneity that can be transferred to their science communication.

We regularly provide professional development experiences for groups and organizations. Participants are encouraged to enjoy experimenting and expanding their own capacities. You'll find our currently scheduled workshops here.

We have provided workshops and intensives to organizations beyond Virginia Tech, including:

  • The Nature Conservancy
  • National Science Foundation's Science and Technology Centers
  • Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences
  • Organization of Fish and Wildlife Information Managers
  • Entomological Society of America Eastern Branch 
  • Virginia Chapter of the Wildlife Society
  • American Society of Consulting Arborists
  • Universities Council on Water Resources/National Institutes of Water Resources
  • Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 

Let us know how we can help you communicate your work to people outside your field of research. Fees for the workshops, intensives, and consultations listed below are negotiated with consideration of location, means of delivery, number of participants, sponsoring entity, pre- and post-engagement activities, and content design requirements. We can also accommodate special requests to fit your needs. 

The following list provides samples of skill-development experiences that faculty associated with the Center for Communicating Science can provide. Contact us to talk about your specific needs.

Build the skills to support your will to collaborate! This participatory arts practices-based workshop will help participants develop their abilities to listen deeply, express themselves effectively, interact personally, directly, spontaneously, and responsively, and bridge divides that can prevent us from communicating and collaborating.

Explore the value of playful improvisation and serious games to help you establish more confident, productive, and effective connections with all of your collaborators at work and in life.

Build muscles of personal resilience and imaginative innovation. If you’ve experienced the value of improvisation in our Art of Yes! workshop or as part of our graduate class in Communicating Science, we know you’ll be interested in continuing to become more spontaneous, responsive, and aware. This series is for you!

Many science and industry professionals have been told to “develop your elevator pitch.” This workshop provides the tools to prepare for brief and compelling interactions that may occur on an elevator, in a media interview, or anywhere.

Participants in this workshop put the lessons and tools learned in “Distilling Your Message” into practice with mock media interviews. Interviews are video recorded so that interviewees can learn from performances.

Are you comfortable with introduction, methods, results, and discussion—but not with essays, op-eds, blogs, magazine writing, and letters to editors? Participants in this hands-on workshop will explore the components of writing for the public and will practice translating technical and highly specialized material into pieces that are accessible to the wider world.

If you can explain your research to a 4-year-old, you'll be able to explain it to anyone. In this workshop, we challenge you to get your research into 29 pages—with only a few sentences per page—as a picture book for young children. 

Stories that we tell about ourselves, our missions, and our community shape how we understand the past and what we think is possible to achieve. For collaborative leaders, stories help connect the members of an organization with a common understanding of purpose. Strengthen your story skills in this engaging workshop. 

Do you panic at the thought of explaining your work to a journalist? Have you had an interaction with a reporter that left you feeling as if you had failed to communicate? This workshop provides helpful tips for researchers whose work gets the attention of the media.

What are the steps that occur between your lab or field research and the story that shows up in the newspaper? How can you maximize clarity and accuracy and minimize errors and misunderstandings? This workshop explains the process of getting research findings out of the lab, office, or field and into the greater world.

You've got data. In the digital age, you perhaps have LOTS of data! And it means something to you. But how do you best let others see what it means? In this workshop, participants practice using data summary and visualization methodologies by walking through a case study with the instructor and then practicing steps on their own data.

Cluttered slides, sloppy figures, tiny type font: don’t let your presentation design prevent effective communication! This workshop provides tips and tricks on user experiences, establishing a strong hierarchy, typeface selection, data visualization, and giving presentations.

Twitter and Instagram provide opportunities and challenges for science communication and outreach. This workshop will introduce you to the basics of Twitter and Instagram and explore the ways these platforms can be used to network with other scientists and communicate with the public. 

It is said that the thought of public speaking is more frightening to many people than death. In this workshop participants use role-play and improvisation to develop the self-confidence and audience awareness required to deliver presentations that have memorable impact. 

Understanding the perspectives of others is increasingly important in our world, and 85 percent of job success comes from well-developed soft skills. The ability to understand and empathize with others is often seen to be the most valuable of these skills. In this participatory workshop you will learn approaches to authentic listening, transformational empathy, understanding others’ perspectives, and building trust.

Leadership presence, like stage presence, isn’t all about talent. It is about developing a set of skills that result in increased connection with your team and a sense of competence that builds trust and influence with others. This participatory workshop will help you develop presence as a leader, including considerations of behavioral impact, organizational impact, visual impact, and vocal impact.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Almost 93 percent of human communication is non-verbal. Join us in developing more effective non-verbal communication skills – including tone of voice, physical orientation and environment, and body language.

In this workshop we’ll help you learn to use the gift of your voice as fully and expressively as possible. This workshop will introduce you to approaches to warming up your voice and articulators and improving your breath support, refining your articulation, and helping you connect emotionally and intellectually with the full range of your voice and speech in a variety of situations. 

Social media provides a way for graduate students, early career scientists, and others to network, do outreach, and raise the profile of their work with peers, potential collaborators, and employers. In this workshop, we will explore various strategies for creating a consistent profile across multiple social media platforms, blogging about your work, and having an engaging professional website. 

This initiative begins with a full-day Collaboration Incubator for 10 scientists and 10 artists, extends through the further development of several of the artist-scientist collaborations that emerge from the incubator, and culminates in performances and exhibitions of the resulting arts pieces that can help deliver innovative material to a variety of publics relative to broader impacts.

Real growth requires more than a couple hours of engagement in a workshop. Our intensive experiences provide a focused and concentrated combination of three workshops, which we can combine and adapt to meet your group’s needs. For example:

Communicating to a Public Audience for scientists, engineers, and professional communicators: The Art of Yes! (nine hours), Distilling Your Message (three hours), Writing for a Public Audience (six hours). Eighteen contact hours: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Personal Presence and Audience Awareness for researchers and scholars: The Art of Yes! (nine hours), Distilling Your Message (three hours), Effective Presentations (six hours). Eighteen contact hours: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 

Networking Skills for industry and business professionals: The Art of Yes! (nine hours), Distilling Your Message (three hours), Leadership Presence (six hours). 18 contact hours: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Working on your own communication skills? Want to create a specific communicative product? We also offer individual consultations:

Communicating with those outside your field is very different from a scientific conference presentation. Let us help your research team develop engaging and informative approaches to educating your target audiences and spreading the good word about your research findings—and perhaps more importantly, approaches to hearing what your target audiences have to say. Town meetings? School visits? Planning sessions with community members? The common denominator is clear and engaging communication.  

Are you comfortable with your ability to communicate person-to-person but struggling with how to do your best in the age of Zoom meetings, interviews, conferences, and outreach? We can help! Our focus is always on communication that is personal, direct, spontaneous, and responsive—and we can teach you adaptations for that when you’re communicating with people in small boxes on a screen.

Center faculty can help you communicate your research through compelling videos, podcasts, and other forms of asynchronous oral communication. With advances in digital technology, you may be closer than you think to being able to post some great video abstracts on your website! Let us help you make this form of communication as effective as possible.

Consider including financial support for GRAD 5144, Communicating Science, in your training grant proposals or work with us to develop curriculum and training plans and materials tailored to your research team. Effective community engagement and communication skills are essential to successful research careers; be sure your students and post-docs have the opportunities they need to develop and practice such skills.

If you include the development of educational materials for target audiences in a grant proposal, we’re happy to provide guidance as you translate your research into language that your audience can understand and appreciate. This could include flyers, brochures, booklets, books, posters, and other materials. With help from University Libraries services that support campus teaching and learning, publication, and outreach, your work can be made widely available in open access educational materials with Creative Commons licensing.

Have you always thought your research would make a great topic for a children’s book? It probably would! We can help guide you through the process of brainstorming, developing storylines, writing and revising, finding collaborators to illustrate your ideas, creating backmatter, and finding venues for sharing your work with children.

     

This photo shows a young African American woman in a coat and headscarf and wearing a backpack. She is looking at a conference registration table covered with nametags. Two white women stand behind the table. A sign on an easel reads "ComSciCon-Virginia Tech."
Graduate and upper level undergraduate students benefited from two days of communicating science workshops and presentations at Virginia Tech's first ComSciCon in 2019 and a second in 2020. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Freeze.

Please visit our Resources page! You'll find reading lists, communicating science-related resources available elsewhere on campus, and links to relevant information and organizations across the United States. And let us know if there's something we should add! 

Center for Communicating Science - teal and orange logo

Center for Communicating Science - teal and orange logo

     

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    Center for Communicating Science
    230 Grove Lane
    Blacksburg, VA 24061
    (Campus mail code: 0555)

    Director Patty Raun
    praun@vt.edu

    Associate Director Carrie Kroehler
    cjkroehl@vt.edu