May is my "off month" from teaching, so I'm taking the time to expand my own education with the SciFund Challenge class and a KSU Learning Institute "A Mirror to the Mind: Metacognitive Practices to Help Students Learn How They Learn." All sorts of fun stuff on science outreach, thinking about thinking, and communication. Yes, the idea of reaching out to people I don't know, communicating effectively, and collaboration- some very touchy feely type crap- is very much outside my comfort zone, but I'm enjoying what I've learned so far, and pushing myself beyond my limits.
Last week's lesson in SciFund Challenge was about the message box, a way of organizing and delivering a targeted message about your research. The message box has five components, and always leaves a path to work your way back to the main points of your topic. There's a full discussion of this concept in Chapter 8 of "Escape From The Ivory Tower" by Nancy Baron, and some discussion on Compass Online, and the book site.
The center of the message box, or The Issue, focuses your whole talk, and is where you define the issue. Around that focal point are the four major points of the message box- So What? The Problem? The Benefit? and Solutions?- which all relate back to the issue at hand. "So What?" describes why your audience should car about the issue. "The Problem?" looks at the specific part of the broader that you are addressing, your piece of the puzzle, if you will. "Solutions?" talks about possible solutions to the problem. "Benefits?" addresses how the solutions you propose might benefit society.
For my research, my message box might look something like this:
The Issue- Amphibian populations are showing declines globally, and the causes remain elusive.
So What?- Frogs and salamanders are voracious predators of insects that cause problems for humans, like mosquitoes, and they are a large source of food for other species that we enjoy, like birds, fish, and small mammals.
The Problem?- Invasive plants are changing habitats, and homogenizing ecosystems, both of which could lead to a loss of diversity and may play a part in amphibian declines.
Solutions?- Possible solutions include better prioritizing of conservation resources, control and elimination of invasive species, and monitoring of amphibian populations.
Benefits?- When we conserve amphibians, we gain great little insect-eating machines, which lessens our need for pesticides and slows the spread of some diseases, and maintains the integrity of various habitats by ensuring continued diversity.
It needs some work, I'll admit, but making myself think about how to say things, and how to express the importance of research is good practice, right?