Finding Connection in Science – the Heart of SciComm

By Makayla Palm

I have changed a lot since I began my journey into sci-comm. While I do attribute some of it to post-high school maturity, I think pursuing sci-comm has helped me become more empathetic, a better listener, and it has helped me reframe my focus to hone in on connections with others. My goal in this essay is to share a bit of that journey with you. 

I remember being taught that science was objective, and implicitly learned to take the human-ness out of science. The science came first: if someone wanted to interject their own experiences or feelings into the science, but it should be treated separately from the science.Science, especially the science that deals with the history of the Earth, can feel contentious for people. The history of our planet ultimately says something about our origins, and people have very strong opinions about the implications for those origins. The mystery of origins, about us, earth, and life itself is what got me interested in geology–it keeps me awake at night, wondering how all of these big ideas connect. I realized about five years into my thought journey that I was thinking through all of this the wrong way. Having attended scientific conferences and now wrapping up the Time Scavengers virtual internship, I know how important it is to strive for connection with others rooted in the personal, especially in science.

I have always enjoyed writing and telling stories, and because of how I learned science (i.e., how I thought you had to separate the facts from the emotions), I thought these things were mutually exclusive. I took my writing and geology classes and did not think much of it until I met my geology advisor. In the beginning of the semester, she described geology as being a storyteller, with the privilege of being able to learn more about the world around us. Especially during the pandemic, she made efforts to get us to see local geology in (socially distanced) outings. Ultimately, she wanted us to know we all had voices, and that we had the ability to tell these stories to others. She helped me understand how important it was to promote diversity and how integral connection with others was to doing good science. 

This changed my perspective quite a lot because before this,  I spent my time learning to build walls. I had a lot of people walk out on me or lose my trust. I desperately wanted to make connections, but it felt like it was getting more and more difficult. Being raised in a politically and religiously conservative environment did not help this attitude, especially as a science major. With a conservative Christian background, I was sharpening my swords for the secular institutions that I was told would try to snatch my faith from me with their long ages and fossils. Since graduating and stepping into the academic field, I realized what I learned all those years ago couldn’t be further from the truth- science and faith don’t have to be mutually exclusive at all. Meeting with my advisor and talking with her about my background helped me realized I could blend my knack for storytelling and my desire for connections with my love for geology

The Time Scavengers Internship was something I excitedly took on because I wanted to learn more about sci-comm while earning some summer cash. What I did not expect was to learn from people who have made an impact in science communication and hear their personal stories. This was a unique opportunity for me to see that I can blend my passions for studying origins, philosophy and religion with my enthusiasm for science. The first speaker, Riley Black, is my sci-comm hero. Her book, My Beloved Brontosaurus, was a huge part in my realization that science and storytelling can intertwine. The second speaker, Dr. Liz Hare, talked about accessibility and making figures/images/graphs interpretable for people who cannot see them. Her overarching theme of accessibility was really insightful because it points to a role of connection that is overlooked by people who are not disabled. Another speaker, Priya Shukla, spoke about embracing our individual pasts and experiences because they can deepen the meanings of our scientific work. This was affirming to me, as I have always been hesitant to share my religious background in a scientific setting. I want to embrace my unique position and hopefully be helpful to those who may also be navigating similar journeys. The more I am in the academic/scientific community, the more I see people who want to connect with others, and I am learning to be more vulnerable in sharing my story. The more I have learned to let down the walls of protection, the more connection I’ve been able to have with others and learn from them. 

Science writers, professors, and content creators these days all punctuate the same point: science is for everyone, and we can connect with each other through it, a shift that I think is a positive move for the community. Our stories matter and the science we are interested in and want to pursue is affected by our past, the culture we live in, and how we see the world around us. Science is not objective because people carry their experiences with them, and understanding this idea allows “doing science” to reach further depths than the raw numbers or data would by themselves. 

Since learning to become a better science communicator, my goal is to help others enjoy science and see the stories it offers us about ourselves, how we got here, and what we can learn about our past. Learning to see science communication as a way to connect with people brings a richness and unifying feeling, that we can begin to understand something bigger than all of us. 

A woman in her early twenties is sitting at a desk, wearing black-rimmed glasses and holding a journal that says “I dig it”, with an ichthyosaur on the cover. She has mid-length brown hair, an Allosaurus tattoo on her right arm, an ammonite tattoo on her left, and she is confidently smiling at the camera.

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