One of the questions my PhD supervisor, Mitch Power used to ask all of his students was, "What's your elevator speech?" Basically, what is your 2 minute #MagnumOpus of #SciCom. The Mission: to convey to a captive elevator audience, what we do and why we went to University for 13-years to play with mud at the bottom of a lake, analyze 500-million year-old plant rocks, or collect layers of fossilized animal pee in 112 degree weather.
All eyes on you: so tell me, why palaeoecology?
I have tried numerous iterations of my elevator speech over the years, watching people's expressions and body language to see if I can tell where I loose them, where their eyes start to glaze over, the moment that they realize that I, in no way, match their stereotype of a punky, tatted, Asian bicker-chick.
Although it is still an evolving process, my elevator pitch goes something like this:
I am whats's called a Palaeoecologist: I study ancient ecosystems in the Amazon.
Check for attentive facial expressions...
I'm really interested in how ancient people impacted the environment.
Note glazed eyes or the non-blinking stare...
I look at microscopic plant remains in lake sediments.
If they haven't checked their phone or changed the subject by this point:
Some of the microscopic things I look at are from pollen, which tells you what kind of vegetation was around the lake, and charcoal which gives you an idea what fire was doing. Ideally stuff on the top is younger, unless some wayward crocodile mixed it up. We can look through the layers of the lake sediments to see how is changes through time.
Note: always good to throw in a charismatic animal at this point in the story to keep their attention. Dinosaurs, dolphins, bears, sharks, piranhas, wolverines or any endangered species work nicely.
We can use this information to look at how environments changed through time. We then compare our data with the archaeologists to see what people were doing and if they may have been impacting the environment of fires around the lake.
Remember: KISS: Keep It Scientifically Simple: Less than 2 minutes. Short, sweet, simple.
I say all of this a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I cannot over-emphasized the increasing importance of science communication. Part of our increasingly-long job descriptions as Early Career-Scientists is effectively communicating our "so what" to the public. And no, this does not include our grad-school friends from different departments, I mean non-scientists, including the skeptics.
What seems to be working for me thus far, is to be approachable, keep it simple and not take things too seriously. People tend to check-out with a doom and gloom message. Things are dire on so many levels now, but we need more of the general public interested and engaged in the conversation, not tuning -out.
After all, I wake up every day excited to get the think for a living and hang out at work with brilliant people who inspire me. My goal is to share my excitement with as many people as possible.
Until next time.
Live Long and Science On.
Coring Laguna Versalles, Bolivia.