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Course Info: Summer 2020

Our Method

The Summer 2020 session of RCTP will utilize the Science Communication Online Programme (SCOPE) that was designed by the co-founder and director of RCTP. SCOPE is divided into 8 modules. Each module was developed by a science communication expert with input from a team of online-learning professionals. Each module contains videos recorded by RCTP’s Byron Stewart, reading assignments, discussion boards, and assignments to upload. The details of each module and its developer is below. The modules will open at the beginning of the week and students will have all week to complete it; each module will take approximately 2 hours to complete.

In addition, there will be four Zoom meetings to check in on progress and supplement the materials in SCOPE in order to best match the full RCTP curriculum. Michelle Paulsen, RCTP co-founder and director, will be available to answer questions throughout the online course, which will run on Canvas.

Students who actively participate in all course modules and complete all challenges and assignments will:

  • increase their confidence and comfort in speaking about their research to people outside of their area of expertise.
  • improve their ability to utilize visuals effectively to convey their message.
  • learn to employ a variety of techniques to speak and write persuasively.
  • develop their ability to adapt writing styles and content in an effort to improve communications with different audiences.
  • earn a micro-badge in Science Communication to add to their LinkedIn profile.

Northwestern graduate students and post-doctoral researchers participating in RCTP will follow the general calendar listed below.

Week of June 22: Audience Awareness and Analysis – Kevin Grazier
All communication must begin with the audience. Writers and orators need to know to take a different approach depending upon who that audience is and what they already know about the topic. Students will learn the power of emotion and stories to impart information and aid retention. They’ll learn to do a quick audience assessment to determine if storytelling is appropriate and, if so, what duration and what level.

Live Zoom Meeting Wednesday June 24, 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Students will meet their cohort, learn program goals/expectations, have the opportunity to ask questions, and learn to utilize a science communication scoring rubric for self and peer assessment.

Week of June 29: Module 2 Speaking and Writing Without Jargon – Mónica Feliú-Mójer
The vocabulary utilized when talking with collaborators and peers is not appropriate for all audiences. Thoughtful analysis is needed to avoid leaving a large percentage of the audience unable to grasp the message. Participants will be able to describe what jargon is, identify it in their own communications, and find alternative words, phrases or expressions to explain the same concepts in simpler and more accessible ways. Students will use metaphors and analogies, narrative and stories, and imagery to avoid jargon and connect effectively with their audiences.

Week of July 6: Module 3 From the Lab to the Layperson – Jenny Cutraro
Not only is it important to identify and connect with your audience, it is important to understand the various writing styles that are important in science, from constructing abstracts and writing journal articles to press releases and news stories. Students will learn to evaluate what makes a scientific finding newsworthy and how the research results find their way from the lab to the general public.

Live Zoom Meeting Tuesday July 7, 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Students will analyze and deconstruct a variety of interviews, compare and contrast the components of an effective research paper and an effective research story/presentation. They will learn and practice employing bridging strategies, hooking, and flagging to tie interview questions and answers to their message. Students will be able to identify characteristics of an effective media interview.

Week of July 13: Module 4 Taking a Rhetorical Approach – Barbara Shwom
Having a clear message, establishing credibility, building a logical argument, and employing emotion when appropriate are all essential in learning to speak and write persuasively. In this module students will create a rhetorical strategy for communicating their own research, integrating techniques such as establishing credibility and building a logical argument.

Week of July 20: Module 5 Scientific Storytelling – Paula Croxson (The Story Collider)
People connect with stories. In this module students learn to identify the basic elements that make up a story, looking for examples of successful and unsuccessful strategies. They will develop individual story elements and learn to incorporate storytelling into writing and talks for a scientific audience.

Live Zoom Meeting Tuesday July 21, 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Students will use the PRES model to align the use of voice, body, energy and emotion for more effective delivery of complex scientific concepts. They’ll be introduced to theatre techniques to help make connections with words and utilize deliberate movement. They will gain comfort in speaking and reacting spontaneously, allowing their authentic personalities and enthusiasm to show as they do.

Week of July 27: Module 6 Communicating Visually – Janet Iwasa, Shraddha Nayak, and Grace Hsu
Complex research requires the use of visuals to convey information. This module will introduce the effective use of visuals for posters and slide design, including the basics of graphic design. Students will learn when and why to use visualizations, the types of visualizations used to communicate scientific research, including model and data figures.

Week of August 3: Module 7 Skillful Presentations and Stage Presence Part I – Carolyn Hall
No matter how well written the script or outline for a presentation, preparation is key. This module will introduce tricks of the trade from theatre, to build confidence and relax before giving a talk. Students will evaluate what makes a scientific talk memorable, regarding both content and presence. They’ll discover ways to overcome a “mistake” and build confidence in their expertise. Students analyze different angles from which to approach talking about their science with specific goals in mind.

Week of August 10: Module 7 Skillful Presentations and Stage Presence Part II
A continuation of the above Module.

Live Zoom Meeting Wednesday August 19, 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Wrap-up and good byes


SCOPE was created as part of a Research Traineeship program supported by the National Science Foundation under grant DGE-1450006. However, any opinions, findings, conclusions, and/or recommendations are those of the investigators and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.