Event Highlights: Careers in Public Engagement with Science Panel

On April 26, over 45 people joined us for the virtual Careers in Public Engagement with Science event to hear Cincinnati-area professionals talk about their careers working with the public or on issues of public concern. Read on for panel highlights, or click here to jump to the recording of the panel discussion at the bottom of this page.

Moderated by PEWS students Shivane Chawla (Medical Sciences) and Kat Timm (Anthropology), panelists included:

Jerran Orwig empowers graduate students to become leaders in environmental stewardship and community outreach in her role as the Manager of the Advanced Inquiry Program, a joint graduate program run by the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and accredited by Miami University.

Sociologist Curtis L. Webb III brings his deep knowledge and experiences with social change, social inequities, racial analysis, and advocating for vulnerable populations to the non-profit consulting firm Design Impact as their Director of Systems Redesign and Community-Centered Research.

Dr. Cory Christopher is the Director of Conservation at Cincinnati Nature Center, where he puts to work his passion for environmental education and public engagement in conservation. His expertise in plant ecology is complemented by his skills in problem-solving, art, and public outreach.

Brenda Hunda is the Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Cincinnati Museum Center where she develops exhibits, educational programming, and community outreach in the form of lectures and workshops. She also curates the largest collection of Upper Ordovician fossils in the world.

Panel Highlights

Conversations centered around the challenges of working in public science, the ethical considerations of the field, and advice for people who might want to break into the field of public engagement themselves. 

Common themes that came up were the challenge of navigating the interests of multiple stakeholders and the importance of meeting the public where they are. Webb highlighted the importance of including non-academic voices as he encouraged communicators to “acknowledge lived experience as a form of knowledge, as a form of science.” He emphasized the need to “translate theories [in] ways that are accessible” to people. This can be a complicated negotiation. Professionals in this field are responsible for accurately communicating good science while also staying attuned to the needs and perspectives of the communities they work with. As Hunda noted, communities “need to be part of the conversation for people to feel respected, listened to, and engaged as part of public science education and engagement.” 

Orwig expanded on how to engage others in meaningful ways with her question, “How do we tell stories in a way that resonates and hits the heart?” In a world saturated with information, the panelists proposed creativity and storytelling as valuable assets in helping science communicators reach the public. “There are lots of ways to engage people in science while never saying a word,” shared Christopher. “One of my favorites is through art.”

“How do we tell stories in a way that resonates and hits the heart?”

Jerran Orwig

The panelists also discussed the unexpected demands of serving in a science communicator role. Orwig noted that “it’s really important to take care of our own hearts and brains in this because it’s tough work,” perhaps in part due to the dedication with which science communicators approach the work they do.

Panelists generally agreed on the importance of approaching their work with authenticity and the desire to have a meaningful impact on the communities served. From research and teaching to advocacy and consulting, public engagement with science can be both challenging and rewarding. Hunda encouraged those interested in getting started in science communication to “think about what engagement and the meaning of engagement means to you.”

PEWS would like to thank the panelists for taking the time to share their knowledge and experience with us. Learning about the panelists’ differing journeys through public science is inspiring and helps others visualize their own potential career paths in sharing science with their communities. 

If you missed this event, fear not! You can watch the recording embedded below or view it on the PEWS YouTube channel.

To learn more about public engagement from other wonderful science communicators, click here to check out the recordings from our 2021 Public Engagement With Science workshop.

Watch the Recording

Support for this event was provided by Research!America and the UC Science Policy Ambassadors.