Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science Boot Camp

2014 Improv

The goal of this 1-day workshop is to help participants learn to communicate more effectively about science with people outside their field, including the general public, policy makers, the media, students, potential employers or funders, and prospective collaborators in other disciplines. Through discussion and practice, we will focus on fundamental skills — knowing your audience, connecting with your audience, and speaking clearly and conversationally about your work and why it matters.

Monday, May 22, 2017

8:00am - 5:30pm 

Stony Brook University, Center for Inclusive Education

Travel, lodging and meals sponsored by the Stony Brook IRACDA NY-CAPS Postdoctoral Training Program in connection with IRACDA Plus, a NRMN initiative.


8:00 - 8:30 am:  Registration and Breakfast

8:30 - 10:00 am: Introduction to the Program

A group exercise in conveying the meaning of complex information so non-scientists can understand. 

10:00 - 12:30 pm:  Improvisation for Scientists

Improvisational theater exercises require you to pay close, dynamic attention to others, to read body language and nonverbal cues, and to respond freely.  This is not about acting or making things up. It is about shifting your focus from what you are saying to what the other person is receiving.  This can help you make a more direct and personal connection with your audience.

12:30 - 1:00 pm:  Lunch

1:00 - 1:15 pm:  Introduction to Distiling Your Message

Speaking clearly and conversationally about science, without jargon or “dumbing it down,” is a challenge. This interactive presentation suggests tools and examples to help scientists communicate in ways that resonate with non-scientists.

1:15 - 3:45 pm:  Distilling Your Message (Breakout Sessions)

Meeting in small groups of 8 participants, we will work on engaging listeners, using different approaches and using the power of storytelling to communicate in memorable ways.

Group 1: Center for Inclusive Education, (Old) Computer Science Building, Suite 2401- Rory O’Connor

Group 2: Graduate School Conference Room, (Old) Computer Science Building, Suite 2401- Kathleen Ehm

3:45 - 4:00 pm:  Reflecting on Our Experience

What approaches worked better? What choices were productive? Has your approach to communicating changed and, if so, how?  What next steps would be useful? Includes evaluation survey.


Katy Ehm

Kathleen Ehm

Dr. Kathleen Flint Ehm is Director of the Office for the Integration of Research, Education, and Professional Development at Stony Brook University, which includes the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. Dr. Flint Ehm specializes in postdoctoral policy and professional development, including issues related to fostering the advancement of postdoc women in academic science. She came to Stony Brook from the National Postdoctoral Association in Washington, DC, where she spent six years as the project manager for grant-funded initiatives and was lead author on From Ph.D. to Professoriate: The Role of the Institution in Fostering the Advancement of Postdoc Women. In 2004, she served as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Science Foundation where she focused on issues concerning early-career scientists. She holds a Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a B.S. in Math and Astronomy from the University of Arizona.

Steve Marsh

Steve Marsh

Steve Marsh is an actor and dramaturg who teaches both subjects at Stony Brook University’s department of Theatre Arts. He received a BFA in Acting at NYU in 1981 and an MFA at the State University of New York in Dramaturgy in 1999. He helped co-found the Asylum Theatre Company, an Equity company on Long Island, and teaches various theatre arts disciplines at Stony Brook University. He has been the director of SBU’s graduate program in Dramaturgy from 2006 to 2012. As department literary manager he helped establish and ran the John Gassner New Play Competition, a national playwriting contest for 9 years. Earlier this year, he played Jacob Engstrand in Ibsen’s “Ghosts” for the Department of Theatre Arts.

He is proud to be an associate of The School of Journalism’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, where he teaches improvisation to scientists, a project spearheaded by actor Alan Alda. His fledgling interest in the sciences has led to his becoming an artistic associate and ally of the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics (SCGP) where he has directed and acted in fully-staged readings of Brecht’s “Galileo,” and Peter Parnell’s “QED.” He is currently the literary manager of SBU’s Science Playwriting Competition, supported by the SCGP and the National Science Foundation. He produced a play for the department’s mainstage, “Robeson“ by Nicholas Rzhevsky. Steve is a member of Actors Equity, AFTRA-SAG and the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas.

Rory O'Connor

Rory O'Connor directs the Digital Resource Center at Stony Brook University's Center for News Literacy. He is also an award-winning author, journalist and filmmaker, whose programming has aired on leading networks in more than one hundred countries – from ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and FOX in the U.S. to the BBC, RAI, NHK, National Geographic and many others internationally. O'Connor has written three books -- most recently Friends, Followers and the Future: How Social Media are Changing Politics, Threatening Big Brands, and Killing Traditional Media (City Lights, 2012) -- and his articles have been published in such national outlets as The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Vogue, The Nation, Newsweek, and numerous other publications. His broadcast, film and print work has been recognized with a George Polk Award, a Writer's Guild Award, a George Orwell Award and two Emmys, among other honors. 

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