Professional Development Evaluation: Telling Your Science as a Story Workshop

December 31st, 2015 | EVALUATION

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) contracted Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A) to evaluate participants’ experiences in the “Telling Your Science as a Story” pilot workshops, which seek to empower ASM members, who are scientists, to develop more effective science communication skills through hands-on activities, reflection, and discussion. The purpose of the evaluation was to provide ASM with useful information about participants’ experiences in the pilot workshops to inform future development of ASM’s science communication programming.

How did we approach this study?
RK&A conducted 12 in-depth telephone interviews with ASM members who participated in one of the two pilot workshops (in either Florida or Washington, D.C.). Participants included graduate students, postdoctoral fellows (postdocs), and professors. All interviews took place over the course of three weeks (about 3-6 weeks after the Washington, D.C. workshop and about 5-8 weeks after the Florida workshop). To provide context for the interviews, an RK&A evaluator observed the Washington, D.C. workshop.

What did we learn?
Results show that overall the workshop was a positive experience for participants because it provided concrete, useable tips for effective science communication. Aspects of the workshop that contributed to participants’ positive experiences include gestures or activities that felt “personal,” such as when the hosts shared their own experiences with science communication, as well as working with a partner during the workshop, which allowed participants to gain wide-ranging feedback on their communication skills and learn from others’ experiences in science communication. However, results suggest that some participants (mostly professors) may not have been as open to learning as would have been desirable and that there was misunderstanding among some participants about what “science communication” means. A few, for example, seemed surprised by the emphasis placed on lay audiences, while others sometimes had trouble articulating the overall importance of communicating science with the public. Additionally, completion of the post-workshop activity was uneven among participants, with only a few implementing their communication plans after the workshop.

What are the implications of the findings?
Overall, the workshop was a positive experience for participants; and, all were enthusiastic about further developing their science communication skills and participating in future science communication programming through ASM. As staff at ASM continue to develop the workshops, they might consider ways to help potential participants understand that the workshop will address techniques for communicating science to non-scientists and fellow scientists; perhaps, by clarifying this in promotional materials and/or by facilitating an in-depth discussion on the importance of communicating science to the public at the beginning of the workshop. And though it may be difficult to convince scientists at an advanced stage in their careers (e.g., professors) that the workshop is relevant to them, asking seasoned professors who know the value of science communication to promote the workshop on behalf of ASM or inviting them to co-present the workshop with ASM staff may be one way to do so. Staff could also consider following up with participants (at the very least, via email) to provide a more guided post-workshop experience.



Team Members

Randi Korn, Evaluator, Randi Korn & Associates, Inc.
Cathy Sigmond, Evaluator, Randi Korn & Associates, Inc.


Audience: Evaluators | Scientists
Discipline: General STEM
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports
Environment Type: Professional Development | Conferences | Networks | Professional Development and Workshops