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Scientists learn to be storytellers

Scientists learn to be storytellers

May 5, 2021 at 12:00pm

The importance of good science communication has never been more salient than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Professionals who are knowledgeable in both science and storytelling are needed to convey critical information to an anxious public.

FIU’s Steven Cruz Institute for Media, Science + Technology (SCI) is helping to change the narrative that scientific research and storytelling are mutually exclusive by showing researchers how, in reality, you cannot have one without the otherThe institute recently hosted a series of workshops and trainings aimed at helping researchers share their findings. Students from all over the world joined in on the conversation 

"There is an increased understanding among scientists and policymakers that it is necessary to make scientific research accessible to the public so that they can see the relevance of science and use the information to make decisions about their activities, their health and their civic participation," said Maria Elena Villar, co-director of the institute. "At the Steven Cruz Institute, we partner with researchers and students in the sciences and communication to work toward this goal." 

In SCI’s latest workshop, “Improving Your Research Through Storytelling,” co-directors of the institute—Villar and Susan Jacobson along with Elizabeth Marsh, assistant professor in CARTA’s Department of Communicationshowed science researchers how to craft elevator pitches; how to break down information for the general public; why storytelling is needed in the sciences; how to use image and visualizations to help tell their research stories; and showed how research has been disseminated in the past through different storytelling mediums. 

The 2006 documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth," centered around the consequences of global warming, is an example of just this, said Marsh. 

“Before "An Inconvenient Truth" people didn’t talk about global warming, but after the film, people began to take global warming really seriously,” she said during the workshop. 

The film was taken so seriously that it prompted the oil and gas industry to launch an aggressive counterargument against the content shared.   

Stories are vital to the dissemination of research because they allow people to recall the information more seamlessly. They help establish an emotional connection between the listener and the teller and make listeners more inclined to empathize with and accept the information.   

In terms of storytelling, the institute is teaching researchers all the different ways to share stories – ways that do not have to take the shape of long narratives. 

Some of the different storytelling methods described by SCI include films, books, blogs, social media, infographics, data visualizations, and more.  

“Infographics and visuals are important, especially in science communication, because they help you communicate your ideas to a wider audience,” Jacobson said. “Visuals can help explain and further demonstrate your ideas in a way that text may not.” 

In helping researchers become engaging communicators, the Steven Cruz Institute offers STEM and communication graduate students a certificate in science communication. 

“When I started the graduate certificate in science communication, I knew how important it was to find engaging ways to connect people with science, and the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly heightened that importance,” said Jessica Rodriguez, research coordinator for the institute and current graduate student in the FIU Department of Earth and Environment. This crisis has demonstrated just how much of a difference effective, engaging, research-based science communication makes, and how crucial it is to all of our day-to-day lives.” 

To learn more about the Steven Cruz Institute for Media, Science + Technology and the strides being made in science communication, visit