URMA Comes to Campus

The University Research Magazine Association (URMA) held its conference program on UH campus last week from July 24th – 26th.

It was as informative as it was fun, with notable speakers like John Lienhard, the voice of NPR’s The Engines of Our Ingenuity, science comedian Adam Ruben, and executive coach and creative strategist Brad Deutser, among many others.

NASA set up its moon rock trailer and gave away a host of goodies as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. On display were meteorites and moon rocks with explanations of why they are significant and the elements within.

A common theme that resonated throughout the entire week’s sessions was that of communications. How do you send out a scientific message to people who are not scientists?

“The challenge for researchers is bridging the gap between their science world and the lay audience. It takes some training to break researchers out of their science shell, but once they learn how to reach a non-science audience, the possibilities are endless,” explained Beth Potier of the University of New Hampshire. Beth gave a presentation called Beyond the Abstract: Communications Training for Researchers.

She mentioned that the five primary types of training for researchers involve social media training, PowerPoint best practices, media training, storytelling coaching, and attending social events to share ideas.

This theme of communications further threaded through the week with the venerable John Lienhard’s presentation on how he explains engineering matters to the uninitiated. In his session, An Engineer Works to Explain His Trade, Lienhard explains, "The message that you write needs to register with your audience. If it's too dense, it won't."

Lienhard spoke about the importance of effectiveness in brevity. He explained the Flesch readability score and how it measures authoritativeness for SEO rankings.

The week received a breath of fresh air, and some serious guffaws, with science comedian Adam Ruben’s session, How to Communication-ing Clearwise: The Challenges of Engaging the Public Even Though, You Know, Science.

Adam added a humorous twist to his presentation on communicating science to the masses. He showed the audience how the misperception of science can spin off into absurdity. In other words, media outlets that do not understand the science behind science stories tend to misrepresent or completely miss the point in their stories.

“Have a realistic view of the understanding you’re up against in storytelling but find a balance between talking down to people/over-explaining,” he explained.

All in all, it was a fantastic, fun, highly informative and immensely enlightening week of getting to listen to the experts, the scientists, and the professionals on how to effectively communicate your message, especially if you’re a researcher.

The entire conference was a Herculean effort, planned out for months and painstakingly put together by the ambitious, industrious, determined Lindsay Lewis, director of communications for the UH Division of Research. It needs to be pointed out how much time and effort she put into making this event a grand success. It was a tiring, soul-wringing process drawn out over months, but she persevered and helped bring us an unforgettable week of networking, laughs, and insight. Thank you.