Early Career Science and Banting Fellow Stephanie Green leads research on the effects of climate change and invasive species on ocean food webs. She has also collaborated on trainings, seminars and a recent paper about the importance of science communication and storytelling. Stephanie discusses her work on science communication and transitioning to her next chapter.
How did you get involved with science communication?
I spent the early part of my career studying the rapid spread of Indo-Pacific lionfish in the Caribbean. One of the great opportunities with that work on the lionfish invasion has been working with a number of conservation and community groups all across the region. As a scientist, the way you talk about your work with colleagues can be very different than when you’re engaging with people in a community who are trying to figure out what the best intervention strategies are when a non-native species invades their system and depletes many native fish species. I was finding that often it was the anecdotes of what our research was finding and what it means for people locally that was really resonating with community members. In order to engage with people who are affected by a conservation problem, it’s not just about science, it’s about communication and being able to build relationships. As I was doing that research, I had the opportunity to do a postdoctoral Smith Fellowship in conservation, which gives scientists experience in a range of skills important for their work and where we had the chance to do trainings related to science communication and facilitating discussions.
Why was that training meaningful?
Those trainings were pretty transformative for a lot of us. It was some of the first times that many of us had thought about our audience and what resonates with them as the starting place for a story. What is it about my research that someone who doesn’t work in the marine environment or isn’t a scientist is going to care about? What are the experiences I can convey that are going to help them understand both what I do and why I do it? So much of the process of science parallels the great types of fiction that we like to read. There are mysteries, discoveries, adventures, successes and failures. That’s all part of the science process, but we don’t usually frame it that way. We went through an intensive training where we looked at our work and tried to figure out what motivated us and the story behind what we had seen and experienced.
What motivated you to start science storytelling workshops?
With colleagues at COMPASS we saw a big gap we might be able to fill by finding ways for a broader community of scientists to bring the vividness of their experiences back into the way they talk about their work. As a scientist, you often have opportunities to go places and see things that most people don’t get to see. We are at the edge of seeing change, so it’s all about bringing that experience to the forefront when we talk about not just our data, but ourselves. We started offering a two-day intensive training ahead of the Society for Conservation Biology’s International Marine Conservation Congress to help scientists recraft their message into a story that a general audience would want to hear. At the conference, we then provided a forum for the local community to hear stories being told. We also filmed them and put them online. For me it’s fun to see the transformation that happens as people rediscover their voice and to hear people’s reactions when they come to watch the stories.
What type of people sign up for a training like that?
It’s so broad. We’ve had professors and research associates who are working in all kinds of different areas. All scientists, but all kinds of people who are interested in engaging a broader group of people in their work and finding a tool to help do that.
How has science storytelling impacted your work in the Caribbean?
It’s made me see the power of imagery in conveying a message. Having people come together who might not normally work with one another – commercial spearfishers, conservationists, divers and people who have never eaten fish in their lives – because they all really see the problem that this invasion is causing and want to do something together to solve it is really powerful. Sharing the story of ‘why this invasion is important’ helped us cut across and engage all of those different groups.
You are moving on from COS. What are your next steps?
I’m joining the faculty at the University of Alberta. I’m Canadian, so I’ll be moving home. I’ll also likely continue on with science storytelling work, work on lionfish and research on climate change in the California Current so I’ll try to come down to California as much as possible. We had another storytelling workshop earlier in June at the IMCC in Malaysia. This was our third cohort of scientist storytellers that went through the training. My time at COS has been a wonderful experience. I am so grateful for the talented people I’ve had the chance to work with. The model of bringing together people from different backgrounds including science, law, policy, and communication is really powerful and something that I will continue to think about in my own work.