College of Science

Genetics graduate student enhances science communication skills at regional conference


CLEMSON — College of Science graduate student Rebecca MacPherson, a member of professor Trudy Mackay’s research group, conducts genetics-based research that could someday translate into new approaches for treating children born with fetal alcohol syndrome. She’s also an advocate for increasing science literacy and sharing her results with the public.

Rebecca MacPherson explaining research
Genetics graduate student Rebecca MacPherson practices her elevator pitch—briefly explaining her research so anyone can understand it—at the communications science conference in March 2020.

On March 12-13, MacPherson was among 50 graduate students from the Southeast region who participated in the invitation-only ComSciCon-Atlanta 2020 conference at the University of Georgia, where she polished her multimedia, writing, and oral communication skills through interactions with professional science communicators and like-minded graduate students.

“The most valuable part of the conference was realizing that I was not alone in my efforts to more effectively communicate science to the public,” said MacPherson, who studies the genetic and behavioral changes that occur in diverse groups of fruit flies that have been exposed to alcohol throughout their development.

“Being surrounded by a group of fellow graduate students who are all enthusiastic about and committed to effective science communication was inspiring, especially when we were coached by stars in the field,” she added.

A highlight of the conference was keynote speaker Rob Nelson, cofounder of Untamed Science, biologist, Emmy-award-winning filmmaker, and TV show host, who emphasized the importance of scientists taking back control of TV/video scientific narratives.

“Currently, scientists and their work are often poorly reflected in popular media, simply because they have little to no control over the video output and fail to fully utilize the power of video as a communication form,” MacPherson explained. “Nelson argued that scientists can work toward taking back control by initiating the creation of films and working independently with other filmmakers, and he encouraged us to turn to video as a form of communication.”

MacPherson encourages her fellow Clemson graduate students to apply to attend one of next year’s Communicating Science workshop (ComSciCon) events, which are organized by graduate students for graduate students interested in science communication skills.

Visit the ComSciCon website for more information, including application requirements.

“They’re for anyone in STEM — engineers were there too,” MacPherson said. “It’s free to attend and a great experience.”

Rebecca MacPherson and other students holding books
Clemson graduate student Rebecca MacPherson (center, maroon sweater) participates in the book swap with fellow graduate students at the ComSciCon-Atlanta 2020 conference. Participants exchanged popular science books for future personal reading.
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