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Professor Michael D'Emic, Geology and Geography
Giving a Science Café lecture was a challenging and fun experience. Making science accessible to the public is a skill (really, an art) that scientists get little training in – usually, we are presenting our science to specialists within our field either in written articles, conference presentations, or grant proposals. At the least, we might present some research in upper-level courses for college students who have had prerequisite classes. So when faced with entertaining a bar crowd with fresh and nuanced paleontological and anatomical science, I was a bit daunted, especially as a young scientist unexperienced in this sort of thing. How could I get by without words like "phylogenetic systematics" and "histological analysis" (what I do), or "Titanosauriform sauropod dinosaurs" (what I study)?
I was stumped when I tried to create a flat-out scientific description of what I do...I realized that it just wasn't that relatable in the terms that I usually use. So, I decided to let pictures do the talking. I selected about five (complicated) images and came up with an explanation for each, and then by linking them, came up with a narrative. I made sure to highlight the difference between what scientists have known for a while, what was new, what was being overturned, and what was really 'cutting-edge' (aka, uncertain or so-far untested). This invited the audience into the scientific process, showing them that scientists are never really 'done' answering a question, and that sometimes conventional wisdom (for example, textbooks) is wrong.
The talk was the easy part. After that came a 45 minute Q and A session. The questions were poignant – delving into many still unanswered questions within dinosaur science. Sometimes, a question would stem from something I missed or poorly explained in my talk – this is another useful feature of the Science Cafe format for young scientists. Better to find out what I glaze over here in the bar than on a grant or job application!
I felt like the Science Café was positive for everyone – the audience got to learn something new (and learn about how science works), NOVA furthered their education and outreach goals, and I got practical experience and publicity for my work. I'd highly recommend the program, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat!
Professor D'Emic (PhD University of Michigan and Visiting Professor of Geology and Geography at Georgia Southern University), spoke at CafeSciBoston's Dino Cafe on January 3rd, 2012. To find out more about Mike, visit his personal website: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mdemic/MDD/Home.html