We are a group of freshwater ecologists from the Biology Department at St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota studying the effect of temperature and nutrient availability on metabolism and nitrogen fixation in geothermally active streams in the Hengill region of Iceland. This is a collaborative research effort with our partners from Montana State University, the University of Alabama, the University of Iceland, and the Institute of Freshwater Fisheries in Iceland. See links to our collaborators labs below.

Monday, May 5, 2014

[Insert Catchy Title Here] - A Call to All Scientists

St. Kate's Students and Faculty at NCUR
Recently I had the opportunity to present the results from our research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in Lexington, Kentucky. The conference hosted a wide range of subjects including fields from the arts, sciences, business, and social sciences, among many others. The conference lasted three days with multiple presentations occurring at the same time and ongoing most of the day from 9 am until 7 pm. With so many presentations, it was clear that I could not make it to all of them. This being the case, I tended to choose talks based on the only information I had - location and title. Reflecting back on this, I realize how little, or how much, a title can tell you about a presentation.

Excited for our plane ride
One aspect of my process in choosing presentations has stood out to me - I chose what I thought was interesting. This seems trivial. Of course, naturally I would choose to listen to a subject that grabbed my attention. However, I found myself at a fair number of non-science talks. Upon consideration, I had to ask myself, was I avoiding the scientific subjects? I didn't think this was the case though and I knew that it wasn't from a lack of interest in scientific research. It was then that I realized that the subject wasn't the issue, it was the lack of a draw in the titles. The titles of scientific talks were dry, often because they had to save room in the title for organism names, gene names, site locations, or other scientific jargon. While practical, this has the disadvantage of deterring the interest of almost all non-scientists and even some of the science-oriented attendees. It’s important to have an informative title; however, I think a larger focus should be placed on accessibility to the subject.  It should draw you in...

Scientific literature, articles, and research reports are usually written in a cut and dry manner that strives to merely present the data in an unbiased and unopinionated voice. The main goal is to report what was measured, how it was measured, how many times it was measured, and how the data compare with other values reported in the literature as a validation of the results. While this is practical and efficient, it is often inaccessible to most people outside of the field. I’m not suggesting a revolution in scientific literature, but rather ask how can scientists compensate for this gap - who is getting to use all of this valuable information? The non-scientist is unlikely to sit down and read scientific literature. It’s too dense and unfamiliar. This being the case, I think we need to reevaluate how scientific data is reported, explore how to broaden public access to the results, and make them meaningful and exciting to everyone - because, after all, they are exciting!