Episode 59 – How to present science concisely

This week we had a wonderful conversation with Dr. Bruce Kirchoff who is a scientist, improviser, and storyteller. He teaches young scientists to speak clearly and intelligibly about their research. His book Presenting Science Concisely draws on the relation between the scientific process and story structure to present science with impact.

Bruce is also Emeritus Professor of Biology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where he taught courses in plant diversity, flowering plant identification, and evolution. His research combined insights from biology and cognitive psychology to improve the reliability of plant description and classification. As a software designer he developed visual, active learning software to rapidly teach plant identification, and chemical structures. He has won the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Charles Edwin Bessey Teaching Award from the Botanical Society of America, and the Innovations in Plant Systematics Education Prize from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists. He has studied scientific communication at the Alan Alda Center for Scientific Communication and teaches it through the UNC Greensboro Speaking Center, where he is a Faculty Fellow. He also teaches workshops in storytelling and improv and, before his retirement, was the faculty advisor for the UNCG student improv club.

You can follow Bruce and learn more about his work here:


Jen (00:00:00)
Hello and welcome to Let’s Talk SciComm, a podcast by the University of Melbourne’s Science Communication Teaching Team. I’m Associate Professor Jen Martin and my wonderful co-host is Dr Michael Wheeler. And we believe that science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.

Jen (00:00:45)
Hello everybody. I am so thrilled to welcome you to another episode of Let’s Talk SciComm, my very favourite place to be. And as always, I’m joined by one of my very favourite people, Michael. Hi Michael.

Michael (00:01:00)
Hey Jen, I am delighted to be here as always and very excited for today’s episode.

Jen (00:01:06)
Well today we have a real treat in store, Michael, because we have a wonderful guest joining us from the US, Professor Bruce Kirchhoff. He is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
And he was an academic at that institution for an impressive 36 years. Surviving in the wonderful world of academia for 36 years, I think is a pretty impressive achievement in and of itself.
But Bruce has had a really very distinguished career in the areas of plant science, plant structure, development and evolution. So he’s got a PhD in Botany from Duke University.
And if you spend a bit of time on his LinkedIn profile like I have, you’ll see that he’s been involved in all sorts of interesting projects and organisations over many years, including the Botanical Society of America, a whole heap of great things.
But as you can imagine, the reason that we’re so keen to chat with Bruce is because he’s also been teaching workshops and classes in effective science communication for many years. And as I understand it, he continues to actually teach at the University Speaking Centre at the University of North Carolina.
So we’re just delighted, Bruce, to have this opportunity to explore your passion, your expertise, your experience with science communication. And of course, your fabulous book, which I’m going to tell everybody more about in a moment.
But just to say welcome, Bruce. Thanks for making time for us.

Bruce (00:02:34)
Oh, thanks so much. I’m so happy to be here.

Jen (00:02:37)
So Bruce, the way I came to know of you, this is the first time we’ve ever spoken. But I’ve known of you for a while because you are the author of this fabulous book called Presenting Science Concisely. And it won’t help our audience, but I am actually holding it up for Michael and Bruce’s benefit to see.
So in Australia, this book is published by the CSIRO. And I get newsletters from CSIRO telling me when they have new books coming out. And it’s not that often that you see a book about science communication. My, you know, first love.
So when I saw that there was a book called Presenting Science Concisely, of course, I ordered it immediately and happily it arrived. I think we were in lockdown at the time, so it was a pretty exciting thing to have this book arrive.
And I wasn’t at all disappointed because it’s informative. It’s interesting. It’s easy to read. It’s got wonderful illustrations. And I guess more than anything, it really validated for me, Michael, what we do in our teaching program is best practice or at least best practice according to Bruce and all of his years of experience.
Bruce, I know you very generously listened to a few of our other episodes in preparation for today. I think that’s lovely. Thank you. And you’ll know that we really like to start getting to know our guests by asking them a bit about, you know, little Bruce way back when.
And so I’d love to hear, is there a? Can you remember a time or an experience or a place or a thing that helped you to, you know, realise that science is something that you would enjoy and that you might want to pursue?

Bruce (00:04:05)
Well, I think there were two things. One was high school teacher in science took us on an outing. We stayed overnight in a hotel in Chicago and visited these huge science museums. And I just remember that. And it was really wonderful.
And then in college, I had that kind of got me back into science. I drifted away for a while for reasons I won’t go into, but kind of came back and had a very enthusiastic teacher.
While Warren Wagner was a very famous botanist in the United States at that time, at the University of Michigan. And he just was so enthusiastic about his subject and could really bring that time in the 70s. He could bring a whole auditorium of students who were studying plant identification.
And he could bring them along with him. And I was one of those students he brought along and stayed in botany because of that, really because of him.

Michael (00:04:55)
Hmm. Yeah. And people have mentioned this before, you know, the power of an influential teacher can really shape the direction of someone’s career going forward.
And I know that from listening to you on the Planet SciComm podcast, you described your pathway to science communication being via teaching yourself.
And really wanting to be the most effective teacher that you could be.
So, yeah, just curious to hear a little bit more about that, that process for you.

Bruce (00:05:24)
Well, I’ve been trying to remember the details about how I got involved in scientific communication. I remember some things. I mean, I know exactly how the book got started. So I can tell that very easily.
I was teaching workshops at the Botanical Society of America and I try to offer a workshop every year. And then I started offering some workshops on scientific communication.
And other than the fact that I knew that I was pretty good at it and that I didn’t like a lot of the seminars that I was hearing and thought they could be better. I don’t remember exactly what got me, got me into that, why I decided to try to do that.
And one of the editor at CABI, where I… where the publisher of the book, happened to notice that I was offering a workshop on scientific communication and approached me and said, “Would you like to write a book about it?” And I said, “Absolutely, I would like to do that”.

Michael (00:06:17)
Hmm, yeah. It’s interesting how you, you know, you can learn from good teachers, but also you can learn from teachers that maybe weren’t that engaging or you know, being subject to communication that’s maybe not that effective. And that can also spur you into thinking about how can this be done better?

Bruce (00:06:36)
Yes I… this didn’t influence me, but I had a horrible teacher as an undergraduate. As I had Warren Wagner and I probably shouldn’t say the name of the other one. But I remember him. A chemistry teacher, he was, oh my god, I can’t imagine anyone worse than he was. That spurred me away from chemistry. But it didn’t get me into science communication.

Jen (00:06:56)
It makes me think about every time during COVID that you were kind of attending online seminars and talks. I just couldn’t help but screenshot the really worst of the PowerPoint slides that I saw just to kind of have a record of don’t ever make a slide like this.

Bruce (00:07:13)
I’d love to have examples of good PowerPoint slides and good posters. I’m looking… I’m really looking for examples.
I’ve searched [an] online site called FigShare for posters. And I’ve spent hours on it. And they are uniformly horrible on that site.

Jen (00:07:29)
And that’s your way of saying you definitely don’t need any extra examples of bad posters, ’cause they’re everywhere.

Bruce (00:07:35)
No. Well, and I think it’s it’s easier to learn from what’s good. It’s easier to say you know, for someone to see something that’s really good and say Ohh, I’d like to do something like that. Why don’t I try that kind of approach?

Jen (00:07:47)
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, Bruce, I think we need to launch straight into storytelling because that’s absolutely the heart of your book.
The very first line of your book says “Stories are the universal language”. And then, you know, chapter one begins by letting the audience know that this is a book about the science and the art of storytelling.
And you make a big promise to readers. You promise them that this book will help them to tell better stories about their work. And the whole book fundamentally is about the art and the science of storytelling.

And one of the things that we really find with our students is that they’ve all heard this advice that they need to tell stories about their work and about their science. But really, until they come and study with us, no one has ever given them any actual clear advice on how to do that.
So I really do want to leap straight into this idea of storytelling. And you said in an email to us during the week that you’ve done a lot more thinking about effective storytelling since you wrote the book. And you feel like you can explain it much more simply now and in a way that’s more understandable to scientists.
So I’d love to hear, how do you teach storytelling?

Bruce (00:08:52)
Well, I do it like this. So I talk to students about “What is the background of the work that you worked on?” So that’s kind of the starting point. And if you know story structure, that’s the world as it exists, the pre-existing world before the hero arrives.
But we don’t have to say that. We don’t have to tell the students that that’s what it agrees with a story. We just say, “What’s the background of your work?” And then the second part is, “What’s the problem? What problem are you addressing?”
And that’s where the students often have a very hard time is getting the… really understanding what the problem is. I mean, sometimes when they advance, get advanced through their degrees, you know, they can say the hypothesis and things. But they don’t kind of have the big picture.
What’s the issue that they’re doing? What’s the problem that exists in the field in that background information that you’re addressing, the thing that you’re trying to solve? So that’s the dragon showing up in the village.
And then there’s the hero’s journey, the third part. But the hero’s journey in science is what you did. So what are the things that you did? And depending on how long you have to talk, you may not want to go into all the little tiny details. But you can give an overview of the kind of methods that you used.
And then finally, what are the conclusions? The conclusions of the paper are returning with the gold for… The hero returns to the village with the gold and changes the world.
And why isn’t everyone doing it? And I think it’s because we have the students emphasise so much on the methods. There’s so much technical stuff to get. Right? They’re so difficult to learn to use the equipment or to understand the statistics or to do those [things].
Focus on that part of the, part of the hero’s journey that’s sharpening the sword. But no one really cares about sharpening the sword. When you’re doing it, they want to know, they want to… on how did you use that sword? What did you do with it?
And so we just need to change the focus a little bit. But keep those same, keep those same terms that we’re using. We don’t have to use all the crazy storytelling jargon. That’s a big insight I had working with a group of students recently.
I was trying to explain storytelling to them. And I noticed all these blank faces and I said, “Whoa, I’ve got to change. I’m using jargon. I’ve got to stop using jargon”. And so I started saying, “Well, what’s the background to your work? What’s the problem you’re addressing? What did you do to address that problem? And what’s the significance of that work?” And they got it, right away. And that’s a story.

Jen (00:11:15)
Bruce, It’s so fantastic hearing you speak about the hero’s journey because that’s something that we also talk about in class. And, you know, I think research really is, it’s about the hero’s journey. That the tests and the allies and the enemies and hopefully returning with the answer.
And for me, you know, I also did an arts degree as well as a science degree. So I’ve studied literature and classics. And for me, science communication is a way of bringing those things together and recognising that we can tell wonderful stories about science. Science lends itself so beautifully to storytelling. And I really love hearing you talk about it that way.

Michael (00:11:51)
Yeah. And it can be a roller coaster journey sometimes as well. You know, they’re really highs and lows. Sometimes you just spend, you know, all your time in the lab. And I think that is where it can be easy to get so caught up in the methods and you really forget about the big picture.
And I think that’s part of the reason why we really are passionate about science communication and scientists communicating to a variety of audiences, to really get in touch with that, the value and relevance of their work. And the kind of the big picture.
And understanding what the most important version of that problem is. It affects your thinking as well, you know. And science communication is really about the quality of your ideas in addition to the structure of those ideas as well.

One thing, Bruce, that I noticed is how many practical ideas that you have in your book. That it’s really full of exercises and great advice in addition to being engaging and with fun illustrations as well.
So I’d love to know more about that. I think it’s a great example. And, you know, it’s something that you obviously decided would be a good way to make science communication more accessible. So I’d love to hear more about the process of writing that book. What was it like?

Bruce (00:13:10)
Well, I decided to put a lot of exercises in the book because I knew from my teaching that the only way that students learn is when they do the work. And so, in fact, kind of my calling card, so to speak, in teaching was always to create opportunities for active learning.
I saw myself as a teacher, not primarily as a lecturer. I mean, of course I lectured. I had to for my discipline. But to create opportunities where the students could do as much active work as possible.
And so I wanted to take that same sensibility and bring it into the book where I wasn’t there to say, you know, do these kind of exercises and things.
So I tried to put exercises in the book. I tried to put in the chapters, I put worked exercises. That is, I would say, let’s look at this abstract for instance and analyse an abstract. And here’s how I would do it. And then I would say, OK, now it’s your turn. And I’d put some more exercises in, more abstracts to analyse, for instance, and ask the reader to do it and put the answers at the back of the chapter.
In fact, at one time early on in the book, when I was talking to the editor about this, we said, “Well, let’s just put those exercises upside down in the back of the book so that the students have… they actually have to turn the book over. So they can’t, they really have to, they have to be determined to cheat in order to find the answer. They can’t just go and read it.”
And then she’s… And then she pointed out that, “You know, that’s really not going to work well for the electronic books.” So we just put them at the, we just put the answers, my answers, at the end of the chapter. Of course, I always say, you know, “These are my answers. You might have analysed it slightly differently and that’s OK.”

Jen (00:14:48)
So Bruce, listening to you, what really strikes me is this idea that we have to get students actively doing things. You don’t learn just by listening.
So Michael and I always say, “you’re not going to become a better speaker or a better writer just by listening to us talk about that. You’ve actually got to go out and do it yourself.” And so like you, we’re always trying to find activities and ways to get our students doing things and learning.
But I found it’s really been hard over the last few years, you know, with the pandemic and the move to so much online teaching and online workshops. Often students come and they just want to kind of be there passively. And I understand that people are busy. People are overloaded. It can be nice to kind of tick the box and say, “Yes, I’ve attended science communication training. I logged on and I sat there”.
But, you know, sometimes we find as soon as you actually say we’re going to do an activity now, we’re going to put you in breakout rooms. People actually leave the call because they don’t want to. They don’t want to have to do stuff. They just rather kind of passively sit and listen.
So I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do we help scientists to understand that becoming a better science communicator is so important. But that the only way to do that is to put yourself out there and practice and do things. You can’t just pick it up by listening to other people.

Bruce (00:16:01)
Yeah, I’m really sorry to hear that question because I was going to ask you. I mean, I think that is the big question. I mean, I’ve run workshops for the Ecological Society of America, which is a great group to work with. At least the people that I’m working with there are just absolutely fantastic, very supportive.
And unlike any other workshops I’ve done, they get 50 percent of the people who sign up for the workshop, for a free workshop to show up. The normal percentage is, for anybody else is 20 percent, I’ve found. And so I don’t know what to do about that. That’s the first problem. You’re offering a free workshop. And I believe in free. But then people don’t take it seriously.
So, you know, the other thing is to charge for it. And then that gets into a whole other area that I don’t really want to go to. But that’s the only other way I can think to do it. And even then, you may not get, you may still get people not showing up, even though they’re paying the money and they can’t get it back. They may still blow it off.
And then the second problem is, they just say, when they come, when they come in, some people just don’t pay attention. And I don’t know. It’s better if you’re in person because with enthusiasm you can carry the group along and you may only lose 20 percent instead of losing 80 percent or more of the students who are online. Twenty percent is probably an overestimate. Maybe 10 percent you lose in face to face.
And how you do it online, I just, I’m not really sure. I’m still working on it. I think that just keep, keep at it. You know, one thing that I think can really help is if the student’s major advisor says “You have to go do this”. They’re going to take it more seriously. And they’re not going to take it as seriously on the average unless you know, if they’re doing it themselves, to improve themselves.
But if it could be part of the curriculum where they know they have to do that, everyone’s doing it, they’re expected to do it. Or even just in their lab and their advisor is saying, “You better go do this. And I want to know how it went”. And then they follow up with them. That would make a really big difference. So what do you think? What… Do you have an idea? How do we solve it?

Jen (00:18:07)
No Bruce, that’s why you’re here. You’re the expert. I don’t think we have the answers either. I don’t think it’s simple. But I think we’re all trying to really work together to understand how can we make it clear to scientists and to the institutions that they work in that effective training in communication is just so important.
And for me, listening to you talk on the recent episode you did on the Planet SciComm podcast, it was so cathartic because what you talked about is so aligned with what I’ve been trying to work on for nearly a couple of decades now. You talked about the fact that you think we need to begin by helping scientists to be good at talking with scientists in other disciplines.
And the way you talked about it was that we have a big problem out there in the world. That problem is that science isn’t broadly trusted or understood or you know, accessible by people. And if we expect scientists to have the skills and the interest and the confidence in being able to talk with people out there in the world, we should begin with having them be good at talking with scientists in other disciplines.
And as I said, you know, I couldn’t agree more. That’s been a huge driver in my career. And so this comes back to your, your comment about, you know, how do we get scientists to engage with this and want to do it, and want to actually practice in order to become skilled at it?
You know, I’d love to hear more about your thoughts about that. Why is it so important that scientists learn effective communication skills in their training? And how can we make that a thing more broadly?

Bruce (00:19:38)
Well, I mean, first, I want to agree with everything that you said. And I think that if scientists get better at talking to other scientists outside their discipline, which they have to do to get a job or get a grant. And you know, that’s a powerful incentive or should be a powerful incentive.
And if you ask the people who read these grants and are awarding the money, they say the people who are winning are people who are telling us a story. They’re making a convincing case in they don’t always say story. But you know, they’re making a convincing case in a, in a form that is essentially a story. And the same kind of thing that I just said outlined is a story with those four parts.
So I think that’s a powerful thing. If we can get the students to believe that or get the faculty to see how their students are going to be helped by that, we can start to make inroads.
If we can get into there so that all the scientists can speak well to other scientists. Some proportion of them, which is much higher than the proportion that exists today, are going to want to talk to the public.
And they’re going to have the skills to talk to the public because they’re going to understand that there’s a difference between the audience of the people in their lab and the audience that they’re talking to when they go to a large meeting or they’re having a job interview. So that’s their first visceral experience of the different audience. They don’t learn it theoretically. They can learn it through hands on experience. There’s a difference in audience.
And then they go into the public and they say, “Oh my god, this is a different audience”. They know what that means already. And they know that, what that means in a practical way. So now they can start addressing things to that audience. So I think it’s actually a really big leap, a really big ask for students, to ask students to start working on addressing the public right away.
Now, I’m not saying for every student. There are students who are going to want to do that. We’ve got a student at my university who’s just fantastic at it. And I think she was fantastic when she walked in the door.
So there are going to be people like that. But I think on the average, the students are not going to want to talk to the public, but they’re going to have to talk. And they kind of realise they have to give a talk to, to other scientists outside their field.
And so I think it’s the only solution, I think the long, long term [solution]. But it is a very long term solution. It’s beyond my lifetime long term solution.
So on the second thing I would say is as science communicators, we’ve just got to make it simpler. We have got to stop using jargon. I mean, I just, that was my experience talking to that group of students at, we have a School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.
I was talking to the entering students for two days and just watching them space out when I use storytelling jargon. But get it as soon as I put it in the language that they understood from their research. I mean, we’ve just got to do that.

Michael (00:22:18)
Hmm, yeah, there’s always I think scope to really condense down what you’re saying. A lot of that jargon is unnecessary.
I actually think a lot of science students and scientists maybe don’t fully realise that they’re actually doing science communication anyway. You know, as a fundamental part of their job. And so the question is, you know, how do I do it better?
And they have experience that they maybe don’t realise is actually experience like if you’re recruiting participants, for example, you’re speaking to the public.
And as you say, I think a lot of it is about learning how to be more concise and efficient. I mean, you called your book Presenting Science Concisely, which I think demonstrates that that’s, that is at the heart of the matter.
I know you had a chapter about three minute presentations and I love how you used Josh Chu Tan’s 3MT talk as an example. So Josh is one of our mates.

Bruce (00:23:12)
Ahh, great.

Michael (00:23:13)
I met him at the three minute thesis competition and stayed in touch with him. We’ve even had him on the podcast as well. I went to the footy with him. Josh, if you’re listening… Shout out to Josh, he’s great. So, yeah, I love that you, you’ve highlighted his talk there.
But I really wanted to ask you about this, I guess, the art of being concise. You know, especially when it comes to storytelling. Because I guess a lot of people might think of this idea of like an epic saga when it comes to stories. But epic stories can be short as well.
Yeah, I’m just curious to to ask, you know, how can people learn to be a bit more concise when telling stories?

Bruce (00:23:58)
I think you can just, let’s say you’re a student and you’re getting near the ends of your research and you’re ready to have to start, you’re doing your presentations. Not just to your thesis committee, but to other people outside your thesis committee. Perhaps you’re going to your first meetings and things.
And I think it’s really focus on what, what your problem is. First thing is try to figure out what your, the problem is that you’re addressing and say that. First of all, write a paragraph that explains what your problem is. Reduce that to a couple sentences. Reduce that to one sentence. You can get it down to one word, that would be great. But it’s not essential that you get it to one word if you can get it to one sentence.
Once you’re clear on that, what is the problem that you’re doing and a problem that kind of covers the whole range of your thesis? I mean, maybe there’s you know, four different experiments and different kinds of aspects of the work that you’re doing. Get that down to one. Still put them all together. What’s the big picture there? What are you working on? Get that problem really clear.
And then ask yourself, why is that problem important? Who does that make a difference to? And I don’t mean that it’s going to cure cancer or something like that. I mean, maybe it is. Who knows?
I mean, maybe there’s going to be a big thing. But it may have only importance for your field, right? It may be a little thing that’s going to change how we see the neutrino. It’s going to tweak a little, tweak one of those little pieces in an equation, you know, and that’s all it’s going to do. But it’s an important, it’s an important little tweak. That’s still important. So it may be important for a niche, some niche in your discipline.
So why is your work important? What is the problem you’re addressing? Why is it important? And then if you could solve that problem, what difference would it make? That’s kind of what it, why it’s really comes right out of why it’s important. But it’s a slightly different thing.
So if you can answer those questions, you can put together a talk. Those are the essential things that you need for putting together a talk.
And I’ve taken students through that process and it works really well. I mean they, they start to see the picture of their thesis or the picture of all their research that they couldn’t see before because they were down, we say, in the weeds in the US. They were down in all the materials of how they got things done and stuff instead of what the big picture was.

Michael (00:26:11)
It makes me wonder what is the one word version of the problem we’re trying to solve?
Is it jargon? Do we need to print that out as a target?
And you know, take up archery and shoot arrows at the word jargon.

Bruce (00:26:25)
I, what came to my mind when you asked that was incoherence.

Michael (00:26:30)
Yeah, yeah. You know, in the, in the spirit of being concise, Bruce, we have a part of the podcast towards the end where we like to round out with some really concise, quick fire questions that are a bit lighthearted. And don’t need to think about it too long.

Michael (00:26:53)
But the first question that I would like to ask you for this, the final segment of the podcast is that if you had to pick an alternative career to what you’re doing now, what would it be?

Bruce (00:27:06)
Professional Ski Bum.

Michael (00:27:08)
Oh, is that a? Is that a skiing technique where you, you don’t use your skis, but you actually ski on your bum?

Bruce (00:27:16)
It’s a skiing technique where you travel around the country or the world with your skis in a car,skiing and doing nothing else.
I don’t know where you make money on it though. Probably you don’t do very, you don’t have probably, don’t have very much money in that.

Michael (00:27:33)
If you documented your adventures, maybe, maybe you could write another book.

Bruce (00:27:35)
Yes, there you go.
A videographer, a ski bum videographer.

Jen (00:27:42)
Well, that sounds like a pretty amazing thing to spend your time doing. But you have had a really distinguished career, Bruce.
And I’d love to know of all the amazing things that you’ve done. Can you identify your proudest moment in your career?

Bruce (00:27:57)
I won a major teaching award through my university that was a, that had state recognition, highest teaching, post-secondary teaching award in my state.
And because of that, they asked me to speak at the December graduation. So I was in, I was in there in a coliseum that was almost full of students and their parents because it was a December graduation.
The graduating class was smaller. Still big, but smaller. So that means they could invite their aunts and uncles and everyone else. It wasn’t restricted. Then they could fill up huge parts. And that was pretty, that was pretty amazing to stand in front of that audience.

Michael (00:28:37)
Oh yeah. I mean, it’s such a special moment for students and their friends and family.
Was there a recording of that talk? I’d love to listen to it.

Bruce (00:28:47)
Hmm I, there is some place. I’m not, you know, I can summarise the talk in the sense of being concise very quickly here:
‘You did it!!!’

Michael (00:29:00)
Wow, talk about being concise. That is, that is excellent.
So next question that I’d like to ask Bruce is a bit of a curveball question.
But if you could go back in time to witness any science event or discovery, what would it be?

Bruce (00:29:15)
Oh, I’d like to sit with Darwin when he was doing his research out in his home, not necessarily on The Beagle and things. But he, when he was sitting there plotting through things and trying to figure out these different aspects. He was like some prince.
He did an experiment where he excluded cows from a certain area of the, of his land in order to see what, what would happen with the number of plants that came up under grazing versus no grazing conditions.
When he did all these cool experiments, he took seeds and had them on duck’s feed and put them in saltwater. And looked how the seeds, how long the seeds took to germinate. I mean, I’d like to sit there and talk to Darwin through some of those processes that he was doing.

Jen (00:30:01)
Oh, I’m so with you there, Bruce. I have been to Down House where Charles Darwin lived and I’ve walked his sand walk.
And gosh, I would have loved to have walked it with him and had the chance to chew the fat with him. That would be pretty amazing.

OK, next question, Bruce. I’d love to know. Is there a topic in science that you are super curious about but you’ve just never had the chance to learn anything about or learn enough about?

Bruce (00:30:25)
I wish I’d done more mathematics. I did some in college and I wish I’d done more. And I would say, you know, if we want to bring that into kind of the modern day, I would say Bayesian statistics.
I wanted to learn Bayesian statistics and I just have never been able to do it. I even bought a book on it and just never had the time to, to work through it. Got some very basic stuff.
But the statistics has changed so much since the time I was in graduate school in the 80s to now, 70s and 80s to now that it’s just like night and day. And I really would appreciate knowing a little more about those techniques.

Michael (00:31:02)
Yeah, it’s really interesting, you know, when we think about advances in technology. But there’s also another area that rapidly changes is yes, statistical analysis and how different types of analysis I guess are possible because of different technologies that come around. So that’s a really fascinating answer.
Well Bruce, we’ve got to the final question now with the podcast. You’ve given us some great advice already. But I would love to know, what would your very top tip be for effective storytelling in science?

Bruce (00:31:34)
I think it’s the one that I’ve said already.
Just use the basic structure that you know already. You know that you have to take your background. You have to identify your problem. You have to talk about what you did and you have to say what it means. Just focus on those things, put them in that order. Be very clear on what the problem is. Work a lot on that to get that problem statement down really well.
And then think about what that means to your discipline or society.

Jen (00:32:02)
Bruce, thank you so much for sharing your advice with us, hearing you talk about stories like that. It’s just wonderful for us to hear that we have so much in common in the way we think about science communication and the importance of science communication training.
And it just really is a delight to speak with you today. I know we could have spoken for many many many hours about the things that we care about, but it’s just so wonderful that you made time for us.
And I hope we can find some fun, interesting ways to work with you in the future. That would be absolutely wonderful.

Michael (00:32:34)
Hmm, yeah. If you got any trips out to Australia, Bruce, let us know. We’ll let you know if we have any trips over to the States.
But umm, thank you so much again for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Much appreciated.

Bruce (00:32:46)
I hope so too. That would be wonderful.

Michael (00:33:07)
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