By David Kroll
Like four of the Nature Research Center’s laboratory directors, my position as director of science communication is another partnership with NC State. As an adjunct associate professor of English, I teach graduate students science writing for the media and undergraduates the principles of news and article writing. My 20-year academic research career focused on the discovery of anticancer drugs from natural sources such as plants and microorganisms, instilling a deep respect for nature’s chemistry laboratory. I began my independent career at the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy from 1992 to 2001, and split my time in North Carolina between Duke University, Research Triangle Institute (now RTI International) and North Carolina Central University before joining the Museum of Natural Sciences last January.
Dean Jeff Braden notes that getting me appointed to the graduate English faculty “certainly raised some eyebrows on campus.” But he explains, “We felt it was essential that the College of Humanities and Social Sciences be involved with the NRC because, although the natural sciences are not in our college, the study of public opinion, discourse, and understanding of sciences is.” Effective science communications requires scholars from multiple disciplines, he adds.
I’ve always been involved in providing accessible science and medical information to the public — everyone who has taken prescription and over-the-counter drugs — and health professionals. While at Colorado, I benefitted from fruitful interactions with broadcast and print media. These experiences led me to appreciate the role of journalism in serving the public with objective and easily consumable information on the science that affects daily lives.
My current focus is to combine my expertise in communicating complex scientific topics with my digital media efforts dating back to my first blog in late 2005. I’m currently a regular contributor to the pharmaceutical and healthcare section of Forbes.com and write on science education issues for the CENtral Science blog platform of Chemical & Engineering News, the news magazine of the American Chemical Society.
As scientists are increasingly called on to engage with the public, funders and policy makers, my focus at NC State is to enhance didactic and practical offerings in science writing, the public understanding of science and science policy. In addition, I’m working with museum and NC State faculty colleagues on social media approaches to science communication. All of these areas are fertile ground for joint research projects with faculty and students.
Communication skills are becoming more important for doctoral trainees in the sciences and engineering as the employment market for traditional laboratory positions lags. Last fall, half of the students in my graduate science writing course were NC State graduate students in the sciences. Some sought to incorporate freelance writing into their careers while others simply wanted to learn skills to improve their communication with non-scientists. I’m currently working with Department of Communication chair Ken Zagacki and his faculty to broaden these interdisciplinary offerings across the campus.
In this partnership, NC State students and faculty will have access to resources to tell the stories of a 134-year-old North Carolina institution that has itself transitioned into a more interactive space for social engagement with the scientific process.
Similarly, NC State students and faculty can work via public outreach programs managed with my colleagues — Deputy Director of Education Katey Ahmann and Assistant Director of Science Communications Brian Malow — such as science cafés, “meet the scientist” small group discussions, science trivia nights and multimedia presentations in the museum’s marquee theater, the SECU Daily Planet.
We welcome students, faculty, staff and members of the community to join us for any of these daily and weekly events. Stay up-to-date with all of the museum’s activities at naturalsciences.org, on Twitter @naturalsciences, or on Facebook at facebook.com/naturalsciences.