Grad students and faculty gain insights at AAAS

Three graduate students and two faculty members from LSC presented their research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San Jose, California on Sunday, Feb. 15. AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and brings together scientists, communicators and policy makers annually to further the missions of scientific work.


From left to right: chair Dominique Brossard, director of graduate studies Dietram Scheufele, and graduate students Leona Yi-Fan Su, Kaine Korzekwa (department communicator) and Nan Li. Not pictured graduate student Xuan Liang.

Graduate students Leona Yi-Fan Su, Nan Li, and Xuan Liang were part of the AAAS poster session, while department chair Dominique Brossard and director of graduate studies Dietram Scheufele sat on panels in conference sessions.

“AAAS in particular is a great opportunity for our students to present their work to an interdisciplinary audience at the intersection of science and society,” Scheufele said. “More and more scientific associations are discovering the importance of science communication, and LSC graduate students are uniquely positioned to set research and policy agendas in these areas.”

Scheufele’s talk at the meeting was part of a panel called “Going Public: Investing in Science Communication for Scientists.” He explored the reasons why science communication is important and how to create sustainable funding infrastructures to ensure its continuation.

Brossard was part of a panel discussion titled “Scientists Engaging with Reporters, the Public, and Social Media: Survey Findings.” During the panel, researchers from the Pew Research Center presented the results of their newest study, which surveyed AAAS scientists. The study concluded that “47% of American scientists use social media” and “87% of American scientists say scientists should take an active role in public policy debates about science and technology.”

However, Brossard cautioned Pew’s interpretation of the results, calling attention to the fact that only AAAS members were surveyed — not a random and representative sample of American scientists.

“Who are these AAAS members?” she asked. “They are 71% male and 39% are over age 64, which isn’t representative of American scientists. Also, AAAS markets itself as an advocacy organization so we need to be careful when interpreting what percent think scientists should be advocates. That may not be true if we actually consider all American scientists.”

Brossard contrasted Pew survey results with a recent study among UW-Madison scientists, which yielded less optimistic results.

Keep reading more below for short Q&A’s with the graduate students that attended the conference.

IMG_3387Graduate student: Nan Li

Title of poster: Visualizing the nuclear fuel cycle: An experimental study of non-experts’ performance and confidence in data quality

What is your research about?

We did an experiment with undergrads at UW-Madison to see how they understand and evaluate data visualizations. Are there ways in which we can present science visually that will help people understand and learn it better?

Why do you feel the research you presented is important?

I think this work is important because it helped us develop strategies that we can pass on to scientists that will help them create better visualizations. These can enhance audiences’ learning and boost their confidence in data quality.

How you think participating in the AAAS poster session will help your career as an academic?

This was my first time participating in a general scientific conference like AAAS. I think this experience allows me to think more about my career, not only as a student researcher but also as a social scientist whose works can inform real-world decisions and benefit others.

IMG_3392Graduate student: Leona Yi-Fan Su

Title of poster: Engaging the public in nano: How science museums and centers are using social media

What is your research about?

Social media has given science centers and museums new opportunities to communicate with their stakeholders, visitors and the general public. In this study we looked at how science centers within the national Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net) engage with the public. By analyzing the content of their social media message and usage of communication tools, we were able to see whether the direction of the communication is one-way or if it matches the two-way engagement model promoted in the scientific community.

Why do you feel the research you presented is important?

This study has some important underlying implications. It’s important for science centers and museums to be aware of how they use social media and communicate with different audiences — and what affect that work could have on those groups.

How you think participating in the AAAS poster session will help your career as an academic?

I got the chance to have very fruitful discussions with professionals from academia, industry and science centers. We discussed the implications of the results and how the findings of this specific case study could be extended to other realms. I got ideas for how to push my research to broader audiences. I also already miss the sunshine and 70-degree California weather!

IMG_3389Grad student: Xuan Liang

Title of poster: Seeking and learning: examining selective exposure to media coverage of a controversial scientific issue

What is your research about?

In the context of communication about complex and controversial scientific issues, this study explores the way that someone seeks out information (via traditional media, online media or social media, etc.) can affect how they learn and retain the knowledge they find.

Why do you feel the research you presented is important?

Scientists and policy makers have been engaged in reaching out to lay audiences but how does our swiftly changing media environment affect their efforts? Because media diets have become more varied and more personalized, it is important to examine how this affects an individual’s understanding of science. Our findings provide insights into how people search for information about a controversial scientific issue in our modern information age and how that information is learned.

How you think participating in the AAAS poster session will help your career as an academic?

It was a great privilege to attend and present my research at the conference. This experience improved my communication skills across disciplinary and professional boundaries. Sharing the research that I have been conducting at UW-Madison at the world’s largest general scientific society and learning from other researchers and scientists was a phenomenal and rewarding experience that I will cherish as a highlight of my academic career.