College of Humanities and Social Sciences
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Graduate Certificate in Science Communication

Eric Olson, 2013

Eric Olson

When I read about the new science communication program, I was instantly intrigued. I had already completed my master’s degree in communication, but here lies a huge challenge with environmental and human health as the stakes. I couldn’t pass that up. I brought experience in a number of media topics and methods to bear on science communication problems with positive results. I learned that science communication barriers are unique, but not insurmountable. Discovering the contexts in which science takes place and how these are often at odds with the public’s perceptions was an exceedingly valuable pursuit. Messages should never be formulated without first understanding the audiences/stakeholders, their needs, and their capabilities. When science is concerned, there is often extra wrinkles to be considered. Without the work that I completed in the program, I may have never recognized them.

During my second tenure at GMU, I had my first solo publication accepted: a media literacy research project/proposal. I have spun that out into an ongoing research project concerning the potential opportunities found in the convergence of media and science literacy. I worked with staff of the Library of Congress through the Field School for Cultural Documentation (FSCD), where I developed enhanced interviewing and presentation techniques. I also began an ongoing documentation project that features a nearly forgotten civil disobedience from mid-twentieth century United States. My writing partner and I have tracked down participants and documents from across the country, and we continue to develop presentations and other possible media.

For me, the value of the science communication graduate certificate cannot be overstated. During the course of my time in the program, I fully embraced the field. This work is always going to be challenging, and it is always going to be changing. I find that to be enormously exciting! I have worked on a number of science communication projects in the wake of my time at Mason; ranging from editing science proposals to evaluating the communication strategy of a science/environmental organization.

However, my most significant contribution to the science communication field is as the director of the Science Communication Network Initiative. I have been working on this project, which is housed at the National Science Communication Institute (NSCI), throughout the past year. In that time, I have spoken to organizations with science communication, outreach, and advocacy goals from across the country and abroad. Our goal is to form a collaborative network of like-minded organizations so that we can share resources, opportunities, and opinions about our similar pursuits. This has yet to be attempted, but we believe that more communication between these groups can create more awareness about the field and importance of science communication, as well as strengthen the efforts of each individual member.

Everything that I learned is at play here. Interviewing, persuasion, quantitative/qualitative research, web content management, science writing, community-based social marketing, audience analysis, project evaluation… As we move into open discussions and engagement, I know that I will continue to develop new tools at a rapid rate. It will be interesting and challenging in equal parts, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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