a great story about how he got started on a particular project. He
was intrigued by how mussels tenaciously cling to piers and sea
rocks. So he wondered if he could make a glue that was just as
strong. Well, like many scientific efforts, it took a bit more time
and effort than he thought. But one day he realized the tofu he
was eating for lunch had many of the same proteins that the
mussels have in the secretions they use to cling to the rocks.
Ultimately, based on this eureka moment, he developed an environmentally friendly, soy-based glue that is now being used in the
Who would listen?
Now, you might say that stories like the one above are few and far
between. I don’t think so. I suspect you, too, can tell a story about
your research that resonates and is memorable.
When you tell your story, be conversational and use examples,
metaphors, or analogies that are familiar to your listeners. Keep
the idea of the jigsaw puzzle in mind as you speak.
Still don’t think it can be done? Well, at the 245th ACS National
Meeting in New Orleans, we challenged students who presented
at an undergraduate research poster session to describe their
work in a simple way that someone who isn’t a scientist would
understand and appreciate. In essence, we were asking them to
become Chemistry Ambassadors (see box) and join nearly 9,000 of
their fellow ACS members in helping to educate people about the
importance of chemists and chemistry.
Tips from the winners
More than 50 students participated in the “Speak Simply” poster
contest, and 16 of them won. The winners communicated simply,
distilling their stories down to their very core. And their advice on
how to do it yourself is well worth heeding.
Take Ryan James, a 2013 graduate of Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) in Arkadelphia, AR, for instance. “My research dealt with
Ewing’s sarcoma, a very aggressive pediatric bone cancer,” he says.
“No parent wants to see their child go through something like this.
Sometimes we can forget about the human element when we’re
doing this type of research. But to the public, the human element
is generally all they care about: how this research will benefit
them. Basically, I wanted these judges to walk away knowing that
we have a viable option to help cure these individuals of this very
aggressive cancer without the dangerous treatment options avail-
able now such as chemo, radiation, or surgery.”
“Always think about the consumer,” James suggests. “Just like on
a TV commercial, which tells you a bit about the product but then
spends the majority of its time explaining how it is going to benefit
you… That’s what I like to think of when people walk up to me.”
Kelsey Willis, an OBU senior, suggests reviewing your presenta-
tion with a non-scientist. “It’s the best way to determine the parts
of your talk that contain too much scientific jargon,” she says.
Shantell Rolle is a junior at Florida International University in
Miami whose winning explanation described a way to use essen-
tial oils from the Brazilian pepper tree to kill mosquitoes responsi-
ble for spreading dengue fever. Rolle urges her fellow undergradu-
ates to avoid focusing on the nitty-gritty details of their research.
Instead, she advises, answer the following questions: Why is your
work important? What is your ultimate goal? How will this make a
difference in the world?
And if all else fails, you can always try following Kevin Romero’s
approach. The junior at Linfield College in McMinnville, OR, suggests
eliminating science terminology from your explanation entirely.
“Every time you reference science words and phrases, you’re
going to lose a little bit of their interest,” he says. “You’re getting into
a realm that they’re unfamiliar with. So you have to find a way to
convey your passion for the science without actually mentioning it.
You have to find a middle ground. It may take you out of your com-
fort zone, but it closes the gap that your listeners have to bridge.”
The bottom line is: no matter how you do it, try. Speaking simply
and distilling your message down to its essential core will make a
difference in your career and, ultimately, in the lives of others.
Doug Dollemore is a senior science writer in the ACS Office
of Public Affairs.
ACS Undergrad Speak Simply Poster
Contest Debuts in New Orleans
Fifty-five students participated in a Speak Simply contest during the
Undergraduate Poster Session at the 245th ACS National Meeting
& Exposition in New Orleans earlier this year. The judges, who were
distinguished chemists and ACS staff members, chose 16 winners,
who each received a $25 gift card.
Shapnil Bhuiyan, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Carly Engel, College of the Ozarks, Lookout, MO
Samantha Hughes, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain
Ryan James, Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, AR
Hollyn McCarty, Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, AR
Samantha Monk, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN
Kiley Morgan, University of North Georgia, Dahlonega
Joshua Olexa, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, St. Mary’s City
Christa Riggs, Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, AR
Shantell Rolle, Florida International University, Miami
Kevin Romero, Linfield College, McMinnville, OR
Stephanie Steiner, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA
Fred Tomlin, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA
Greg Trieger, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, St. Mary’s City
Kelsey Willis, Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, AR
Nicole Yorden-Lopez, Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, Ponce
Share the Chemistry … Imagine the Reaction!
Chemists help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges
and improve people’s lives through the transforming power
of chemistry. But not everyone knows that. By becoming a
Chemistry Ambassador, you can help educate people about
the importance of chemists and chemistry, while taking part
in community activities that you find engaging and fulfilling.
Go to www.acs.org/chemistryambassadors.