In today’s world, it is impossible to go a single day without encountering science in our lives. From the medications we take to the debates we hear about in the news over issues like climate change, hydraulic fracking, and healthcare, science is an active presence in the daily life of scientists and nonscientists alike. For nonscientists, this chaotic world of scientific research can be confusing and intimidating, especially considering the average person ends their formal scientific education in high school. Society has a greater need than ever before for accurate, accessible, and timely scientific information…but where can the average person go for this information?
Fifteen years ago, Liz Whalley, a graduate student at Harvard, recognized the need for accessible events for adults to learn about current scientific research. Early in her graduate training, Whalley became frustrated at what she saw as a lack of understanding of science issues among the public. “When I looked at the cause of what that was, I realized there wasn’t any place for people to go for a basic understanding of the science behind the issues,” said Whalley. “I realized graduate students are really well poised to talk to the public. We could spend a little more time and effort thinking about the type of questions people would have, and answer them.” To address this glaring need, Liz founded Science in the News (SITN), a graduate-student run organization providing free public seminars focused on current scientific issues.
Today, the Science in the News Lecture Series consists of nine lectures on Wednesday evenings on the Harvard Medical School campus, given by graduate students on scientific topics from all areas of science research—astronomy, biology, physics, health sciences, and more. Each lecture is given by a group of two to three graduate students who work with the coordinators of the series to develop a talk that includes the most recent research and data in the field, while also being comprehensible and clear to everyone. With the success of the lecture series, which is attended by 100+ members of the public each Wednesday, SITN expanded their Internet presence in the last few years and established a livestream that allows viewers from all over the world to watch the lectures online. Viewers can also submit questions to be answered during the regular question breaks with the speakers throughout the lecture.
In addition to the lecture series, SITN has grown in the last few years to include a Spring Lecture Series (on the Cambridge campus), monthly science cafes “Science by the Pint” hosted at The Burren in Somerville, and regular publication of articles on their online blog, Signal to Noise. These programs not only provide the public the opportunity to engage with scientists, but also allow graduate students to hone their communication skills on complex topics. Fourth year PhD student in biological sciences Kevin Harlen gave a lecture in the 2013 series, an experience he stated “allowed me to explore, research, and present on a scientific topic that I am truly passionate about. Often times we as scientists become focused within our scientific communities and forget that we also have a responsibility to connect with the public…. SITN provides a forum where scientists and the public can come together and discuss the science that is impacting our society today.”
Science in the News may have had humble beginnings with just a few graduate student members, but over the last 15 years it has grown to be the largest student-run science outreach organization at Harvard. Having a strong presence in the Greater Boston community through its regular, free, and entertaining educational events, SITN looks forward to growing even more through its global online presence and partnerships with other schools in the decades to come. Happy 15th Birthday SITN!
The Fall 2015 Lecture Series is held on Wednesday evenings, 7:00 p.m., September 24 through November 19 at the Armenise Auditorium at Harvard Medical School. Check out the SITN website for more information.
Kelsey Taylor is co-director of Science in the News with Vinidhra Mani. Science in the News is a graduate student group generously supported by Harvard Medical School, the Graduate Student Council of the GSAS, and the Harvard COOP. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org