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Episode Info:

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, “Storytelling in science?” Does it conjure images of scientists gathered around a campfire taking turns telling stories? Probably not, but the role of storytelling in science is a relevant topic to explore. Bringing her passion for both the entertainment sector and science, Sara ElShafie joins the podcast to talk about storytelling in science.

Sara works at the intersection of art and science, with one foot in academia/museums and the other in the entertainment industry. She is interested in all aspects of public engagement with science, especially through the museum and online platforms.

Sara has broad science communication experience as a trainer, instructor, project developer, science writer, and public speaker. She created a workshop series, Science Through Story, and she has run workshops at venues such as the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, NASA Ames, and Science World in Vancouver. Sara also consults on science storytelling and public outreach strategy, including projects for major theme parks, museums, and scientific institutions. She recently organized a symposium, "Science Through Narrative: Engaging Broad Audiences," at a major biology conference with speakers from the scientific community as well as arts and entertainment industries.

Sara received her Master's degree in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and she is currently working toward her Doctor of Philosophy in Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

What You’ll Hear On This Episode of When Science Speaks
  • [1:05] Mark introduces his guest, Sara ElShafie.
  • [3:00] Sara talks about the intersection of her interests in entertainment and science.
  • [5:50] What led Sara to her work with science outreach?
  • [9:30] Advice from Sara for those who want to get engaged with science policy, advocacy, outreach, or communication.
  • [13:20] How scientists and artists both work to distil complexity.
  • [18:20] Why is storytelling so powerful?
  • [23:00] Science communication isn't only about delivering the facts.
  • [26:00] Should scientists stay out of politics?
  • [30:50] Sara talks about the first mammal to go extinct due to climate change.
  • [33:30] What are Sara’s professional goals?
Connect with Sara ElShafie Storytelling, science, and cutting through complexity

Unless you are in front of an extremely niche group, you’ve got to find a way to cut through the complexity of your subject matter to get your audience engaged. One of the best examples of speakers who regularly cut through complexity are the professionals who give TED Talks. At a TED Talk, you will often find speakers who have specific expertise, but their audience doesn’t share that same specialized knowledge. TED Talk presenters have to navigate this disparity, not by dumbing down their content but by connecting their content to something almost everyone can find relevant.

We need more scientists who are willing to put in the work necessary to help bridge the gap between their specialized field of study and the general public. Most people don’t think of science and storytelling as a natural pairing likely due to the common association of storytelling with fiction. With her work in science communication and her “Science Through Story” workshops, Sara ElShafie is hard at work on the front lines highlighting the value of storytelling in science.

How to get involved with science policy, advocacy, and communication

Now is the time to get involved, we’ve seen many reports both nationally and internationally that underscore the need for increased public awareness for topics like climate change. If you are ready to join in the effort to distil the complexity often associated with science communication and policy work, where is the best place to start?

According to Sara ElShafie, you don’t need to go anywhere to get started with science policy, advocacy, or communication; you can start from where you are. Find a local or in-state conference on science communication, search for local workshops on topics that interest you. Don’t let your lack of proximity to Washington D.C. or your lack of formal training limit your ability to get engaged. Heed Sara's advice and jump in where you can, we need more people who are invested in this crucial topic.

You can go further with Sara’s fascinating perspective by listening to her full conversation with Mark and by visiting her website.

Connect With Mark and When Science Speaks

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