Be free, break lines and rhymes to communicate your science

As scientists we are trained to communicate our research using particular methods and platforms; predominantly through manuscripts, posters and power point presentations. However, there are diverse ways of communicating, and if we scientists limit ourselves in our methods of communication both to each other and to the public, then we could overlook or miss opportunities to share and learn about science.

In the last five years or so, I have increasingly recognized the value of diverse methods, platforms, for communicating about science and the world around us. I see great value in scientists using, or collaborating to use, art, writing, poetry and other creative outlets to communicate to others about research and other science topics. Indeed, my own passion for poetry has resurfaced since its original peak at age 10 or 12, and I have been further inspired by other science-poets, like Natalie Sopinka (@phishdoc), who’s poetry I’ve read through Twitter.

In 2014, I restarted writing poetry, using the process primarily as a creative outlet to overcome work related stress, and occasionally sharing it with others via Twitter. Through this process, I met Sam Oester (@samoester), and our shared passion for poetry led to us beginning Project Conservation Haiku. From mid-2015 to mid-2016 Sam and I committed to writing a haiku per week about science, conservation or nature, and sharing it on Twitter, and other social media platforms as part of Project Conservation Haiku.

As our collaboration grew, Sam and I met other science-poets, and under the leadership of Anna Zivian (@azivian), Sam, myself and Natalie Sopinka designed a science – poetry workshop for the 4th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC4). We had no idea what to expect in terms of participation, but we were hopeful that we could share with others our passion for using poetry to communicate about science and nature.

Oceans1

“Oceans” – haiku by Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley

Our science-poetry workshop consisted of four talks. Anna opened the workshop with a killer beat poem, reflecting on her journey to the workshop and her growing passion and use of poetry to communicate about science and nature. Natalie presented on the history of science and poetry, making many of us realize that science and poetry were once closely joined, separated for some time, and are now slowly coming back together as scientists once again recognize the value and need for  creative writing in science. I then shared reflections from our Project Conservation Haiku, and talked about the ways in which the project has formed friendships and a sense of community both between scientists, and between scientists and the broader public. Finally, the workshop concluded with a 45 minute Poetry 101 lesson from Sam, where we learned that writing poetry is not as scary as it might seem on the surface, and that we can leverage poetry to help us focus readers on particular messages.

smiles

Smiles, as well as poetry, being shared at IMCC4.

In the end, we had around 20 participants in the science-poetry workshop at IMCC4, and we were blown away by people’s interest, and their contributions during Sam’s poetry writing activities. Along with a lot of learning and sharing, the workshop brought smiles (!), a sight sometimes rarely seen in conservation related discussions and workshops. Throughout the conference we received positive feedback from our workshop participants, some saying the workshop revived their previous interest in poetry, and others sharing that they were previously scared of poetry but after our workshop are inspired to write and use it for communicating about nature. It was amazing to hear that our workshop participants were so inspired and outwardly positive about coupling poetry and science! Anna, Sam, Natalie and I hope to collaborate on future science-poetry workshops and to continue to inspire others to create too; as Einstein says, “Creativity is contagious, pass it on”!

From a professional, and personal, point of view, I have gained a lot from both revisiting my creative writing and from participating in projects like Conservation Haiku and the science-poetry workshop at IMCC4. I have found these experiences to be:

 

A time to reflect,

to grow, create and inspire

a shared mental break.

 

Whereby I share my interests and research, and also gain opportunities to interact and engage with others, reflecting on my own research and career and the paths that these take. In addition, while my collaborations with Sam, Anna and Natalie, have been based on creative writing, the seed for further adventures is now planted. Having built a strong relationship through writing poetry together, we can easily turning that poetry writing into research and outreach programs that further fosters conservation science and application.

Post by Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley (@ConnectedWaters on Twitter) and Postdoc at Universite Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, France.

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