Alan Alda session

Lehigh scientists and administrators learned improv as a way to communicate effectively about their research.

Through Improv, Lehigh Scientists Get to the Heart of their Research

Lehigh will bring back the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science for a new cohort.

On two consecutive days in late July, 36 Lehigh scientists and administrators gathered and learned how to communicate effectively about complex research topics by learning improv.

These improvisation exercises, backed by research on science communication, are a hallmark of the Alda Science Communication Experience. Taught by experts from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, this workshop is underpinned by the idea that broadening scientific understanding requires more than sharing facts and figures; it requires trust. Effective communication is key to building this trust and is imperative to relaying approachable, relevant, and engaging information to individuals across backgrounds and experiences.

A doctoral student participating in the workshop noted that scientists have the potential to cure cancer in the lab, but opportunities are lost if they are unable to communicate their findings to a broad range of audiences.

On the first day of the workshop, participants practiced paying close attention to verbal and non-verbal communication, setting real and achievable communication goals, and crafting a brief talk for a large audience. On the second day, participants learned to engage in difficult conversations successfully and practiced using narrative techniques to share their work and its significance.

"As a junior faculty member, navigating the challenges of communicating beyond the academic realm was not always straightforward,” said Jong Cheol Shin, assistant professor in the College of Health. “The Alan Alda Communications Training proved transformative for me. It not only equipped me with tools to articulate complex ideas clearly but also emphasized the significance of fostering genuine human connections in every interaction. The training was both integrative and deeply inclusive, which I greatly appreciated. It uniquely catered to diverse perspectives, creating an environment where everyone felt recognized and heard."

The workshop garnered positive evaluations from participants across disciplines and colleges.

“The communications training was a very productive investment of my time,” said Natalya Vinokurova, associate professor in the College of Business. “I find myself using the tools from the workshop in both my writing and my teaching. I hope this will become a regular part of faculty development.”

After a successful and constructive first session, Lehigh will bring back the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science for a new cohort.

“Communicating about our areas of expertise to broad audiences is challenging, but it is a critical skill for faculty,” said Lehigh Provost Nathan Urban. “ The broad impact of our work, our ability to collaborate, and our ability to gain support for our research depends on being able to convey the essence of what we do to non-experts. The Alan Alda Center has a great reputation, so I was expecting this to be a valuable experience for faculty, but I don’t think I have ever seen program evaluations that so enthusiastically and universally recommend any program for faculty development. I am excited to join the next Alan Alda Communication Experience, and I hope that interested faculty will join me at the workshop.”

For more information on the training, and to reserve your spot, email provost@lehigh.edu.

Story by Jessica Jackson

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