We Love Talking About Science, and We’re Not Alone

The instructor behind a new graduate course in science communication hopes it will help researchers reach the widest audience possible.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

For information to transfer from the minds of the researchers who understand it best to the people who need to hear it, communication skills are critical. Biomedical engineer Jenna Usprech, instructor at the UBC School of Biomedical Engineering, is helping to build this skill into the educations of emerging researchers.

“I create new curriculum and courses ranging from cellular bioengineering to engineering design, to courses like professionalism and ethics,” says Usprech.

“We run the gamut of topics in genetic engineering. And should we actually edit the genome, is that something ethically or morally that we should do? So there are these really interesting bioethics questions that are at the heart of the work that we do.”

But what really gets her excited is a new graduate course in science communication, where she teaches students how to share their work with diverse audiences, who may not share their high level of science knowledge.

“Generally speaking, what we train our graduate students to do is to communicate their science or communicate their engineering to other academics or other professionals, but rarely do they get training in how to communicate beyond,” explains Usprech.

“The beyond is the rest of the population, the majority of people, so their friends, and their family, and colleagues, and people in industry, people in policy. And teaching, you know, there are lots of different areas that scientists and engineers need training in so they can speak clearly in lay language without the jargon, so people can clearly understand what they’re saying.”

These are the types of skills that are needed to help guide society through some major challenges that we are facing today. Research moves quickly, and people need a clear understanding to enact policy changes for collective action and to motivate change in personal behaviours.

When Usprech led a pilot of her communications course last summer, she found that students noticed “a real difference in their ability to present themselves clearly and calmly and simply.”

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Jenna Usprech, PhD, PEng, is an assistant professor of teaching in the UBC School of Biomedical Engineering. She received her PhD from the University of Toronto, her master’s from Queen’s University (both in different areas of tissue engineering research), and her bachelor’s degree in biological engineering from the University of Guelph.

Usprech joined the University of British Columbia in 2019 so that she could introduce new areas of the field to undergraduate students and continue to be immersed in biomedical engineering education. She is particularly passionate about student wellness, science communication, and classroom strategies that promote critical thought and retention of material.

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