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The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) is dedicated to accelerating scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. We support new interdisciplinary collaborations that pursue data-driven solutions to pressing socio-environmental problems. SESYNC features a range of services from project inception through results dissemination, including supporting the team science process, meeting planning and facilitation, travel and logistical support, and cyberinfrastructure resources. SESYNC is funded by an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation. Learn more about SESYNC.

I2Insights: Ten Communication Tips for Translational Scientists

July 19, 2016

Sunshine Menezes, member of SESYNC's Translational Ecology pursuit team.

Ten communication tips for translational scientists

By Sunshine Menezes

This blog post originally appeared in the Integration and Implementation Insights blog (http://I2Insights.org) as “TEN COMMUNICATION TIPS FOR TRANSLATIONAL SCIENTISTS," and is reposted with the author’s permission.


As someone who works with scientists, journalists, advocates, regulators, and other types of communication practitioners, I see the need for translational scientists who can navigate productive, start-to-finish collaborations between such groups on a daily basis.

This translation involves the use of new, more integrated approaches toward scientific work to confront wicked environmental problems society faces.

In spite of this need, cross-boundary communication poses a major stumbling block for many researchers. Science communication requires engagement with potential beneficiaries, not just a one-way transfer of information.

Effective communication is a key component of translational science, requiring both theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

To that end, I offer ten tips for translational scientists seeking more effective communication:

1.) Stop referring to the “general public”

There is no such thing. Each of us brings a different suite of experiences, biases, and values to how we view the world. A translational scientist must recognize this, and respect that these diverse perspectives occur among the beneficiaries, stakeholders, and other scientists with whom she collaborates.

2. ) Start a conversation

Academics are very good at talking to one another, but listening is a critical aspect of integrative, cross-boundary thinking. Good listeners can help others open up, providing new information for the discussion and building trust along the way.

3.) Accept that trust only goes so far

In spite of the previous point, it is possible that you might not be the optimal translator for a given interaction. Depending on a person’s background and values, he or she is likely to trust some people more than others. While your Ph.D. might open doors to a new academic collaborator, it could close the door to a person who entered the workforce after graduating high school. Or not. It is important to consider these biases and include team members who can build a rapport with all the necessary stakeholders.

4.) Remember your – or your friend’s – love for Lego

I was forever changed by my interaction with a sculptor who said she learned how to understand the world by playing with Lego. She meant that some of us learn by reading, some by looking at two-dimensional images, and others by experiencing three-dimensional representations. These different learning styles cannot be undervalued when attempting to collaborate across disciplines and boundaries.

5.) Feel all the feelings

Scientists are trained to view their work objectively, and to present themselves as impartial observers. But remember that your humanity, your expression of emotion, can sometimes strengthen collaborations, especially with stakeholders who exist outside of the ivory tower.

6.) Embrace change

Let’s face it: wicked problems are constantly evolving. A translational scientist must adapt and be willing to move past approaches that no longer suit the problem.

7.) Recognize differential power dynamics

Many levels of power dynamics are at play when investigating/resolving complex environmental challenges. Identify these dynamics and address them in your interactions.

8.) Explain uncertainties

Researchers accept scientific uncertainty and work within its constraints, but those outside of the scientific community view uncertainty as a weakness, at best, or ineptitude, at worst. You can bridge this gap by noting consensus where it exists, describing the uncertainties associated with your research, and explaining how scientific uncertainty does not necessarily preclude policy action.

9.) Practice your writing skills

Academics tend to undervalue brevity. Be an example to your colleagues and collaborators by practicing this skill. Make time for regular writing and seek feedback.

10.) Become a negotiator

In the political sphere, compromise is often viewed negatively. But when it comes to solving complex environmental problems, compromise is unavoidable. By honing negotiation skills, you can foster discussions, and possibly solutions, that might otherwise be out of reach.


What would you add to the list? Are you teaching these skills in your graduate courses? I look forward to hearing your thoughts about how to better incorporate these skills and related knowledge in graduate education.


Biography: Sunshine Menezes is executive director of the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography (URI GSO) and associate director for communication in the URI GSO Office of Marine Programs. She also co-leads the Engagement Team for the Deep Carbon Observatory, a global community of multi-disciplinary scientists unlocking the inner secrets of Earth through investigations into life, energy, and the fundamentally unique chemistry of carbon. Prior to focusing her communication efforts on improving news coverage of the environment, she developed national and state-level environmental policy, first as a Dean John Knauss National Sea Grant Marine Policy Fellow with Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. and later as part of a multidisciplinary team at the URI Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant. She is a member of the Translational Ecology pursuit, funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).


Agent-Based Modeling Short Course

SESYNC invites applications for a 5-day short course that will serve as an introduction to the theory and practice of spatially-explicit agent-based modeling.

SESYNC Welcomes Summer 2016 Interns!

June 10, 2016

SESYNC Associate Director of Education, Dr. Cindy Wei, University of Maryland graduate student, Alec Armstrong, and the SESYNC 2016 summer interns! Intern Angelica Li not pictured.


Communications Intern

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) proudly welcomes undergraduates from University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) and Coppin State University (CSU) to our 2016 summer internship program!

Starting June 6, 18 dynamic undergraduate students joined the SESYNC team for a summer of experimental learning and valuable professional experience. Interns will be challenged to use critical thinking and problem solving skills in order to address both social and environmental issues presented to them in their work.

Each intern is paired with a mentor, either on UMD’s College Park campus, in SESYNC’s Annapolis center, or at CSU.  These interns represent a diverse group of undergraduates, with varying backgrounds and research interests.  Interns will assist their mentor in data collection, management, compilation, and more. Once a week, all the interns will convene at SESYNC to share and reflect on their experiences, and to participate in activities on topics from data synthesis to science communication.

Check out our diverse group of summer 2016 interns and their mentors!


Adrienne Beerman

  • Major: Biological Sciences
  • Mentor: Kelly Hamby 
  • University: UMD

Aisha Ward

  • Major: Biology and Life Sciences
  • Mentor: Mintesinot Jiru
  • University: CSU

Angelica Li

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy: Environmental Politics and Policy
  • Mentor: Melissa Kenney
  • University: UMD

Beatrice O'Connor

  • Major: Government and Politics
  • Mentors: Ariana Sutton-Grier and Melissa Kenney
  • University: UMD

Belton DeLaine-Facey

  • Major: Biological Sciences: Ecology and Evolution
  • Mentor: Cerruti RR Hooks
  • University: UMD

Ben Swartz

  • Major: Biological Sciences: Ecology and Evolution
  • Mentor: Kate Tully
  • University: UMD

Brije Smith

  • Major: Biology and Life Sciences
  • Mentor: Mintesinot Jiru
  • University: CSU

Christodia Forsen

  • Major: Political Science
  • Mentor: Mintesinot Jiru
  • University: CSU

Coline Bodenreider

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy
  • Mentor: Alba Torrents
  • University: UMD

Devin Simmons

  • Major: Geology
  • Mentor: Daniel Engelberg
  • University: UMD

Heather Levine

  • Major: Engineering: Mechanical Engineering
  • Mentor: Evan Ellicott
  • University: UMD

Jake Shapiro

  • Major: Government and Politics\
  • Mentor: Julie A. Silva
  • University: UMD

Jessica Ho

  • Major: Biological Sciences:General Biology
    • Minor: Sustainability Studies
  • Mentor: Karen R. Lips
  • University: UMD

Natalia Jaffee

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy: Environmental Economics
  • Mentor: Michael Gerst
  • University: UMD

Noah Maghsadi

  • Major: Anthropology
    • Minor: International Development and Conflict Resolution
  • Mentor: Lea Johnson
  • University: UMD

Ryan Bolt

  • Major: Atmospheric and Oceanic Science
    • Minor: Geographic Information Systems
  • Mentor: Joe Maher
  • University: UMD

Tonle Bloomer

  • Major: Engineering: Bioengineering
  • Mentor: Cerruti RR Hooks
  • University: UMD

Virginia Hagerott

  • Major: Environmental Science and Policy: Environmental Politics and Policy
    • Minor: Spanish Language and Cultures
  • Mentor: Elizabeth F. Daut
  • University: UMD

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating data-driven scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at www.sesync.org and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.



Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 

SESYNC Welcomes Ian Carroll

May 31, 2016

Ian Carroll, SESYNC's new Data Science Instructor

Ian Carroll, SESYNC's new Data Science Instructor


Communications Intern

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) is pleased to welcome Dr. Ian Carroll, as our new Data Science Instructor. 

The position of Data Science Instructor entails teaching workshops on cyberinfrastructure and its utilization. “I am most excited for the live teaching. It’s exciting; you get immediate feedback on how well you are doing,” said Carroll, who thinks his days teaching in front of groups will be his real pay-off days. 

Carroll comes to SESYNC from Georgetown University, where he developed web-scraping tools as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Bansal Lab. Carroll received his Ph.D. in theoretical ecology from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2012.

Carroll was drawn to SESYNC by the “…diverse opportunities to be engaged with the environmental academic community in a way different than just being involved directly in research.” Carroll looks forward to lending a unique perspective to working groups at SESYNC, as he believes his background in ecology will help connect gaps between ecologists and data scientists. Carroll joins Philippe Marchand, also a SESYNC Data Scientist, in helping the Center's supported researchers overcome the computational and methodological challenges they face.

A native Marylander, Carroll enjoys sailing and cooking in his free time. His specialty? Homemade cherry pies, with cherries picked from his wife’s family farm in New York.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating data-driven scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at www.sesync.org and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.



Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 


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