New this year: science in a flash

Published December 01 2018

Effective communication is critical to your success as a scientist. You often have only a few minutes, or a few sentences, to impress employers, influence grant-making agencies or provide a quote to a journalist.

So, what if you got one figure, four minutes and a microphone to describe your research — could you do it?

At the 2019 American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Annual Meeting, the Science Outreach and Communication Committee (formerly the Public Outreach Committee) will challenge graduate student and postdoctoral researcher travel awardees to push their science-communication skills to the limit at a flash talk competition.

Each flash talk will focus on the research described in the speaker’s submitted abstract. For presenters, this is an ideal opportunity to think about their projects in different ways.

Could you give a great flash talk?

Here are a few tips:
You only have four minutes and one slide, so you can’t describe your entire project. Identify the goal of your presentation, and start there when drafting your talk.
Write a draft of your talk and run it through a program like the De-Jargonizer. This software reads your text and identifies jargon in red. Be sure to address the jargon — either eliminate it or explain it.
Practice, practice, practice. Use a stopwatch. You must be able to deliver your talk within the time limit, or you will be penalized. Make note of the places where you get caught up, and work to improve them.

“Scientists often get caught up in the minutiae of their work, forgetting about the bigger picture,” committee member Parmvir Bahia said. “This contest allows trainees to boil the research down to its essence. By considering how their work is relevant to a wider scientific audience, it might also help them appreciate the potential for collaborations outside of their narrow field of interest.”

Before the annual meeting, committee members will provide online training to the travel awardees focused on the skills necessary to give a successful flash talk. Every second counts, so they’ll share tips and tricks to ensure each speakers are using their time wisely. They’ll discuss ways to organize the flash talks to have the greatest impact. And they’ll talk about ways to describe science without using discipline-specific jargon. These strategies will help speakers connect with the audience, whether that audience consists of ASBMB members, scientists in different disciplines or even nonspecialists.

A panel of expert science communicators will score each flash talk using a rubric focused on the clarity and quality of the presentation. The panel will reward the presenter earning the highest score with some fun ASBMB swag. While the panel can choose only one winner, everyone wins at the end of this contest. All presenters will receive their scores, making this a great opportunity to get feedback on their science-communication skills.

What does this mean for you if you didn’t receive a travel award?

The audience is the most important part. This competition is a fun way to hear some great science while relaxing and networking. Grab a snack, sit back and cheer on the presenters. At the end of the event, be sure to vote for the speaker you think should take home the audience choice award.

An invitation from the chair

Ever had a colleague whose description of their research project/idea/data was so riveting you wanted to change fields? To find a way to collaborate? Or at the very least, to find a way to similarly sell your own science? ASBMB flash talks at Experimental Biology will showcase scientists sharing their ideas in ways that inform and invigorate. Join us and be impressed.

—Susanna Greer, chair of the Science Outreach and Communication Committee

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Danielle Snowflack Danielle Snowflack is the director of education, professional development and outreach for the ASBMB. Follow her on Twitter.