Hamel’s doctoral research is on parent-offspring communication in insects, but for the course she prepared a presentation on amphibian conservation. Presenting on a topic unrelated to her research was, she said, a great learning experience. “I had to read and think about a field of research that is not so far from my own, but it’s not what I’ve been doing for the past five years. I had to read about it, think about it and then think about how to tell that story with no jargon and no preexisting knowledge.”
The experience also pushed her to be prepared. “When you get a Ph.D. in biology, a member of the community or your family expects you to be an expert in biology and to interpret biology for them. It was a really good preparatory exercise in that way,” said Hamel.
At her first presentation, she got firsthand experience of the challenges of presenting science to the public. During her talk, an audience member became increasingly upset and confrontational, particularly taking issue with her use of data from United Nations-funded projects as evidence that biodiversity was declining. Hamel recalled the experience as uncomfortable but ultimately positive.
“It was my first experience presenting information to the person who really needs to hear it,” she said. “He had strongly held misconceptions about science, scientists, the agenda of scientists, conservation, biodiversity, about all of it. I am actually quite glad it happened when I was still in graduate school.”
Hamel subsequently gave the same presentation at additional venues, including two adult-living facilities, an alumni event, the local library and on a local television show.
For Hamel, the course has better prepared her as a scientist: “I see it as just one more thing in my toolkit: How am I going to speak to the public about this topic that they don’t know anything about? I think that is a really valuable skill set to have as a scientist.”