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How’s Your Elevator Pitch? Communicating the Value of Your Research

Susan Skomal, PhD
President/CEO, BioOne

scientific communication

Be honest, what was the expression on the face of the last non-biologist who asked about what you are researching? Did their eyes sparkle with enthusiasm . . . or was there a heartbeat of silence followed by a confused nod and quick change of subject? 

Where the elevator pitch usually falls short is in the scientific language used. If your opening line included a phrase such as “potential coextinction of mutualists,” “significant negative relationship,” “reproductive isolation” or even “paleoethnobotanical assemblages,” chances are that eyes glazed over just as you were getting to the best part.

Whatever biologists, or any scientists, study should be intensely interesting to anyone. Yet, because science has its own vocabulary and norms for explaining what is important, at least half the relevance is quickly lost in translation. Your responsibility as a scientist is thus to: 1) satisfy your own community that you have conducted sound scientific research; and, 2) share the results with others in ways that they, too, will resonate with what fascinates you. Each of these jobs requires a different strategy, usually delivered in a different language.

Just as you were taught the proper format for presenting your argument in a scientific context—introduction and literature review, materials and methodology, results, interpretation, and discussion, followed by conclusion and implications [1]—communication beyond the lab must also be learned. A quick, easily understandable elevator pitch is just what you need to get this conversation started. After all, your audience may include funders, academics or scientists in fields other than biology, and the general public. Good strategies include:

  • Leading with the bottom line, then supporting it with an example.
  • Personalizing your topic to create empathy, even if it’s a toxic spider or lichen.
  • Using simple language and avoiding technical terms--however important they might feel.
  • Using active rather than passive verbs to bring the words closer to your audience.

You are working in the age of social media, thus your work will benefit when you can speak clearly to the hearts and minds of those who are not specialists in your own scientific field.

BioOne offers an opportunity to learn and practice these skills by competing in the BioOne annual Ambassador Award. The award honors early career authors seeking to communicate their research beyond their immediate discipline and to the public at large. See the 2018 and 2019 winners at The BioOne Ambassador Awards for great examples of biologists translating research on topics such as medicinal plants, outmigration from the Nepalese mountains, and the impact of railways on tortoises  - to name just a few! - for a broader audience.

For more information on the BioOne Ambassador Award, contact Alexandra Frankel at alexandra@bioone.org.


Links:

2019 BioOne Ambassador Award Winners:
http://www.bioonepublishing.org/BioOneAmbassadorAward/2019/2019Winners.html

2018 BioOne Ambassador Award Winners:
http://bioonepublishing.org/BioOneAmbassadorAward/2018B1AAWinners.html

 


[1]Scientific Writing Made Easy: A Step‐by‐Step Guide to Undergraduate Writing in the Biological Sciences,”

Sheela P. Turbek, Taylor M. Chock, Kyle Donahue, Caroline A. Havrilla, Angela M. Oliverio, Stephanie K. Polutchko, Lauren G. Shoemaker, Lara Vimercati. Bulletin Ecological Society of America, 03 October 2016. https://doi.org/10.1002/bes2.1258