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I'm an assistant professor of neuroscience at Washington State University in Vancouver, where I use tiny zebrafish (the size of an eyelash!) as a model system to study human hearing loss and how we can prevent it. I'm also a long-time Toastmaster and I teach communication workshops. This blog represents the merging of my two passions - science and communication, which has really become one central passion - the science of communication. There's a revolution in science right now...the idea that we scientists should sometimes leave the lab and talk about what we do, and why we do it, to real people. This blog looks at why we should do this, and how to actually talk about science with non-scientists (and with each other!). Portions of this blog are also featured on Qualia, the AAAS MemberCenter blog site.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick, Treat, or Talk

On a fine Halloween day, why not sprinkle a little Halloween spirit into your talk? Dr. Gwenn Garden of the University of Washington did just that, giving us a little light-heartedness at the beginning of her neuroscience seminar today. Dr. Garden studies glia - the cells in our brains that neurons can’t live without. Rather than using a laser pointer to show us features on her slides, Gwenn used her fairy wand-today she was the glia fairy!  Her opening slides also included analogies to candy corn-anyone hungry for some Halloween candy? 

Halloween aside, Dr. Garden told us two stories today about different kinds of glia and how they work, or don’t work, in the case of neural degeneration.  And she set the stage for her stories by giving us a little insight on how three men named Charles would think about glia: Charles Darwin (the evolutionary perspective), Charles Dickens (a tale of two glia), and Charles Shultz (Good grief Charlie Brown, glia are complicated!). After she had us all laughing, we were ready for her stories, complete with interesting data and complicated interactions between cells. 

Dr. Garden showed off two important features of science communication:
1)   If it’s a holiday, why not bring that holiday theme into the talk?
2)   Serious science can be described with a smile, a laugh, and a few good stories.

So Happy Halloween! May your next talk be the right mix of glial fairy dust (or maybe astrophysics fairy dust if that’s more your thing) and good science with a good story.

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