To STEM, or to Communicate Science… That is the Question!
BY DANA TRICHARIO
“Nothing in science has any value unless it is communicated” - right? This week, GOS editor, Dana, talks about her journey into science communication and finding that balance between being a scientist and a communicator.
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a marine biologist. It was hard not to love the ocean; how it made me feel, the mystery of it, and the innate need to want to protect it. The stark reality for many who start off in the field is the competitiveness to obtain jobs. This persists long after the textbooks have closed and you’ve achieved your degree(s). The most significant thing I have learned as a professional in marine biology is that, to truly make a difference in this field, you must come to terms with the interdisciplinary nature of this ever-changing profession.
As a millennial, navigating my way in this ocean world and understanding how I wanted to make a difference often seemed very black and white. I either had to choose a creative path or a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) path. That said, I went with the latter and used my passion for the ocean to fuel my desire to excel in a STEM field, especially because women were under-represented in these areas. I took the difficult science classes, worked with Great White Sharks in South Africa, and became a scientific diver and Divemaster while obtaining my Master’s degree. Working in the field gave me everything I wanted in a job... with one exception. I wanted the public to know about the threats to the marine environment and what individuals could do to make a difference.
The funding chaos that can often be associated with the science field soon uprooted me from this field-based career trajectory. I went from Biological Science Technician at Biscayne National Park, to National Park Ranger Dana who had to quickly adapt to the educational side of conservation. Yes, this means I wore the infamous flat hat at work- it was all the rage that season! I juggled the research and education, working for several non-profits, and after finding my place in a close-knit ocean conservation network, one thing became clear. The general public can give the ocean voice if we provide them with accessible information. There are so many more public stakeholders than there are informed marine biologists in the World. As science communicators, we need to capitalize on this by increasing the reach of our messaging to the general public.
Currently, I work at an organization that focuses on a range of issues. From sea level rise resiliency and clean water, to ecosystem protection and restoration, we cover as much as we can within our capacity. In order to achieve these goals, we focus on education and outreach and political and legal advocacy rooted in sound science. For example, to try and alleviate the prolific problem of marine debris, we researched the harmful impacts of this form of pollution and subsequently, our team was able to educate the public and policy in such a way that several municipalities we work closely with have banned straws. In my mind, this intersection of disciplines is the key to achieving the greatest success in ocean conservation.
If I were to talk to my young academic self now, I’d remind her that focusing on the STEM field is important; it gives you the “street-cred” and knowledge to become part of the marine science community. However, to truly excel in this field, education and advocacy are equally as important as science. Women have a tendency to sell themselves short. However, we are much more intelligent and well-rounded than we give ourselves credit for. If women recognize their ability to communicate the science they are conducting, and of course, continue to follow their passion in this competitive field, we will continue to successfully impact positive environmental change. By teaching and inspiring others we are able to expand our impact beyond our own work, influencing meaningful change for the oceans that can last for generations.