Spotlight on Metcalf Alumni: Torrey Truszkowski

Torrey 180x180Brown University graduate student Torrey Truszkowski has conducted extensive research on the sensory processes of the brain. However, when it came to writing about her research for non-expert audiences, the PhD candidate in neuroscience, whose research has garnered a National Institutes of Health awards, needed some help.

“Mainly because I didn’t have confidence in my ability to do so,” explained Truszkowski of her motivation for attending Metcalf Institute’s science communication workshop in Providence in July 2016. “I figured it would be a good way to get an introduction to how people write about science for a general audience.”

The interactive workshop, supported by Rhode Island NSF EPSoR, helped participants build confidence in writing for a wide variety of influential audiences, from journalists to potential funders.

“I found the workshop super helpful,” said Truszkowski, who used her new skills to draft an article about the effects of musical training on the brain. “Before the workshop, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with a pitch or idea of what to write about” she said. “The workshop helped me figure out which idea would be a workable topic for me.”

Truszkowski is among a growing number of scientists nationwide who recognize the need to improve their written and verbal communication skills to secure funding, advance their research, and engage new audiences, especially at a time when science funding is on the chopping block.

“You have to be able to tell [people] that their taxpayer money is being well spent and that you’re doing something that helps society in some way,” said Truszkowski. “It’s not a skill that you will necessarily pick up by osmosis in graduate school, it’s a skill you have to actually spend time learning.”

Truszkowski learned that lesson all too well in 2015 when she had the opportunity to talk to Congressional staffers about the importance of scientific research as a delegate for the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). “I felt like I was able to say something about why they should care about research,” said Truszkowski. “But I also felt I probably could have done it better if I had more experience with science communication.”

Her experience in science communication, especially verbal, has grown tremendously over the past two years. Truszkowski now hosts Nerd Nite Rhode Island, a monthly event held in more than 100 cities worldwide during which speakers give short informative, fun presentations across disciplines. She’s been a speaker at Brown University’s Research Matters, an event featuring live talks by outstanding graduate students, and has taught and mentored a science communication course for ASBMB. Truszkowski also shares her research on her blog and Twitter.

“Science communication is a critical skill for all scientists,” said Truszkowski. “It doesn’t matter how cool your science is if you can’t tell other people about it.”

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