A lesson in translating science

Students in Molecular Biology and Society developed pandemic-themed projects to hone their science communication skills.
May 11, 2021

This spring, Molecular Biology and Society (Biology 3025) were asked not only to master scientific content but communicate it to the public. Course instructors Aaron Engelhart and Kate Adamala, assistant professors in Genetics, Cell Biology and Development (GCD), each tasked the students in their section of Molecular Biology and Society with creating infographics about COVID-19, vaccines, or the pandemic more broadly geared toward a general audience. Aaron offered his perspective on the approach they took and the value of asking students to translate what they learned in class. See a sample of the student work below. 

What did you hope students would take away from creating these infographics?
In this class, we work to give the students a strong foundation in molecular biology to prepare them for their upper division courses. Additionally, there is a "society" component - students have weekly discussions about ethical and societal issues relating to molecular biology (e.g., gene editing, human cloning) and the course is intended to prepare students to carefully consider and effectively communicate about these issues.

Why is it important for students to fine-tune their ability to communicate science? How is that different from some of their other coursework?
Conveying to the public the meaning and importance of what these students will do in their careers as scientists and health professionals is critical. This is something we've all had a firsthand view of over the last year or so as the pandemic unfolded. The course is half scientific content to prepare them for upper-division science courses and half discussion about ethics and society. During weekly discussions, they work in small groups preparing write ups of their discussions of ethical and societal issues in a more formal format. In this assignment, they were asked to prepare a social media post with an infographic and consider how they'd communicate with the public.

What was the biggest challenge students had in completing this project? 
One of the most challenging things in science is to consider your audience when you're communicating scientific information. This can be true even when communicating with other scientists who work in other fields. Communicating with the public presents its own set of rewards and challenges and I was really impressed with how our students rose to the occasion and did some great work.

Student infographic project examples


COVID-19 infographic

By Samantha Betterman


COVID-19 infographic

By Elizabeth Chaney


COVID-19 infographic

By Alex Huynh


COVID-19 infographic

By Marissa Erickson


COVID-19 infographic

By Madeline Wethington