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Communication skills training benefits GLOBES IGERT trainee


Patrick Shirey, a graduate student working toward a PhD in Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame, uses interdisciplinary research at the intersection of ecology, history, and law to inform ecological restoration efforts. A fellow in the Global Linkages of Biology, the Environment, and Society (GLOBES) PhD training program funded by an IGERT grant from the National Science Foundation, Shirey was invited to write a commentary for the journal Nature after presenting his research last August at the Ecological Society of America meeting in Pittsburgh. In a paper that appeared in the Jan 27, 2011 edition, Shirey and co-author GLOBES faculty advisor Gary Lamberti issued a call for better regulation of commercial trade of rare and endangered plants. A search of thousands of websites described in the study found that 10% of the plants listed under the US Endangered Species Act could be bought or are at least advertised online, with most sold without the required permits for interstate commerce. The paper urges government agencies to take more of a leadership role to monitor translocations because of the risks associated with introducing new species that can also transport pests and pathogens in addition to the risks of hybridization.

As a follow-up to the Nature commentary, Shirey was interviewed for “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio (NPR) on Feb. 7, 2011. The talk attracted public attention to the need for better regulation and enforcement of existing laws in addition to addressing state law discrepancies that govern species distribution. Shirey has put to good use the skills and practice acquired through GLOBES communications workshops and credits the training for helping prepare him for the interview session with NPR.

Intensive learning and hands-on sessions with workshop guest experts give GLOBES trainees the confidence needed to become more effective communicators of their research to non-scientific audiences. The workshops are highly interactive: students write and critique “one-pagers” (short descriptions of their research), participate in mock interviews, hear real world stories from guest journalists, and learn about the newest technology in the form of podcasts and video production. And, as a result of hearing Shirey speak on the NPR show, students in the Natural Resources Club at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, recently invited him to talk on the subject of uncoordinated assisted colonization facilitated by commercial Internet trade.

In June 2010, as one of three recipients of the Graduate Student Policy Award from the Ecological Society of America (ESA), Shirey produced a podcast that aired on ESA’s “The Ecologist Goes to Washington” which features the stories and reflections of scientists who have engaged their local, state, or federal governments in addressing the broader implications of their research. In the ESA podcast, Shirey discusses Asian carp research at Notre Dame, the politics of invasive species control, and how a background in law have informed his research in endangered species.

GLOBES-IGERT trainee Patrick Shirey has honed the ability to deliver expert testimony by communicating science in a way that makes research findings understood by the average person. The acquired skills and experiences will serve him well in a future career in which he plans to connect the worlds of science, media, and policymaking.

Address Goals

Scientists who communicate effectively with the media and policymakers are critical players in efforts to develop lasting solutions to environmental health challenges. Whether battling the high profile threat posed by Asian carps to the Great Lakes region or the mundane purchase of gardening plants over the internet, science researchers know the stakes are great. Both cases are examples of increasing numbers of invasive plants and animals that wreak billions of dollars of damage annually to ecosystems, agriculture, and industry in the U.S. alone. Education is one of the most effective ways to counter the potential for damage by invasive plants and animals. News and story coverage by various media aid prevention methods by raising public awareness of invasives prior to populations being established in new locations.