#banffsci14: A twee-cap

What science and outreach minded person wouldn’t want to spend two weeks hanging out in Banff and talking about science communication? Heck, maybe I’d actually get to meet Jay Ingram.

That was my motivation for applying to the Banff Science Communications program.

It sounded pretty nice, like a mini vacation from my then-reality of wrestling with equations and writing my thesis. I was in for a surprise.

What happened in Banff was much more than just hanging out and getting Jay’s autograph. What happened was an immersive, full contact learning experience, in which all faculty and participants went all-in every day. What happened was creativity unleashed in an emotionally and technically supportive environment.

Two weeks after getting home, I’m still reeling from what happened. Luckily, having already finished my thesis, and with no job yet in sight (please hire me, someone!), I’ve had some time to reflect and put together the following twee-cap of the #banffsci14 experience.

First things first: Banff is beautiful

The first few days: Many lessons for (science) communication

Workshops filled the first few days of the program. From science writing to video to internet things, an entire swath of #scicomm-relevant topics were covered.

Throughout the program, an emphasis was on putting an interesting story around your information.

We had time (and scheduled sessions) for fun too. Our creativity flourished during a clay-making hour: Enter Salsatron, the salsa-dancing robot.

Picture credit: Henry Kowalski.

Salsatron, the salsa-dancing robot. Photo credit: Henry Kowalski.

Many good sound bites came out of discussions about the creative process.

“Darlings” are ideas you have trouble letting go of; no people-type darlings were injured during the program.

Another big idea that permeated the program was that in this type of work, the audience should drive the message.


The baby says, “No one needs to read about your stupid science.” Photo credit: Nick Davila.

Finally, we talked about branding, both in general and on a personal level.

An important part of this is putting your personal touch on the story.

Getting our hands dirty: The group project

Part way through the program, the group projects began. And let me tell you, they really began. It was like someone flipped a switch and the program turned from sunshine and lollipops to the inside of a volcano: the intensity turned up to 11.

Roughly, in the group, we had to be creative and produce on a strict timeline. A website, a podcast, a video, a presentation; all this to be done and only a few short days to do it in.

We begin in the middle, after much of the creative effort to come up with an idea, with the podcast editing.

Next, a behind the scenes look at the clay-creation of an important prop in our video.

We filmed our video at and around the Banff Centre.

Some grunt work ensued, to cut down the raw footage and pick out the clips that were good and useable.

Next, hours were spent in the video-editing booth.

There were celebratory moments along the way.

The presentation was a real event: We had to take care of audio, video, and lights.

Finally, after all the hard work, we received feedback from external guests.

Final hours: Salsatron reappears

This iteration was lovingly constructed by Anna Noga and Kamala Patel.

A fitting final summary

Ultimately, I did end up with Jay’s autograph. But, I also came away with so much more. There is no hyperbole in Raj’s summary:



  1. And I thought I was going to be reading about my favorite pop music subgenre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7PN3YTzuYM

    I love the 6 steps in the creative process

  2. I almost put a joke in about that interpretation of ‘twee’. Almost.

    I liked the 6 steps too! Back story: John Rennie put that slide up during his discussion of science writing. He said it was something he randomly found on the internet, maybe the night before. But it fit in really well.

    In the program, during which time was fairly short, I definitely was able to observe myself going through those stages (fairly quickly) on the various creative assignments.

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