About

Peat Coring in Belize

Public domain image (U.S. Geological Survey)

I’m a scientist who has discovered the value of using video to show how I conduct research, to illustrate my methods, and to explain science concepts. I’ve spent the last forty years conducting research and using traditional outlets to report my work: technical reports, journal articles, book chapters, and conference presentations. These activities were necessary for building a science career, but the products were seen by only a few scientists and students interested in the specific topic of my research.

About ten years ago, I began noticing that there were lots of videos about scientific topics on YouTube and similar sites created by non-scientists—some good and some not so good.  The second thing I noticed was that many of these videos—even the silly, inaccurate, poorly produced ones—had been viewed by, in some cases, millions of people. By comparison, my journal articles had been read by a handful of people. I also noticed that scientific journals were creating videos and podcasts to supplement written articles and were asking authors to submit their own videos to illustrate their work. I also saw that a few scientists and students were starting science blogs in which they talked informally about a science topic, and some included videos to illustrate the concepts they were blogging about.

USGS

Public domain image (U.S. Geological Survey)

And it occurred to me that things were changing rapidly in science communication, but many scientists were not keeping up with these changes. At the same time, I was being told by the government agency I worked for that in addition to technical publications, I should be providing more science information to non-scientists. My first reaction was that I didn’t have time to do outreach and also meet my scientific goals. I also didn’t have a clue about making videos or setting up a blog.

But then I realized that by becoming more proficient in science communication, particularly with multimedia tools, that I would be in a position to share my research more broadly, raise my online profile, and keep up with the changes in electronic publishing and reader expectations for media-rich content. I saw that to be competitive in the future, a scientist would need not only new skills in multimedia but a new attitude toward science communication.

In 2008 I decided to explore video as a means of sharing my scientific knowledge with a global audience. I began filming my scientific fieldwork and, after learning the basics of movie-editing, started using that footage to produce videos about my research and that of colleagues. computerscreen_klmckee

After some trial and error, I was able to publish, through my science agency, a series of science videos. I began getting lots of feedback from viewers and saw that my videos were being linked to by various science organizations and individuals.

In 2012, I set up this website (and a video channel) in which I could more easily share my video-making experiences and insights with other scientists and students. To date, I’ve produced eight peer-reviewed science videos and over 100 video tutorials showing how to plan, shoot, and edit a video to deliver a science message, as well as reviews of equipment. In 2013, I published an eBook, The Scientist Videographer, which is an interactive guidebook to videography for scientists. In 2014, I began teaching video-making workshops and webinars for colleagues and students. Through these activities, I hope to encourage other scientists and students to use video to share their knowledge with the world.

—Karen McKee, Ph.D.

Brief Biography:

Dr. Karen L. McKee is a Scientist Emeritus (retired) with a U.S. science agency and an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University. She received both a master’s degree and doctorate in botany and conducted research in the field of wetland plant ecology for forty years. While working for the U.S. government, she studied the effects of elevated CO2, sea-level rise, and hurricanes on wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta (Louisiana, USA) as well as in other wetlands around the world. Her work has been published in over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. Dr. McKee also has produced several peer-reviewed videos that describe her research and other topics of general interest such as climate change and large river deltas. She authored the book, The Scientist Videographer, which promotes science communication by teaching scientists and students how to use video to tell their science stories. In addition, she is co-founder and trustee of a non-profit organization, The Wetland Foundation, which provides travel grants to students in wetland science to attend conferences and conduct field studies.

For more details, see Other Science Contributions

 

Recent Posts

Use Video To Tell Interesting Stories About How Science Works

When I first began making videos in 2008 about my scientific research (published on the U.S. Geological Survey’s YouTube Channel), my objective was to more widely report the findings of my projects and to help advertise my journal articles. For example, the video “Chasing the Mud” was designed to explain how I and colleagues studied the effects of the historic 2011 Mississippi River flood and to summarize the results of our paper published in Nature Geoscience. When I was interviewed by a news agency about the paper, I provided the link to the video, which the journalist then embedded in the news article. The video, which has had almost 12,000 views, thus served to augment the academic article in a format that was more accessible to the general public.

However, beyond reporting the results of our study, that video also featured the unique wetlands we visited during our sampling surveys and showed how we used a helicopter to access remote study sites in the Mississippi River Delta Complex. In later videos, such as this one about a study conducted in mangrove forests in Belize, I often emphasized my experiences doing fieldwork and the methods required. In other words, these videos showed the viewer how science gets done and some of the interesting places where scientists work.

Since those early videos, I’ve tried to encourage colleagues to make videos highlighting interesting aspects of their work and to avoid boring the viewer with a lot of data. Another point is that you can make a video about your work even before the final results are in or before you publish the paper. For example, you can make a video about why your research is important to society, to describe your field of research, obstacles you’ve overcome, your unique research setting or methods, or to overturn stereotypes about scientists. All such videos can be done without research results and are likely to be more interesting to the average viewer.

A recent essay and video illustrate my point nicely. Adrian Smith, who studies ants, filmed himself being bitten. In the video (see below), he basically answered the question as to whether it would hurt to be bitten by a trap-jaw ant, which can shut its jaws “faster than almost any other recorded animal movement”. In the essay, Smith said that this experience changed his outlook on communicating science. He realized that, by mainly focusing on conveying the results of scientific endeavors, he had missed opportunities to tell more compelling stories about his experiences doing science. By emphasizing a fascinating observation or answering a question that viewers might have, it’s possible to reach a wider audience and interest them in your research topic. His video below shows an example of this approach.

You, too, can take advantage of this approach and make a video about an interesting or inspiring aspect of your scientific research. Below, I repeat a list of suggested topics to use as the focus of a brief video.

  • Share your joy about doing science.
  • Describe what you like most about being a scientist or your particular science discipline.
  • Talk about a challenge that you faced and how you overcame it.
  • Describe a failure and what you learned from it.
  • Show where you work (laboratory or field) and explain what you like about it.
  • Demonstrate your passion for your scientific topic and why you think it is important.
  • Describe how your curiosity led you to a discovery.
  • Talk about scientific integrity and how you strive to avoid bias.
  • Point out the challenge of finding sufficient funding to conduct your research.
  • Show how your research is helping a local community cope with a health or environmental issue.
  • Have citizens, resource managers, farmers, doctors, or other end users of science information describe the importance of your research to them.
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