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.

3 thoughts on “Use Video To Tell Interesting Stories About How Science Works

  1. Great message about story telling, Karen. Thanks making me aware of Adrian Smith’s cool science and videos. Wow. I really like the list of suggested topics for science videos. Your overall message about story telling reminds me of a video that I presented at the recent agricultural science conference where I was encouraging and hoping to inspire more scientist to use video to tell their science stories and increase it’s impact. Below is a link to my video that was followed by 3 others describing some of the techniques and tools I use to make my science videos. Bamboo, Oil and Ice Cream. Why Scientist Need to be on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ldf_6gbYJn0
    Take care, Eric

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