The "Friends of Joe's Big Idea" is a vibrant community of talented people we think you should meet. FOJBI Friday introduces some of these cool communicators of science, in their own words. This week: Jessie Yaros.
I am a Ph.D. student in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. My research explores the neural mechanisms of what's called the Other-Race Effect. You are likely all familiar with the saying, "They all look the same to me." This adage encompasses the tendency to better recognize individuals within our own race, relative to those in other race categories. There is plenty of behavioral research on the social phenomenon, but little understanding of how the brain generates the effect. My research explores how certain calculations in the hippocampus — the memory center of the brain — alter the ability to discriminate between same and other-race faces.
On the importance of working with the media
As a newbie scientist, I believe I have a responsibility to present my research in a way that makes sense to people outside my field. All too often, I see studies grossly misreported by some members of the media, with snappy headlines making entirely unfounded claims. For example, a headline that says "XXX Could Help You Lose Weight!" might more accurately say "XXX Helped 15 Rats Lose Weight In A Study That Was Published In A Fringe Science Journal, Kind Of."
This won't go away anytime soon. But if researchers participate with the media more actively, perhaps it will be less likely to happen to our own conclusions. And if not, at least we'll know we tried. Furthermore, since most academic papers are trapped behind pay walls, the public cannot easily get access to primary science sources. Readers are effectively discouraged from exploring the validity of those headlines. That's all the more reason we should be publicizing accessible interpretations of our findings.
On the difficulty of communicating – it's harder than it looks
If anything in my first paragraph discussing my research seemed confusing, it's because I am still learning how to talk about it! To hone my communication skills, I've thrown myself into various #scicomm endeavors over the last year. These include providing content for Joe's Big Idea, and writing reviews for various science blogs, as well as for my lab's website. I had a piece featured on UCI News, albeit uncredited (and tirelessly edited by Tom Vasich of UCI Media Relations). I've also recently become a staff member at KUCI, the campus radio station, where I hope to contribute science segments to the news programs. For now, I'm still getting used to hearing my own voice on the air.
Getting through graduate school and spouting science along the way!