Science Policy Group Writing Workshop

A man stands speaking in front of an audience.

Workshop participants look on as Gus Greenwood reviews some tips and tricks for communicating your work to the public.

“Know your audience” –this was one of the key points addressed on Wednesday, February 6th at the first Science Policy Group Writing Workshop. In conjunction with the Writers Workshop on campus, the Science Policy Group Professional Development Committee held a 90-minute workshop on communicating science to non-scientists. The guest speakers included Ananya Sen, an experienced science communicator and doctoral candidate in MCB, and Carolyn Wisniewski, Director of the Writers Workshop, along with her co-presenter Gus Greenwood, an MS student in Environmental Engineering.

After a brief introduction to the Science Policy Group, Ananya kicked things off right away by having the 26 attendees participate in a stimulating mental exercise. She had them write down how they would explain their research to three different audiences: 1) An expert in their field, 2) A 5-year old, and 3) A peer not in your field. The exercise not only put their research in perspective, but also challenged them to remove the jargon. At the conclusion of the exercise, Ananya answered several audience questions about her journey, how she got started, and what she blogs about. Overall, the attendees felt that the activity and her personal experiences were a valuable part of the workshop.

For the remaining hour, Gus presented helpful pointers in communicating science to the public, such as knowing your audience and getting to the bottom line right away. He illustrated his point by giving an example of talking to his grandmother about his research –how could he pare down and use metaphors and similes? Gus then transitioned into an example of a form of science communication, a policy memo. He explained the basic structures of a policy memo and then introduced the upcoming National Science Policy Network memo writing competition. Many of the attendees expressed interest in the competition and with a March 1st deadline, the timing of the workshop was perfect.

As a final activity, Gus and Carolyn passed out examples of different samples for analysis, including a blog post from a well-known physicist, a Washington Post opinion article, and a few policy memos. After skimming through them and coming back as a group, they pointed out the differences in writing styles, target audience, and technical language used. There was productive conversation and discussion regarding the written examples and collectively, the group agreed that the writers were able to get their point across.

At the conclusion of the workshop, participants were satisfied overall with the workshop content and activities. They learned some valuable tips on communicating science to the general public and information on the upcoming memo writing competition. In addition, Carolyn and Gus provided everyone with additional resources available to them through the Writers Workshop. From Biochemistry to Food Science and Human Nutrition to Economics, the departments represented by the attendees were diverse but still united in the goal to communicate science to the public effectively. This workshop was a great introduction and springboard for future partnerships with the Writers Workshop and science communicators alike to help people from various science backgrounds communicate science to the public.


Event coordination and write up by Alisa King.

Champaign County Environmental Town Hall

Ananya Sen, Department of Microbiology

Dependence on coal has led to long term problems: air pollution, rising carbon dioxide levels, and global warming. Although nuclear energy was meant to offset these problems, disposing nuclear waste has become a bigger issue. It is therefore imperative to consider sustainable and environmentally-friendly sources of energy.

To this end, the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) was passed in 2016 to encourage clean energy measures. The Act was the culmination of a collaborative effort among consumer advocates, environmental groups, and energy companies.

The budget for the energy projects will be from an existing 2% charge on electricity bills. FEJA also takes advantage of net metering, a process that allows consumers to send surplus solar energy, during the summer, back to power grids in exchange for credits. These credits can then be used to offset the cost of energy during other parts of the year.

The resulting legislation will also cause an expansion in wind and solar energy industries with the aim of making them 25% of Illinois’ energy source by 2025. Furthermore, FEJA aims to make renewable energy accessible to low income communities and provide job training in clean energy industries.

On September 14th, 2018, the UIUC Science Policy Group and the Union of Concerned Scientists hosted a town hall to discuss the impacts of FEJA. Invited panelists included Illinois State Senator Scott Bennett, Scott Tess, Reverend Cindy Shepherd, and Tim Montague.

(From left to right): Sen. Scott Bennett, Robby Goldman (SPG moderator), Tim Montague, Rev. Cindy Shepherd, and Scott Tess

What are the benefits of expanding solar development?

Sen. Scott Bennett, representing Illinois’ 52nd district, said that solar panels are more popular than wind turbines. Resistance to wind turbines is due to their size and the resulting noise. Therefore, expanding solar development will allow people to purchase solar panels easily.

Tim Montague, from Continental Electric Construction Company, added that current nuclear facilities will close in 10 years, rendering the land useless. However, the same land can be used to install a solar farm.

What are the renewable energy accomplishments leading up to FEJA and since FEJA?

According to Scott Tess, Urbana’s environmental sustainability manager, Urbana was focused on getting the market primed for solar installation before FEJA was passed. After FEJA, the market for solar array installation has expanded, and Scott said that some of the legislation’s financial incentives can be used to install solar arrays on closed landfills.

How does FEJA benefit lower income communities?

Rev. Cindy Shepherd, Central Illinois Outreach Director for Faith in Place, said that FEJA provides training resources for low income communities leading to job creation. Furthermore, FEJA has special incentives aimed at making solar energy accessible to such communities.

Solar panels have finite lifetimes and will eventually need to be replaced, which is an expensive process. Is that a good trade off?

Coal delivers cheap energy at the cost of global warming, which is a bad trade off. According to Scott Tess, solar panels have a lifetime of 25 years and produce clean energy. Furthermore, the end products of coal and nuclear energy are useless, whereas the solar industry is working on ways to recycle solar panels.

Cindy added that it is easy to despair over the climate threats we face. However, it is important to move forward and take measures to reduce our dependence on coal. Therefore, the environmental movement should aim at pointing out the dangers of coal and the advantages of clean energy.

Cindy Shepherd addresses a question from the audience regarding trade-offs in solar energy expansion.

Champaign County Environmental Town Hall

Join us in the Beckman Auditorium on September 14th from 3:00-4:15pm to learn how the Future Energy Jobs Act, passed in December 2016, will promote development of renewable energy and clean jobs. Panelists come from the Illinois Senate, Faith in Place, Urbana’s Environmental Sustainability Division, and Continental Electric Construction Company. Audience members will have an opportunity to ask questions toward the end of the town hall.

RSVP for this free public event here:

Networking Workshop

Participants practicing their networking skills!

Event Recap:

On September 4, the Science Policy Group Professional Development Committee, in collaboration with Derek Attig and Mike Firmand of the Graduate College, ran a networking workshop. The workshop primarily focused on learning how to craft elevator pitches targeting legislators and other governmental policy makers, as well as more general networking tips for a broader audience. We really wanted to create a single event where participants could both learn how to network and also have the opportunity to practice with experienced professionals, so we invited four additional faculty/staff members from the University to join us for a reception following the workshop. Those professionals were Dr. Ashlynn Stillwell of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Gay Miller of Veterinary Medicine, Doris Dahl of the Beckman Institute, and Melissa Edwards of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. Both Dr. Stillwell’s and Dr. Miller’s research inform policy, and they each have previous science policy work experience- Dr. Stillwell at the Congressional Research Service and Dr. Miller through the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship. Doris Dahl and Melissa Edwards are both experienced science communicators.

Derek and Mike ran the first 45 minutes of the workshop, giving a very interactive presentation on how to network, why it is important, and some common strategies. Tailoring this to the science policy group, Mike kicked off the session by having the group practice elevator pitches, pretending we were pitching our research or job idea to a policymaker. Participants commented that condensing their “pitch” down to 30 seconds was very difficult. Key takeaways here included to NOT to think of it as “dumbing down” the statement, but instead to choose words very carefully, and then practice, practice, practice!

For the next portion of the workshop, Derek gave a more general overview of networking. He emphasized acting as the “host” of the event instead of the “guest,” making sure to introduce yourself  to other people and to invite outsiders into your conversation. The goal is to have a few meaningful interactions, NOT to have one extended conversation or to meet as many people as possible. This part of the workshop easily led to the reception, where the professionals spread around the room and participants grabbed some refreshments and began networking with each other.

Over 40 people attended the workshop and event registration indicated that participants were from a variety of departments and at a variety of stages in their academic career (undergrad to post-doc and research staff). At the reception, the room was abuzz with conversation, and it looked like everyone who wanted to chat was able to find a conversation partner or group. We saw even saw some contact information being exchanged! Participants had positive things to say about their experience, and the faculty were enthusiastic about interacting with the Science Policy Group again in the future.


Marshmallows, Baileys and the Science of International Engineering

Ann-Perry Witmer, P.E., M.S., has followed a curious path through life, ultimately coming to engineering in midlife when she enrolled in the University of Illinois’ College of Engineering after a successful career in newspapering. After graduating with honors and becoming the first civil engineering major ever to win the prestigious Harvey Jordan Award from the College of Engineering, she became a practicing professional engineer in Wisconsin, designing water systems for communities throughout the Midwest.

She also helped to create organizations that work directly with communities in Central America and the Caribbean to provide engineering assistance for disadvantaged communities in need of safe, sustainable drinking water.

Ann now teaches freshman engineering electives as well as engineering service design courses at the university, and she is faculty advisor to Engineers Without Borders-UIUC and AWWA/WEF. Her service travels have taken her to Central America, Africa, Asia and South America, where she’s developed a deep understanding of the relationship between technical and social considerations that must be co-evaluated for communities in need.

She is currently pursuing a novel graduate degree in engineering that investigates the relationship between technical design and non-engineering considerations like politics, culture and economics.

More information: here.

July Newsletter

View online: here.

Save the Grid! Policy Writing Game Night
July 11th, 4:30-5:30 PM, 1105 Beckman Institute

The UIUC Science Policy Group invites you to join our inaugural policy writing game night on July 11th at 4:30 pm at 1005 Beckman Institute! In this game, you and your friends will play the role of an advisory board in charge of rebuilding the power grid for your city after a natural disaster wreaks havoc on the old one. Can you design a proposal to save the grid that is both popular and under-budget?

Players will be given a budget and an idea of their constituents and will have to design a plan using a variety of energy sources to create a complete package. At the end of the event, attendees will present their ideas to the rest of the group for discussion. Dr Clifford Singer, the Director of the Program in Arms Control and Domestic and International Security at UIUC, will moderate the event. Refreshments will be provided!


S|GNS (Science | Government, Institutions & Society) Summit
July 6-8, Chicago IL

Did you know you can use poetry to engage the public in your research? What do you do if someone trusts “alternative facts” more than your data? Want to learn how to be a science comedian? March for Science is live streaming these and other plenary sessions during its S|GNS summit (July 7-8). Visit for details! Recordings will also be available after the meeting.


Wanted: Multimedia Skills for Designing a Webinar Series
Contact Libby Haywood at

The Professional Development Committee is designing a Webinar Series in which we interview Science Policy Professionals remotely. If you have multimedia skills, particularly in video processing/editing, and are interested in working on this project please contact Libby Haywood:

Networking Workshop- Save the Date!
September 4, 1:30-3:30 PM, 5062 Beckman Institute

The Science Policy Group is partnering with the Graduate College to offer a Networking Workshop on Tuesday September 4 from 1:30-3 pm at the Beckman Institute! Participants will craft elevator pitches, meet new people and brush up on their networking skills while enjoying some light refreshments.


Connect with us!

Follow updates from our group on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn, and WordPress.


Join one of our committees!

Are you passionate about science policy? Want to organize our next speaker event? Maybe you want to help young scientists find careers in science policy? If so, all of our committees are actively recruiting new members! If you are interested, email for more details!

June Newsletter

View online: here

Policy Writing Game Night
July 11th, 4:30 PM, 1105 Beckman Institute

The UIUC Science Policy Group invites you to join our inaugural policy writing game night on July 11th at 4:30 pm at 1005 Beckman Institute! Groups of participants will craft basic science policies around proposed scenarios (e.g. national security, public health, environment, etc). Then, groups will have an informal debate to discuss their ideas. These games will allow participants to develop the fundamentals behind writing policy in a casual setting. Dr Clifford Singer, the Director of the Program in Arms Control and Domestic and International Security at UIUC, will moderate the event. Refreshments will be provided!

New York Academy of Sciences Panel: Science Denialism, Public Policy, and Global Health
June 28th, 6:00 PM, live stream link here

From climate change denial, to vaccine fears, to the rejection of the viral cause of HIV/AIDS, science denial has devastating implications for global health. This evening panel discussion for the general public will raise awareness of this issue, explore its causation, and provide a transparent dialogue for enacting meaningful responses to denialism today. The panel will be live streamed on Jun 28th at 6:00 pm and can be viewed here.

S|GNS (Science | Government, Institutions & Society) Summit
July 6-8, Chicago IL

The S|GNS summit is a network-wide meeting for emerging and established leaders across fields to share knowledge, build community, and develop their skills as science advocates, educators, and organizers. It will be held in Chicago, IL on July 6-8, 2018 and is an initiative of March for Science and will be co-hosted by the Field Museum and Hilton Chicago. It is going to be a weekend full of networking, skill-building, and idea-sharing at the intersection of science and society. In addition to talks, there will be workshops, panels, a project expo, and a number of community-building events! The registration fee will be waived for SPG participants–please contact Robby Goldman at if you are interested in attending!

Connect with us

Follow updates from our group on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and WordPress.

Join one of our committees

All of our committees are recruiting new members! If you are interested in having an active role in planning SPG’s 2018 events, email for more details!

Advocating for Science on Capitol Hill

(Robby Goldman–Advocacy Committee Chair, Science Policy Group at UIUC)

I visited Washington, D.C. several times in the past few months to meet with the offices of my members of Congress. I first visited in September 2017 as a participant of the American Geosciences Institute’s (AGI) Geoscience Congressional Visits Days (Geo-CVD). I then returned in March for the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) workshop. Finally, I participated in the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Voices for Science workshop in April. From these trips, I have gained valuable experience interacting with Congressional staff (as well as my Congressman), and came away with a better understanding of my representatives’ priorities and how certain science-based policies fit within their goals.

The objective of each of my trips was to encourage my Senators and Congressman to support increases in science funding commensurate with inflation. Federal support is necessary for sustaining critical, cutting-edge research projects, which are often multi-year endeavors. My own research team, the Volcano Geophysics Lab at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), has been improving methods for predicting when and where volcanic eruptions will occur, a topic of recent national interest thanks to the vigorous eruptive activity of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano. Our research team’s efforts are guided by years of work conducted by our advisor, Dr. Trish Gregg, and her colleagues, and federal funding is necessary for sustaining many of the scientific discoveries that our team has and will continue to make over the coming years.

Members of UIUC’s Volcano Geophysics Lab at the 2017 IAVCEI volcanology conference

Strong and consistent federal science funding is also critical for supporting thousands of young scientists, like myself, across the country through research grants and fellowships. My team’s volcanology research, for example, is funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). In fact, three years of my graduate study will be supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Moreover, as a top (R1) research institution, the University of Illinois has been awarded the most NSF funding of any university for the last six years, which supports thousands of student and faculty scientists.

Given the importance of federal science funding, I was shocked and dismayed in early 2017 when President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposed cuts for numerous science agencies, including NASA (3%) and NSF (11%). Several other Earth science agencies received cuts, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA—16%), the United States Geological Survey (USGS—15%), the Department of Energy (DOE—9%), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA—31%). It was these proposed cuts, and my fear that scientific enterprise was no longer a national priority, that motivated me to visit Washington, D.C.—for the first time—and communicate my concerns to my representatives.

My first visit to the Capitol Building

While in D.C., I learned about the federal budget process, Congressional Committees’ roles in legislating science policies, federal agencies’ roles in enacting those policies, and tips for conducting successful meetings with members of Congress and their staff. I also networked with other politically-engaged scientists and exchanged ideas on promoting science advocacy. Most importantly, I had multiple meetings with the offices of my Illinois representatives: Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Tammy Duckworth, and Representative Rodney Davis (IL 13th District).

The main goal of the meetings was to encourage my members of Congress to support strong and sustained federal science funding, particularly in the geosciences. I conducted these meetings with several other students, usually from the same state or geographic region, and a government-relations liaison. Most meetings were with Congressional staff, who, although less recognized than members of Congress, have a deeper understanding of the very policies that their bosses debate and vote on.

UIUC and Northwestern University students with Mark Copeland (center; Legislative Assistant to Senator Duckworth); 2018 AAAS CASE workshop

Some staffers, like Lauren Aycock, are themselves scientists! I had the pleasure of meeting Lauren—a Congressional Science Fellow for Senator Durbin—twice in D.C. and once at my university campus. We discussed federal science funding, Lauren’s experience as a Congressional Science Fellow, and the importance of sharing stories of our scientific research with both policymakers and the public.

Outside of Senator Durbin’s office after meeting with L.A. Maggie Angel (left) and Congressional Science Fellow Lauren Aycock (right); 2018 AGU Voices for Science workshop

I also had the pleasure of discussing Hawaii’s volcano policy with James Chang, the Science and Technology Legislative Assistant (L.A.) to Senator Brian Schatz. Meeting with James gave me a better appreciation for the role that my research, and that of countless other volcanologists, plays in keeping Hawaii’s residents and tourists safe from volcanic hazards.

Inside of Senator Schatz’s office after meeting with L.A. James Chang; 2018 AGU Voices for Science workshop

While almost all my Congressional meetings have been with staff, I had the distinct privilege of meeting my Congressman, Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL 13th District), in March. Joined by three other UIUC students, we discussed the importance of increasing research and development funding for driving innovation in both our country and Congressional district.

UIUC students with Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL 13th District); 2018 AAAS CASE workshop

From my meetings, I was heartened to learn that science funding is a bipartisan priority. In fact, just two days after my March visit, all my members of Congress passed a spending bill that increased funding for most science agencies for Fiscal Year 2018! Of the six I listed previously—NASA, NSF, NOAA, USGS, DOE, and EPA—none received cuts to their total budgets, and all but the EPA received increases. I feel proud to have played a small, yet valuable, part in defending federal science funding for this calendar year, especially considering that my Illinois colleagues and I had to brave a snowstorm—on the first day of spring—to make some of those meetings possible!

Illinois cohort braving the snow outside the Hart Senate Office Building; 2018 AAAS CASE workshop

We are part of an ever-growing community of scientists who are vocally expressing their support for pro-science policies. Regardless of your familiarity with science advocacy, you too can make an impact! AGU’s science policy website is a great resource (, and I strongly encourage attendees of AGU’s Fall Meeting to schedule meetings with their members of Congress! Together, we can use our voices and expertise to benefit science, scientists and the public here in the United States of America.

Enjoying a view of the Capitol, and the long-awaited arrival of spring, in between meetings; 2018 AGU Voices for Science workshop

May Newsletter


Visit our newsletter online

Inform Committee Meeting
Help us organize lectures by science policy scholars and practitioners by attending our Inform Committee Meeting this Wednesday, May 9 from 5 – 5:45 PM. Please e-mail the committee chair in advance for the location on campus. Contact Sudharsan Dwaraknath at

Date: Wednesday May 9
Time: 5- 5:45 PM
Location: For more details, email

Union of Concerned Scientists Webinar Screening- How to Organize an Event that Makes an Impact!
Come join your fellow SPG members and learn how we can enhance our events and our group! The webinar will include discussion on the types of events that will help achieve our goals, get the attention of our elected officials, and have the most impact on federal or local science-based policies! Plus recruiting people for our events and ensuring that participants feel inspired and are able to stay involved.

Date: Wednesday May 16
Time: 6pm
Location: A446 CLSL

Please sign-up here so we have an estimated number for food/refreshments!
If you wish to screen remotely on your own you can register with UCS here.

Upcoming Celebration of our Graduating SPG members!
We are planning a celebration the week of May 14 to thank and celebrate our graduating SPG members! We’d like to hold a happy hour to wish them well on the next chapter of their lives! If you are graduating and want to take part please fill in your information here.
Please keep an eye out on Slack and Facebook for announcement regarding this developing event!

Date: TBA (week of May 14)
Time: TBA
Location: TBA

Policy Writing Game
The Science Policy Group will be hosting a summer policy writing game similar to a model UN activity in July 2018. Dr. Clifford Singer, the Director of the Program in Arms Control and Domestic and International Security at UIUC, will act as moderator for the event. SPG members will gather into groups, and will be presented with a scenario on which they must craft a very basic piece of science policy. Students will then debate and refine their crafted policy with the advice of the moderator as well as more experienced members of the science policy group. This event will give members an opportunity to explore the fundamentals and complexities behind policy writing in an informal and fun setting. Refreshments will be provided.

When and where: July 2018 (Location, date, and time TBD)

MRSEC event – The Intro: Connection is a Choice
Illinois MRSEC presents a plenary by an expert from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.
This interactive session introduces participants to general principles in how to craft short, clear, conversational statements, intelligible to non-scientists, about what you do and why it matters. The session consists of an interactive presentation and discussion on interpreting technical material using examples and analogies to illuminate unfamiliar concepts to your audience. This plenary will address problems and solutions in public interactions as well as peer-to-peer communication. Participants will be actively engaged in improvisation exercises and will practice clarity in speaking to non-scientists about their work.

Date: Friday May 18
Time: 1:00-2:30 pm
Location: 204 Loomis (Physics Interaction Room)

Join one of our committees!
All of our committees are recruiting new members! If you are interested in having an active role in planning SPG’s 2018 events, email us at for more details!

Connect with us!
Follow updates from our group on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and WordPress!