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SCI 3101 The Public Communication of Science

Course Description

A multi-disciplinary approach to communicating Science towards non-specialist audiences by exploring the principles and practices of communication, public speaking and media relations. Theoretical topics include framing issues for various audience-types, use of metaphor and appropriate terminology in story-telling.

Biology Program Learning Outcomes Addressed:

“By the end of this course, the students should be able to -” 

Application of knowledge

  • Acquire and collate the information and data relevant to a given biological question and objectively interpret them to draw an informed conclusion;
  • Use key concepts and methodologies in applied situations ranging from advanced laboratory and field courses to work and research settings.

Communication skills

  • Develop and defend logical, coherent arguments;
  • Disseminate biological information in written and oral format to scientific and non-scientific audiences.

Awareness of limits of knowledge

  • Evaluate recent advances in biological knowledge and recognize the limits of the scientific process.

Autonomy and professional capacity

  • Demonstrate professional work habits and ethical conduct when working individually or as part of a team.


Tuesday 4-530 in CRX C030
Thursday 230-4 CRX C030
DGD sessions: Wednesdays 1-230 in TBT 315 (Note room change)

Office Hours

No office hours during exam period except by appointment only.


Occasionally, I will be required to contact you by email with some info about the course.  Please note that it is your responsibility to check your uottawa email regularly and to respond within a reasonable delay.  You may consult these regulations surrounding email contact at uOttawa here.


Personalize your story 10% of your final grade

  • you will present a 60-second narrative orally on a research article of your choice in the format of an introduction at a cocktail party.  This is your chance to infuse your personality/history into your science by getting personal about it.  In the 60 seconds you will be expected to tell us about what you do (the kind of research), why you find it interesting and how it can be useful to society.  This short presentation must be ready to show upon arrival at the class on Sept. 24.

Respond to pseudoscience/anti-scientific rhetoric 10%
Write an Op-Ed for a newspaper 10%
Mock media interviews 10% (teams of 4 people)
Pitch a business idea 10%
Write a government briefing report 10%
Know your personal bias 10%

Final project:

Debates 30% (teams of 2 people)
Community Service Learning placement 30%

CSL placements

There are a limited number of spots available for the CSL opportunities and they are on a first-come-first-served basis.  The enrolment period is from Sept. 11-13, so please act quickly if this option interests you.  The information presentation about the CSL program can be found here and the information sheet for students can be found here.

For all assignments there will be a component of your evaluation that will be based on an assessment of the quality of your work by the professor and TA, as well as a portion devoted to your own personal assessment of your learning experience after having completed the project (worth 5% of the mark).  Once you have received your corrected/completed assignment back, you will then have 3 days to submit your self-assessment to complete your overall mark.

Over the course of the term, we will receive many guests from various sectors of society that all have a specialization in communicating to the public.  We will learn from their perspectives through brief lectures and will quickly begin to apply that learning towards dynamic and exciting science communication activities in class.

Guest Roster for Fall 2019

Date Guest Learning Activity

Sept. 17 & 19

Jonathan Jarry, M.Sc.
Science Communicator
McGill Office for Science and Society

Debunking pseudoscience and anti-scientific rhetoric
Presentation notes in pdf here

Assignment due on Sept. 19

October 3

Dr. Kevin Orr
Professor of Theatre

Public speaking and using ‘the space’

October 8 & 10

Sharif Virani (H.B.Sc.)
Managing Partner and Creative Director of Media Launch Ottawa

Pitching Science to Business
Presentation notes in pdf here

Assignment due on Oct. 10

October 22 Al Connors
Theatre Manager
Gladstone Theatre
November 5 (rescheduled) Dr. April Killikelly
Scientific Project Coordinator
Public Health Agency of Canada

Government policy reports and briefings 
Notes in pdf format here

Assignment due on Nov. 7 (revised date)

November 7 (rescheduled)

Dr. Kathy Focsaneanu
Professor of Chemistry

Addressing bias Notes in pdf format here

Assignment due on Nov. 18 (revised date)

November 12 & 14 Alex Freedman
Former Producer for CBC TV News
Current Chief of Staff for Chief of Assembly of First Nations

Talking to the Media

Mock Interviews conducted on Nov. 14th

Lecture Topics

There will occasionally be some theoretical material delivered in a classic lecture-format, for which I will post the lecture notes here beforehand for your note-taking.

Introduction to Science Communication Notes in 3 slides or 6 slides per page
Framing for your audience Notes in 3 slides or 6 slides per page


Date Group 1 Topic Group 2
Nov. 21 Rachel & Juliana The Earth is Flat David & Troy
Nov. 21 Chloe & Findlay Human Population Growth Must be Limited Ore & Gregory
Nov. 26 Laura & Jordan All Drugs Should be Legalized in Canada Farid & Amanda
Nov. 26 Matthew & Aparna Applied Scientific Research is More Important than Basic Research Claire & Cian
Nov. 28 Kelsey & Laura Veganism is Healthier than Omnivory in Humans Shayan & Sherry
Nov. 28 Rui & Monique GMOs are Detrimental to Human Health George & Madisson
Dec. 3 Miya, Natasha & Rhyanna Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter are a Cause of Mental Illness in Youth Marly & Pooja

In order to make this experience equitable to both teams (as well as to maximize the science communication learning from this experience), you will not know whether you will argue FOR or AGAINST the issue until the time of the debate.  Because of this, you will need to prepare both sides of the argument, which will allow you to develop a complete view of the issue in question.

The process during the debates will follow typical debate formats: the team arguing FOR the issue will present their opening arguments for 5 minutes, followed by the AGAINST opening arguments for the same duration.  After the opening arguments, each team will have 5 minutes each to offer a rebuttal to the arguments presented by the other’s opening remarks.  Finally, there will be a 2 min allotment for each team to present their concluding remarks on the subject.


You will write an opinion piece (op-ed) to a recognized newspaper in response to a science-related media story that was in the news during this Fall term (published between Sept. and December 2019 exclusively).  The format will follow the Globe and Mail guidelines of 700 words maximum and you will be graded according to the following criteria:

Clarity & precision of articulation – Identify your issue
Logical progression of argument
Relevance and impact of scientific argument
Brief & to the point – no waffling about
Direct & forceful language

The assignment will be due on the last day of classes (Dec. 3rd) and is to be submitted by email in a .pdf format, including a .pdf copy of the original media article to which you are responding.

This assignment is worth 10% of your final grade but I will give you a bonus 2% to your final mark in the course if you get it published in the newspaper.


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