communication

Career Advice from Mary Pat

marypat

At school, we are constantly given assignments to work in groups.  Often it is not the subject matter that makes the projects hard, but it is the coordinating of all the group members.  I wanted to get the perspective of an EPA employee who is tasked with coordinating a variety of people, so I sat down with Mary Pat Tyson. 

 

What is your position at the EPA?

I am the Branch Chief of the Air Toxics and Assessment Branch.  I manage three different sections: Toxics and Global Atmosphere, Indoor and Voluntary Programs, and Air Monitoring and Analysis Sections.  

Do you have prior work experiences that led you to the EPA?

During college I worked in a laboratory analyzing water samples for a drinking water project.  During that time I became aware of the EPA and different programs.  I started at the EPA in the Superfund Division working on hazardous waste site cleanup.  I moved on to a Branch Chief position in the Water Division where I worked on planning and grants along with the tribal programs.

What is a typical day like for you?

On a typical day I come in, check my email, and then meetings start.  Around 8, I have people in and out of my office for the rest of the day.  I have meetings with my boss, the section chiefs, and different state agencies.  I am also the President of the Federal Managers Association for EPA and work on issues that are of interest to federal managers.

What is the best part of your job?

Getting work done!  Getting to know the people and the work that excites them.  I love hearing about their work and helping out where I can.  In my role, I get to help people achieve their highest potential.  I enjoy communicating with section chiefs to make sure we have a strong team. 

Did you always have an interest in the environment?

I grew up in the city.  I enjoyed playing at parks, but never really was a nature person.  In high school a teacher suggested I study engineering because I was good at math and science.  This eventually led to me focusing in on studying environmental engineering.

What classes did you take in school that you use on the job today?

I took some practical classes about project management with teams.  Those have been very useful on the job.  In addition, math, science, and chemistry classes are always important.

Do you have any advice for kids today who have an interest in protecting our environment?

There are so many clubs and organizations to get involved with and learn about the environment.  Every neighborhood has opportunities to do your part.  In addition, the web is an info explosion!  You can learn how to start a compost pile in your backyard from a website.  It is important to stay close to the earth.  Take science and math classes.  The opportunities are endless!

 

Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Swapping Stories

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.
By Aaron Ferster

Last week science communication colleagues from across the Agency gathered together at a conference center outside of Washington, DC to talk shop and finalize a strategic communication plan for effectively sharing EPA research results and outcomes.

Paul Anastas, the assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, the science arm of the Agency, has placed a premium on science communication. “Great work, done invisibly, cannot have impact,” he says. “Communication is essential in the design, definition, conduct, transfer, and implementation of the work we do if we are to have an impact.”

Dr. Anastas was not just talking to the members of the science communication team, but to everyone involved in research and development at EPA. Never the less, as you could imagine, as those on the front lines of communication we all found his words rather energizing.

While at our meeting, we reviewed communication plans and consulted with one another to identify best practices across EPA’s various research labs centers, and offices. We spent time discussing ways to quantify and track our work so we can make sure we set appropriate goals, effectively reach and serve intended audiences, and work efficiently.

As the science writer on the team, my favorite part of these meetings is always listening to stories about EPA research. This meeting was a good one for identifying great science stories. Just a few examples include:

  • EPA researchers working to build a computer model that simulates embryonic development, a “virtual embryo” that will serve as a screening tool for testing the toxicity of chemicals on the developing embryo.
  • n a research project already underway, an interdisciplinary team of EPA researchers and their partners are studying the effects of near-roadway pollution on human health.
  • Across the country, EPA ecologists and other experts are exploring ways to better understand and quantify “ecosystem services,” the myriad ways that natural ecosystems benefit human society.
  • One research project still in the planning stages will involve tapping advanced environmental monitoring technologies placed on commercial aircraft to gather data for analysis into important environmental such as tracking climate change and air pollution globally.

And these are just the first examples on my list of notes from the gathering. My colleagues and I will be working to share all of them through this blog, our Science Matters newsletter, EPA’s Web site, and other places over the coming weeks and months. Please stay tuned!

About the author: Aaron Fester is the lead science writer-editor in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and the editor for Science Wednesday.

Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: Translating Science into English

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Grace Camblos is a writer and photographer. Since 2006 she has worked as a student services contractor with the Office of Research and Development’s Science Communication Staff.

Photo of author, Grace CamblosIf an EPA scientist were to tell you, “we use Bayesian analysis to find the range of possible parameter values for our pharmacokinetic models”…would you know what she meant? What if you read in an EPA report that “exposure to residual oil fly ash increases airway reactivity and pulmonary eosinophils during allergic sensitization”?

If you have a background in science, those phrases might make perfect sense to you. But what about those of us without degrees in molecular biology or organic chemistry?

To a large chunk of people, the language of science seems full of mysterious jargon and phrases designed to make our eyes glaze over – or worse, that threaten to overwhelm us and make us feel stupid.

As a writer with EPA-ORD’s Science Communication Staff, it’s my job to translate the language of science into words that everyone can understand, regardless of their familiarity with science. I help write the articles, press releases, fact sheets and web copy that people might find as they browse EPA’s Web site.

Translating science into English can be challenging, to say the least. It’s a balancing act: my words need to be accurate enough to convey what the scientists really mean, but understandable enough to keep the readers interested. It does no one any good if I write about a fascinating, important study, but the reader gives up after the first two sentences.

My own lack of a science background actually has advantages in this situation. I have no problem asking questions when talking to scientists, because if I don’t understand, then there’s a fair chance that readers won’t either. (On the other hand, not having a science background does make getting through those dense scientific reports more difficult. But then, it’s my job to read through the science-ese so others don’t have to. Just think of me as the Cliffnotes version of EPA science.)

Communicating EPA’s science to the public is an important job. As a federal agency, we’re answerable to the public, and clarity of language goes a long way toward more transparency in government. Plus, as more people understand and support the work we do to protect the environment, more funding for environmental protection may come available, creating yet more chances to do good work.

Good science communication: It’s a win-win idea.

To read articles written by the Science Communication Staff, check out www.epa.gov/ord.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications.

My favorite anthropology professor at the University of Pennsylvania years ago, David B. Stout (famously, in his playful words, “not a Leakey lover,” but that’s another story), insisted that scientists are culture bound by their own culture—unable to fluently interact with, or even fully understand, other cultures. This teaching came to mind yesterday during a meeting in EPA’s mid-Atlantic regional office to begin defining a new website about “green infrastructure;” make that “natural infrastructure;” no, perhaps it’s “limited impact development?” or was it “green communities,” or “green buildings.”

My sincere motto at such meetings, of course, is “I’m from the public affairs office and I’m here to help.” Indeed, as the regional web content coordinator, my job is to help make our websites useful, targeted communications tools that follow EPA’s web standards and best practices. One of these best practices is content coordination, to minimize repetition, confusion and gaps among related agency web content.

I tried not to show how much the conversation made my head hurt, among a group of earnest, cooperative colleagues who are eager to help developers, planners, elected officials, public works managers, environmentalists and the public guide sustainable development. With such a diverse audience, and so many EPA programs individually focused on different slices of the green development pie, it unfortunately wasn’t my first experience where web communications considerations (the tail) forced us to confront the overlap or gaps between policies and programs (the dog).  Shouldn’t it work the other way? Wouldn’t it better serve EPA, our stakeholders and the environment if related programs were more clearly defined, or combined before turning our attention to public outreach? (These questions aren’t rhetorical; please answer them.)

Our group yesterday didn’t know enough about policy integration our agency may be doing to bring the principles and virtues of these green initiatives together to better serve the many concerned external people. As a result–and this is more intriguing challenge than complaint—we’re seeking some manner of content integration as we conceive and write a new website.

Professor Stout wouldn’t be surprised by what we face, but may I ask, dear reader, do you, too, see what we face as the tail wagging the dog?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.