Graduating college during a global pandemic

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The uncertainty of what will happen after graduation during a pandemic has been on the minds of many 2020 graduates. As for Cole Diggins, the upcoming semester will be an opportunity to continue his education and experience a new school and a new state. 

Photo Courtesy of Cole’s Facebook Page

A Bronaugh, Missouri native, he graduated in May from the University of Missouri with an undergraduate degree in soil, environmental and atmospheric science. The major emphasized “the knowledge and study of the natural world and how we can sustainably modify it for our betterment and repair our mistakes” Diggins said. 

In high school, he was accepted into the Youth Education Summit that focused on teaching constitutional rights and the law during a week long camp that included touring Washington, D.C. and debating other students. “I was fortunate to receive the subject of large scale farming and if suits should be filed based on non-point source pollution,” he said. “It quickly became a debate where I had to educate many people, some adults, about agriculture due to their lack of exposure to the field.” 

The debate created a discussion on the importance of the environmental impact of agricultural production, the experience was a “very neat moment in my young life,” Diggins said. 

As a first-generation college student, he found support as a McNair Scholar with opportunities to conduct research and present his findings at multiple conventions along with receiving advice while preparing for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and applying to graduate school. 

He has been accepted into Oklahoma State University and will continue his education in Stillwater by earning a master’s degree and eventually a doctoral degree. He said he is excited to work on water management issues in a more arid state like Oklahoma. There is always some stress that comes with moving to a new state but thanks to the McNair program he’s “incredibly prepared” and hasn’t felt as much stress as he had expected.

His career goals are to work as a consultant on environmental remediation plans or as a consultant on large agricultural or natural resource projects. He’s also thought about working as a professor since the doctoral degree he will pursue will focus on plant and soil sciences with an emphasis in soil physics. 

Diggins’ is concerned that the campus may be closed during his first semester of graduate school, but he doesn’t foresee long-term impacts on his degree program. He is well positioned to continue his education as he was fortunate to receive scholarships, allowing him to stay debt free while earning his bachelor’s degree. His acceptance into OSU along with his graduate assistantship and tuition waiver will be the best opportunity to lead to his future success despite the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine.

Understanding the Art of Science Communication

Science communication experts share tips on getting the most out of your communications plan.

“Your work no longer speaks for itself. The world speaks for and of your work,” warns Sree Sreenivasan. It is sobering news for any scientist or researcher who’s seen their work misrepresented in the media or by decision-makers. Sreenivasan is an expert science communicator and thought leader in social media. He tells webinar audiences. “Science is made for social media, and social media is made for science. But the world at large is overrun by misinformation, fake news, and charlatans. You can dictate how the world sees your research by being intentional with your communications.”

But what is the best strategy for sharing your findings? Paul Baltes, Director of Communications at Nebraska Medicine, says, “It’s helpful to know your audience. If you’re talking to a group of scientists, you might use different language than if you’re engaging the public. Most people we’re developing communications for don’t have a lot of knowledge of science or the scientific method. We craft all of our messages at the 8th-grade level.”

Laura McCallister gives similar advice. “How you talk about your science depends on the audience. If you’re speaking to other members of the science community, you’re welcome (and even encouraged) to talk at a high level. I have a communications background, so I ask the researchers to explain things to me in the simplest terms so that I can understand it as best as I can and explain it to others,” McCallister says. She’s a Research Communication Specialist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

McCallister says it’s important to remember the human element of your research. “When I tell a researcher’s story, my goal is to put a face to the research, either through those participating in the study or the teams conducting the study. If you’re speaking to other members of the science community, you’re welcome (and even encouraged) to talk at a high level.”

McCallister gives a checklist of questions every researcher should answer when devising a communications plan: What prompted you to conduct this study? What does this study mean for patients? What is the take-away for physicians? For parents?

McCallister told us, “Not everyone understands what happens in research and how the results of that research can affect things in the future. Sometimes the researcher has a personal story about why they were inspired to conduct that specific study or focus on that specific area of science. Our goal is to paint a picture for the audience to make research easier to understand and thus appreciate hopefully.”

Baltes urges scientists to start with a goal in mind. “Think about what you want to accomplish and all the different methods to accomplish that goal. If you want to activate feeling and emotion, video is the best medium. If you want to get a straightforward message across, consider written communication.”

Sreenivasan advises using different social channels for various purposes. “Don’t ignore LinkedIn,” Sree says to use LinkedIn to develop a network of people you know, want to know, and people you should know.

“Twitter is more conversational than other platforms,” Sreenivasan says. Use Twitter’s hashtags to join conversations about your area of interest. “Twitter conversations can often turn into real-life meetings.”

“Facebook is the world’s largest social media platform.” Sreenivasan advises using Facebook’s tools to live Facebook Live to share live video of the behind the scenes life in your lab. “People want to connect with other people, not brands.”

Instagram is a place to be yourself and have fun. Sreenivasan says we should be using Instagram Stories to share the details and the stories of people making science happen.

For more social media and messaging advice, check out the American Chemical Society’s great “Scientist’s Guide to Social Media.” Also visit Sree Sreenivasan’s science communications webinar for the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

2020 Missouri Legislative Session: STEMM Recap

While the 2020 Missouri legislative session was anything but normal, several pieces of legislation were introduced, amended, and passed related to science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEMM). Particularly, legislators were forced to confront the COVID-19 pandemic and work with public health experts to support communities during the outbreak and practice safety measures at the Capitol.

Nearly 2000 bills and resolutions were introduced in the house and senate, but only 51 pieces of legislation were truly agreed to and finally passed (TAFP) by both chambers. The following list of bills will either be sent to the Governor’s desk as TAFP or held significant support from the 100th General Assembly but failed to pass by the end of the regular legislative session. For a full list of legislation introduced during the 2020 session, visit house.mo.gov or senate.mo.gov.

Truly Agreed To and Finally Passed

Protection of Foster Children (HB 1414/SB 693): This bill improves safety measures for foster children who may be in unsafe situations. The bill requires that a safety assessment be completed within 72 hours of any complaints or reports, and also dictates that the Structured Decision Making Family Risk Assessment tool be updated by the end of 2020. Several other provisions were also included in this legislation, including record sharing, alternative placements, and supervised visits.

Protection for Survivors of Sexual Assault (SB 569): A bill passed almost unanimously in both chambers, SB 569 streamlines the rape kit testing process and establishes a “Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights”. The “Justice for Survivor’s Act” was included as an amendment. This amendment added increased access to testing kits and to healthcare following an incident of sexual assault through a tele-health network.

Professional Registration and Reciprocity (HB 1511, HB 2046): With this bill passing, out-of-state reciprocity will now apply to several professional certifications, such as those in architecture, nursing, and engineering. The bill requires Missouri to accept out-of-state registrations as long as the professional has had the license for at least one year and is in good standing. This reciprocity could potentially benefit the health care workforce in the midst of COVID-19.

Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commissions (SJR 38): Despite ample controversy, the house and senate passed a joint resolution to add language to the November ballot amending the Clean Missouri redistricting guidelines. The new language would establish a House Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commission and a Senate Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commission that would have complete authority to draw new districts following the 2020 census. Whereas Clean Missouri dictated that an independent demographer redraw districts, the citizen commissions under this resolution would be political appointees nominated by both parties and appointed by the Governor.

Utility Safety, Infrastructure, and More (HB 2120): This bill started as the Water Safety and Security Act, but several other provisions were added before it passed on the last day of session. The bill requires that public utilities that utilize an internet-based control system have a security plan to prevent cyber attacks. Additionally, final language included provisions about gas infrastructure surcharges and rural broadband grants. Finally, an amendment was added to permit school districts to test their water supplies for lead contamination when buildings were constructed prior to 1996.

Health Care Omnibus Bill (HB 1682): Another bill passed during the last week of session, HB 1682 was amended to include several provisions related to health care and COVID-19 relief. The original intent of this bill was to ban vaping in public school buildings and school buses, but more than a dozen amendments were added. Notably, an emergency clause was added to assure that COVID-19 testing could be available to any Missourian at no-cost if recommended by a health care provider.

Land Conveyance (HB 1330): This bill authorizes the Governor to sell, transfer, grant, convey, remise, release, and forever quitclaim all interest in specific properties, described in the bill, along with an easement, located in Cole, Callaway, Ste. Genevieve, and Randolph Counties. There is an emergency clause for the conveyances in St. Francois County which will transfer land to the National Park Service.

Medical Marijuana Background Checks (HB 1896): This bill will require all employees of marijuana facilities to submit fingerprints and background checks. An amendment to this bill also prohibits the requirement of a prescription for sale or distribution of ephedrine drugs that are less than 7.5 grams per person over a 30 day period. Another amendment prohibits the sale of marijuana-infused products that are designed to appeal to minors, such as gummies, or lollipops. Finally, this bill adds offenses for trafficking fentanyl drugs.

Transportation Omnibus (HB 1963): From vehicles towing cotton trailers to boating safety identification cards, this bill covers a broad array of transportation provisions. This bill authorizes the Department of Revenue to develop a process for remote driver’s license renewals. Another provision outlines flying drones over a correctional facility, mental health facility, or open air facility as criminal offenses. Following a report released by the Hyperloop Task Force in 2019, this bill also allows the state to enter into public private partnerships to build tube transport systems.

Peer Review for Professional Certification (SB 913): This bill repeals the expiration date on peer reviews for professional architects, landscape architects, land surveyors, and engineers. The peer review process was set to expire on January 1, 2023.

Electronic Monitoring in Long-Term Care Facilities (HB 1387): This bill allows residents of long-term care facilities to install an electronic monitoring device in their room as long as it is open and obvious to the facility staff. Surveillance collected on these devices can be used as evidence in civil or criminal cases associated with the long-term care facility. These provisions provide added protection to residents at these facilities.

Shelf-Stable Packaged Food Donations (HB 1711): As part of the Share-the-Harvest program through the Missouri Department of Conservation and Conservation Federation of Missouri, venison can be donated to local food banks. This bill extends the donations to also include shelf-stable venison donations, such as snack sticks and jerky, rather than only frozen venison.

Only passed one chamber or failed in conference

Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (HB 1693): Missouri is the only state that does not have a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) to track opioid use, despite evidence that these programs reduce drug overdose mortalities. Legislation to establish a Missouri PDMP passed in the house and senate, but ultimately, the conference committee could not agree on the terms of the program.

Transportation Omnibus Part II (SB 782): This bill was passed by both chambers in the last week of session, but in a rare move, the senate voted to unanimously reconsider this legislation after learning the impacts of an amendment. The original intent of this bill was to extend the sunset date for temporary boating safety identification cards, but the perfected text included several amendments mentioned above in HB 1963. An amendment related to eminent domain on public utilities was ultimately the reason why this bill was reconsidered and will not be passed along to the governor.

Alzheimer’s State Plan Task Force (HB 1683): This bill would provide added support to families of individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to creating an Alzheimer’s State Plan Task Force, this bill also would have established support groups in every county statewide. This bill was perfected in the house, passed out of the Senate Committee for Seniors, Families and Children, but was not discussed on the senate floor.

Hypodermic Needle Distribution (HB 1486): This bill exempts anyone registered with the Department of Health and Senior Services that possesses, distributes, or delivers hypodermic needles or syringes for the purpose of operating a syringe exchange program or otherwise mitigating health risks associated with unsterile injection drug use from provisions of the law that prohibit such distribution or delivery. This bill passed the house, but was not taken up in the senate.

Rear-Facing Child Safety Seats (HB 2199): This bill would require that all children under age two be required to sit in rear-facing child passenger restraint systems. The bill was passed in the house, but was not taken up in the senate.

Food, rock shows, and great people – What life is like for young professionals living in Central Missouri

COLUMBIA, MO (May 15, 2020) – The idea of moving to another city or state can be frightening for some students. Two University of Missouri graduate students gave their perspective as to what it is like to live in Central Missouri. 

Frank Johnson II, a Kansas City native earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Fl. While in Florida he interned with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He moved back to Missouri to be with family and to continue his education at the University of Missouri in Columbia. For the past six years in COMO he has received a master’s in natural resources emphasising in soil science and is “all but dissertation” in his doctoral program focusing on soil sciences with a minor in statistics. His research involves studying denitrification. 

Sarah Sabatke is a graduate student who graduated this month with a master’s degree in documentary journalism. She moved to Columbia from Wisconsin in 2014 to attend Mizzou and study at the “renowned Missouri School of Journalism,” she said. She chose to attend Mizzou as an undergraduate because of the journalism school’s reputation. She said she chose to continue her education at Mizzou for graduate school because of the incredible people she has met, both classmates and faculty mentors, and because of her interest in academic research.

What do you like about Central Missouri?

Frank: Columbia has a variety of food places though I do miss the Kansas City Bar-B-Q. (Note: Kansas City and St. Louis are about a 2 hour drive from Columbia and Jefferson City)

“I have fallen in love with the small towns and Missouri back roads surrounding Columbia.”

Sarah: I have been surprised by the diversity of the people I have met and of the ideas I have encountered. I was initially against going to Missouri because I wanted to get out of the Midwest for college. Instead, I ended up directly in the heart of the region. Yet, I have made friends at Mizzou from all over the world and different walks of life, I studied abroad in London for a semester and I have fallen in love with the small towns and Missouri back roads surrounding Columbia. 

How have you adapted to moving to another location?
Frank: I lived in Florida to earn a bachelor’s degree before moving back home to Missouri. I was familiar with Columbia because I have family here. I suggest keeping an open mind since there are so many things to do in Missouri and to discover since Missouri has a rich history and nature. There is so much to do in COMO with the True False festival, rock band performances and a lot of parks to visit.
Note: We suggest getting a pet when you move here since they add a lot to your mental health. The new fellows will find something they enjoy and love. They will discover Missouri has things to offer. 

Sarah: In the beginning, it was very difficult to be 400 miles from home. I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Missouri. I quickly got involved on campus and found my home in Columbia. I ended up loving it so much that I decided to continue my education at Mizzou. I have now been in Missouri for six years and I’ve finished my master’s degree.

How has Mizzou prepared you in the future? 

Frank: My degrees and research of soil science will hopefully lead to my dream job of working as a government researcher and getting (environment) information to the farmers and the public. 

Sarah: My degrees have set me up for a successful career in virtually any area of journalism. My convergence journalism background means I worked in every outlet and medium associated with the Missouri School of Journalism and my skills are versatile to whatever job I choose. My graduate degree also prepares me for filmmaking endeavors and, many years down the road, I hope to teach at the collegiate level. 

Using ‘science notes’ to share timely, relevant science with policymakers

Policy briefs, memos, white papers, leave-behinds, 1-pagers.. all of these terms refer to specific ways to communicate written information in policy settings. However, when we set out to identify the best way to communicate science to state policymakers, traditional written outputs seemed to fall short in meeting our goals. Based on feedback from policymakers, we needed a format that would do the following:

1. Communicate science in an objective, nonpartisan manner;
2. Relay information at the right time when it was most needed;
3. Present science without an agenda; and
4. Be able to respond to questions as they arise.

At a stakeholder summit* in June 2019, we proposed to lawmakers that “science notes” could meet these objectives. Just as every bill introduced in the Missouri General Assembly requires a fiscal note to discuss any associated financial impacts of the bill, a science note will cover any relevant science associated with proposed legislation.

What is a science note?
Science notes will be short (1-3 page) memos that describe scientific principles related to policies or legislation. Each science note will feature non-biased scientific data and summaries of studies that have been conducted that may relate to proposed legislation.

How will science notes be shared?
Legislators and legislative staff will be the primary intended audience for the science notes, but they will be made publicly available on the MOST website.

In addition to sharing science notes with legislators upon request, the MOST Policy Fellows will also share the main points of sciences notes by testifying for informational purposes in committee hearings. We presented on one bill in Spring 2019 (H.B. 1335). Testifying also allows lawmakers to ask questions regarding the science and request additional information before making their decisions to vote or draft amendments to the bill.

Hallie Thompson testifies on a bill sponsored by Representative Kip Kendrick, both members of the MOST Policy Fellows Advisory Board.

How will we avoid science becoming political?

MOST Policy Fellows will present science in a non-partisan, independent manner and will work to build our reputation as a trusted source of high-quality, objective information. To assure that our independence and objectivity are not compromised, we will adhere to the following guidelines: 

  • We will provide information to lawmakers at their request, by testifying for informational purposes, or through publishing public facing documents that do not take a political stance on proposed legislation (per Missouri statute 105.470.5);
  • Fellows will be screened for their ability to remain open-minded, objective, and non-partisan, and upon beginning their work with the Missouri General Assembly, they will sign a code of conduct to serve as independent science advisors absent of personal political views;
  • Our non-governing advisory board will contain members representing the major political parties, as well as a member from both legislative chambers. We will have frequent conversations with these members and other members of party and chamber leadership in order to gain feedback on our program and assure that we are not compromising our non-partisan role. 

By following these guidelines, we hope to provide timely, objective scientific information to lawmakers. Our first class of fellows will be announced in June and will serve the 101st General Assembly.

*The stakeholder summit was hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues (EPI Center)