Improv for Scientists

Science has serious PR problems, and at their root are scientists themselves! We scientists often don’t know how to communicate with non-scientists without a whole lot of jargon and obscure words. Brevity is also difficult for many of us, so the art of effective sound bites and elevator pitches remains a mystery. Yet, those of us who go into academia are, despite first impressions, passionate people. We are in love with ideas, with teasing apart mysteries. So, we have the potential to be incredibly powerful advocates for science, translating the knowledge we generate in our labs into real world applications. If only we could stop putting our audiences to sleep…

Then, along comes Alan Alda, who for decades has been a curious, charming, and enthusiastic advocate for the popularization of science. He excels at translating how fascinating science can be to a wide audience. I just discovered that he founded The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science back in 2009. The Center teaches scientists media communication skills and how to boil down your research findings into understandable take-home messages and engaging stories. And he teaches them improv! Perhaps this is some of the most important work the Center does, because improv allows scientists to practice being present and telling a human story. Here is a clip of what improv for scientists looks like.

Picture taken from

Thank you, Mr. Alda. If you can cultivate and empower even a few scientists to communicate more effectively and compellingly, the positive impact of our research could reach a whole new level.

10 thoughts on “Improv for Scientists

  1. This is delightful! and yes, so important. These are not skills we typically teach in our doctoral programs, altho I did have one prof when I was doing my PhD who insisted that doctoral candidates provide as one component of their oral examinations the New York Times headline they’d like to see if their study were to be reported on there. Mine was something like ‘A High IQ Score Masks More than It Reveals; Intelligence Is Mathematical, Linguistic, Social, or Specific to Some Other Domain’

  2. I had seen the NYT article that highlighted Mr. Alda’s work ( and re-linked it on my facebook page. I was impressed by how many others also Liked and affirmed this type of work. Personally, as a longform improviser, I love it – the synergy between art and science is brilliant. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an example of a scientist who has been able to model this way of being – the ability to tell stories and show the relevance of science. I can’t wait to see more DeGrasse Tysons emerge – we need all of them right now.

  3. Really interesting ! A project of this magnitude could also be useful in my country where the graduate students are many and few opportunities to exploit their potential for researchers and scientists .

  4. Reblogged this on Blog do Palhão | Ciência e Engenharia and commented:
    Breve artigo (em inglês) sobre a falta de habilidade dos cientistas superapaixonados por seu trabalho para repassar seu conhecimento de forma simples e sucinta. Destaca-se o centro Alan Alda que ensina comunicação para cientistas, incluindo improvisação, o que creio ser uma ferramenta poderosa para professores.

  5. Great idea right now the world would be a different place if scientists could get their ideas across efficiently, Now a days there are a couple of scientists which illustrate my point: Michio Kaku and Neil deGrasse Tyson are good examples of this, the fact that someone called a particle the god particle is also.

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