Science & Tech

Adam Brown is teaching scientists on how to take the mic. Image: Pexel/Stock
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On Sept. 23, 2021, U of O professor Adam Oliver Brown sat down with the Fulcrum to discuss his early life and education, current research, and science communication.

In his undergrad, Brown studied environmental science at the University of Western Ontario, then quickly switched to ecology and evolution to better prepare himself for graduate studies at Laval University in Quebec City. There, he received a master’s and PhD in pollination, ecology, and insect flower interactions. Soon after he completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Northern Quebec on the pollination ecology for small fruits.

Following postgraduate studies, Brown came to the University of Ottawa and found himself in a unique job position that allowed him to focus more on teaching than research. “The job that I accepted here was one that was meant to be focused on teaching more than on research,” said Brown. The scientist said in his interview that while he likes research, he enjoys teaching very much, as well as nurturing his other interests. Growing up in an artistic household, he participated in various performing arts mediums; music, dance, and theatre. With this, he learned performance skills that have helped with his teaching and interactions with students. 

In 2014, Brown created the public communications of science course, which was the first of its kind. The idea is to teach students in science how they can communicate their ideas to others who are not studying science. This course, as Brown describes it, has been designed to “meet the needs of students to help them become productive scientists as different forms of communication emerge.”

 “It was more or less a response to demand, because students were asking how can we be scientists in society, recognizing that society is changing fast right now, particularly with communication. Internet media and social media are really changing the way that we communicate with the world,” said Brown.

Brown believes science has an important role to play in society as we make decisions about climate change, technologies, public health, etc. This is exemplified through our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, in which misinformation and pseudoscience have made it difficult for scientists to help society. 

Brown described what scientists can do to speak to non-scientists further: “On one level, it’s important to speak to the public in a language that they understand, it’s making it accessible to them, it’s important to not consider a dumbing down, because if you start to be speak condescendingly to people, then they don’t like to hear that either. So it’s more of a dialogue and using language that they know and use, as well as to speak about aspects that are relevant to your audience’s values.”

“Different groups in society have different values, whether they’re social, moral, or political values, there are certain values that are of interest to certain people. You have to speak to people as it relates to their values so that they will see the importance of what you’re talking about as it relates to them, not as it relates to you the scientist,” he added.

Brown conducts several studies, most of which are focused on science education — the teaching and learning of science. One such study is in the science educational perspective, where he studies classroom dynamics of teaching science and then assessing pedagogical strategies so that they can promote good learning in students. Brown promotes this pedagogy in his zoology, animal behaviour, and his science communication classes. His research can be found here

When asked what he hopes to accomplish through his research, Brown responded: “I hope to accomplish creating a new generation of scientists that will be able to go out into the world and be successful and effective members of society in their role as scientists. Through my research, I’m hoping that I can also create opportunities for future professors and teachers to have a better impact on the students in the classroom.”

Professor Brown has also worked with documentaries, TV shows, and other media outlets. Brown said that it’s a fun and rewarding experience since he gets to make something good for the world to consume. He hopes to inspire viewers of his show on TVO kids which was called “Finding Stuff Out” which now dates back over 10 years.

Currently, Brown is working on his documentary for his zoology and animal behaviour class. He is collaborating with Edward Kay the writer from the Rick Mercer Report and Richard Perry the guitarist from Arcade Fire on this project. Students can find his upcoming documentary on the Ecampus Ontario Library and on his website here.