A science writer and former journalist, Nancy Serrell, MALS ’00, works to further public understanding of science, in part by lifting the veil of mystery that surrounds it. She works with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science to develop new ways to help scientists discuss their work in an engaging, conversational way.
Job title: Director of Science and Technology Outreach in the Office of the Provost
How long have you been at Dartmouth?
I started as a science writer for Dartmouth, a kind of in-house reporter, in 1995.
How long in your current job?
What other positions have you held at Dartmouth?
I was principal investigator for research translation and for community outreach in the Toxic Metals Research program before this position, and I’ve taught undergraduate courses in environmental writing, science writing, and, most recently, some new courses and workshops for grad students and postdocs on communicating science.
What brought you here?
Before moving to New Hampshire from Connecticut, I was a feature writer and editor, then an environmental reporter. The Valley News was looking for an editor and writer who could cover science, and I was offered the position. It was a great experience. I got to interview researchers about their work and grew to know many Dartmouth science professors.
Where are you from originally?
Syracuse, N.Y. This past winter here was just like home! Now I live in Hanover.
What is your role at Dartmouth?
I help faculty share their knowledge with people outside of Dartmouth, regionally and globally. We launched the Office of Science and Technology Outreach to address changing expectations of academic researchers, especially scientists. Not so long ago, researchers were expected to be society’s knowledge producers. Now research funders require them to be knowledge brokers as well. I help researchers figure out who could benefit from learning about their work and how to explain their findings to different audiences, from the general public to policy makers and industry. We have developed an effective forum for our scientists in the Science Pubs at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon. Our scientists have a developed quite a fan base.
Whom does your work support?
Certainly at Dartmouth it supports faculty whose grant proposals require outreach, or “broader impacts,” but it also supports graduate students and postdocs. We have outreach partnerships with schools in the region, and graduate students are sharing their enthusiasm for discovery in schools all over the Upper Valley. Our graduate students gain communication and teaching skills through these interactions, and the school kids look forward to their visits as if they were rock stars. So there are mutual benefits. We have much to gain, and at the same time our engagement supports education in local communities, the places where we live.
What’s your favorite part of working here?
I know it’s a cliché to say the people, but I am saying it anyway. I collaborate with faculty, students, staff, and community partners. It’s really rewarding to see Dartmouth projects bring together all those perspectives.
What kinds of things do you like to do outside of work?
Food is my passion. I love baking and cooking for people. I’m fascinated by the culture of food, particularly how the food we eat changes over time. I recently attended an event called 10 Fest on the Portuguese island of Sao Miguel where 10 international chefs, over 10 days, prepared seven-course meals featuring local ingredients. Meanwhile, down the road, McDonalds was promoting the McBifana, its version of a traditional Portuguese grilled pork sandwich. I am wondering: Will either of these change how people eat on Sao Miguel?