Don’s favorite elevator pitches clarify complex science

I have spent much of my career working with faculty at schools on both coasts, Stanford and Harvard, convincing them to rethink the way they talk about their science, insisting they make it more understandable to the public.

For many, I had my work cut out just convincing them this was worth the effort. But others seemed to immediately understand that if the public is funding their work through tax dollars, they have an obligation to explain why it matters in easily understandable language. Others were convinced of the value when, after a donor event, I could point to the one faculty member who accepted personal coaching and note that he was the only one to have a donor follow him back to his lab.

At CIRM, we seem to be lucky in having a large number of lead faculty researchers who get it. We had 28 agree to take us up on our challenge to describe their work on a lay level in just 30 seconds, which we dubbed The Elevator Pitch Challenge.

These brave faculty provided too many good examples for me to highlight them all here, but I do want to point out a few that cover some of my pet issues.

Gage Crump (faculty at University of Southern California)- Gage tackles something I have long fought to get the public to understand, the value of animal models. He briskly tells about zebra fish and their ability to regrow parts of their bodies. Then he transitions to the hope that from these little swimmers we could learn how to better repair our bodies. Here’s Gage’s pitch.

Darryl D’Lima (faculty at the Scripps Institute)- Darryl steps in immediately to deliver something I pound into faculty, perspective. He reminds viewers that arthritis impacts more people than heart disease or cancer. He talks about the potential to generate new cartilage and closes with more perspective: that this would be the first time that a treatment would change the progression of this chronic disease. Here’s Darryl’s pitch.

Deepak Srivastava (researcher at the Gladstone institutes, faculty at UC San Francisco)- Deepak gracefully delivers one of my favorite messages, that sometimes the best way to understand how to fix something is to understand how a normal version was created. After noting that adult hearts have very little ability to repair themselves, he talks about using stem cells to unlock the secrets of how hearts develop in a fetus and ends with the hope that this knowledge will guide us in repairing adult hearts. Here’s Deepak’s pitch.

There are many more examples that could be studied by those wanting to perfect the art of clarifying science, like those from Marius Wernig from Stanford University and Edward Hsiao from UCSF. The full roster of pitches can be found here.


3 thoughts on “Don’s favorite elevator pitches clarify complex science

  1. Good info Don Gibbons. But if I could offer a bit of advice to a guy with the title 'Senior Science and Education Communications Officer', sign your posts with your name. I am sure you are well known within your community, but outside that who knows who D.G. is? I'm sure you are a fashion plate, but are you Dolce and Gabbana? The rest of world wants to be educated on stem cells, let them know who's talking.

  2. For now, we list authors on a separate page (you can see an authors link in the upper right). But stay tuned for a new look for the blog, which includes author titles and links to other posts by that author.

  3. I'm glad that there are competitions like these to promote the work of scientists to the public on the internet — scientists need more positive publicity more than ever. My colleagues and I are developing a website where we are gathering resources (including communication skills) for postdocs and scientists and I have referred to CIRM in my recent blog on elevator speech for scientists, check it out.

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