SDS UGTA, Savannah Troy, Places Second in the Science in Plain English Competition

16 November 2017—Congratulations to Savannah Troy, who placed second in the Science in Plain English contest sponsored by the UT Science Communication Interest Group. The Science in Plain English contest challenges students to hone their ability to discuss their research with someone who is not a scientist or a science student in a non-academic situation. Savannah is a current Undergraduate Teaching Assistant (UGTA) for SDS 328M Biostatistics.

Held on October 19, 2017, the contest focused on each student's ability to clearly discuss science without relying on technical terminology, props, PowerPoint, or audio or video. Students had three minutes to talk about their research to a panel of judges. 

Science in Plain English is about honing your ability to discuss your science with someone who is not a scientist or a science student in a non-academic situation. What was your research topic and can you give us a brief sample of what you presented?

Over the summers, I do behavioral ecology research at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, a field station in Colorado. I study the Mountain White-crowned Sparrow, which is an extremely tough little bird that lives in an unforgiving high-elevation environment. My research project investigates the ways in which daily temperature variation (mornings can be below freezing and afternoons may reach 80° F) affects how often parent birds feed their young rather than thermoregulate the nest. For the competition, I broke down the background information and my hypothesis into an explanation that was jargon-free and palatable for someone who might not normally find bird behavior interesting. 

What motivated you to participate in the contest?

I feel very strongly about the importance of communicating science to the public and about promoting biological literacy within our society. I think that this contest is a great effort on the part of the university to encourage that. 

You will be attending the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in February. What are you most looking forward to in attending?

I am excited that this conference is general science, instead of one field. The conferences I have been to previously are all very focused on a particular subject, but here I am looking forward to attending lectures on lots of topics. 

You also have an undergraduate research fellowship. What do you hope to accomplish with this fellowship?

I applied to this fellowship in order to continue my research with Mountain white-crowned sparrows, described above. I was awarded $1000 to contribute towards the expenses of this project. I am very eager to continue this research, since these particular behavioral trade offs are not well-studied in songbirds. I am excited to learn new things with the results and hopefully publish them. 

What are your future plans – for college and beyond?

I am currently planning on attending graduate school to get my PhD (not sure in what yet) after I finish at UT. Whatever I end up studying, I hope to apply it to environmental conservation, which is what I find most interesting and most important. 

Who is your role model (in your current field or otherwise)?

My role model in the field of conservation biology is Rachel Carson. She revolutionized the way our society views environmental conservation and opened the public's eyes to the dangers of pollution and reckless environmental degradation. Furthermore, she did all this at a time when women were not widely accepted as members of the scientific community.  

What are some of your favorite/most memorable experiences working or studying here at UT?

I am very lucky to be a member of the Polymathic Scholars honors program within CNS. All of my favorite experiences have been associated with this program in one way or another, since it allows me a great deal of independence in designing my education and creating a capstone thesis.

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