Communicating Novelty and Controversy in EEID

20th to 22nd May 2023

University Park,PA

The workshop will focus on the opportunities and challenges of communicating with diverse audiences. Opportunities include sharing knowledge, developing community, and fostering trust but also soliciting funding or other support for research and influencing policy. Challenges to achieving this include overcoming baseline knowledge gaps, pre-existing bias or apprehension, and misinformation. We will structure the 3-day workshop such that on Day 1 students will learn about opportunities and challenges related to communicating scientific innovation in two thematic areas that are relevant to EEID: microbiome and gain-of-function research. Students will take on the role of the audience while instructors will first discuss pre-existing understanding and misconceptions about contemporary science in these fields and then discuss strategies for communicating novelty and addressing misinformation and misunderstanding. On Day 2 the students will become the subject-matter experts and work through the process of developing communications based on their individual research. They will target a specific audience of their choice. On Day 3 the students will take the lessons learned during Days 1 and 2 and develop strategies for tailoring communications to different audiences. Also on Day 3, the students will do a capstone activity on risk communication and theory to integrate the earlier practical lessons.

The workshop will be limited to 32 students in the 3rd year or later of their PhD program or post-doctoral scholars who completed their PhD less than 2 years ago. Interested participants must apply through the link below. The organizing committee will select participants based on the quality of their application and with the goal of representing diverse backgrounds and research topics. The interactive components of the workshop will build upon the unique challenges of developing communications specific to different research topics and different audiences; diversity among participants will improve the quality of instruction for all

Individuals accepted into the workshop will be eligible to receive travel support. We anticipate that we will be able to provide lodging and meals for all participants and funds to offset travel costs for ~20 participants. International participants are welcome to apply. Because of the higher travel costs for international participants we will be limited in the number of international travel awards we can provide

Individuals accepted into the workshop will still be required to register for the EEID meeting and pay the corresponding registration fee. We have kept these fees low ($75 for students, $150 for post docs and research staff) but the fees are required to offset administrative costs. If these fees are prohibitive to your participation, we will consider limited appeals on a case-by-case basis.

Any Questions?


This first day will put the students in the role of the audience for a discussion of the opportunities and challenges in communicating novel science to a public that has strong preconceived opinions. We will focus on two contemporary topics in infectious disease biology that have been sources of both excitement and misinformation in the public sphere: the microbiome and gain-of-function research.

    The 3-hour case-studies:
  1. elicit current understanding and uncertainties from the student audience; this will model the process of developing empathy with the audience so that communications can be tailored to their needs.
  2. build trust and understanding by discussing successful translation of research.
  3. de-mystify the process through an interactive example of quantitative analysis.
  4. discuss the current frontier of research and potential future benefits.


The Microbiome

Each of us experiences constant messaging about the role of the microbiome in health through advertisements for both pro-biotic and anti-biotic products. The business of the microbiome is, unfortunately, well ahead of the science to support many of these claims. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge for researchers in this rapidly developing field – it is easy to connect microbiome research to the audience members' day-to-day experiences, but also hard to overcome deeply ingrained misconceptions.

Members of the Penn State Microbiome Center  led by  Seth Bordenstein , will first lead an interactive discussion with students to elicit their understanding of the state of microbiome science and application and identify their uncertainties and knowledge gaps. They will then lead students through exercises to illustrate communication of uncertainty in the current state of microbiome science and the potential for future innovations.


Gain of Function

Gain-of-function (GoF) research has been hotly debated in response to the last major zoonotic emergence events. Following the same pattern as the microbiome case-study, Andrew Read  and Matthew Ferrari  will lead this session to first, identify knowledge gaps and concerns, then develop trust through description of the translation of this research into societal benefit, and finally discuss the potential future of gain-of-function. Students will participate in a structured debate about GoF to illustrate that legitimate and logical differences in opinion can occur even within well-informed groups – thus, communication strategies must employ tools of empathy and persuasion in addition to education.