“Sharing discoveries with heart and humor.”
That’s the philosophy behind Assistant Professor Rebecca Calisi Rodríguez’s science communications work. For the past couple of years, Calisi Rodríguez has taken on the mantle of public outreach, sharing her love for science using culturally relevant storytelling in online videos. And now, she’ll bring that passion to the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences as the faculty assistant to the dean for science communications.
“I love this idea of creating actual positions for faculty-scholar communicators, who are able to identify not only as someone who does the science, who runs the lab, who writes the research grants, but who also is talented in science communication,” said Calisi Rodríguez. “We see more of these types of hybrid positions popping up at various universities to meet the need of bridging the disconnect between scientists and the public. I love that the College of Biological Sciences is willing to take a chance on me and my ideas to develop this role here.”
For her first formal project in the position, Calisi Rodríguez recently produced the College of Biological Sciences annual Give Day video. On top of filming and editing it, she helped brainstorm the idea and enlisted the help of her colleagues from the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior.
“For the past few years, I’ve learned so much working closely with the university’s professional communications staff, and now we’ve combined superpowers,” said Calisi Rodríguez. “Theirs is the art of strategic communications, mine in running a research lab, conducting experiments, analyzing data, and hey! Being a Latina mother-in-science! We trust and support each other in taking risks, because we have a common goal—to innovate how we communicate research discoveries to a broader audience.”
“Rebecca has been building a dossier of projects in which she seeks to humanize scientists and make them relatable with a particular attention to making the science accessible to those from groups traditionally underrepresented in science,” said College of Biological Sciences Dean Mark Winey. “I am delighted to have her bring her skills to telling the stories of the CBS faculty and students.”
Starting with familia
Calisi Rodríguez has a long-held interest in finding different ways to communicate ideas to the public, but her science communications efforts started with her family. When she visited relatives in Texas for the holidays, she often found it difficult to explain the finer points of her neurobiology research. Why does a neurobiologist study bird brains? And why are bird brains important to human health? To answer these questions, Calisi Rodríguez created a humorous video called “Studying Bird Brains: Not Such a Bird-Brained Idea!” She shared it with her family and voila, understanding was born.
“It felt so wonderful to connect with my tíos, with my primos and make this video that was approachable with them in mind,” she said.
Calisi Rodríguez was inspired. Brandishing an iPhone and iMovie, she began exploring ways to utilize video to facilitate her own public outreach efforts. She also realized the video medium could be used to inspire social change in the sciences.
“Some of the topics that I’ve communicated about have been very serious in nature, like under-representation of marginalized groups and obstacles that breastfeeding mothers face,” she said. “At first I was worried that my lack of training in film making would be an issue, but one of my mentors who is an actual filmmaker told me that the rawness of my videos can be a way of making me and the people I interview that much more real and approachable. So I’m going for it! Sin miedo!”
New directions and ventures
Calisi Rodríguez is excited to explore her new role with the college. She’ll work with Winey and the college’s communications team to identify further opportunities to bolster faculty communications efforts while also pursuing her own projects. Recently, she wrapped up filming on a National Geographic-funded digital series called “I Can Science,” which showcases diversity in research and teaching. The series, hosted by Calisi Rodríguez, is being produced by UC Davis.
“Expect to see witty and insightful video interviews and profiles of CBS faculty developed by Rebecca in her role as faculty assistant to the dean for science communications,” said Winey.