Navigating the human relationships critical to successful practice-based science: a conversation with Faith Kearns

It is no longer enough for scientists to communicate a scientific topic clearly; in addition to being experts in their fields of study, they must also be expert enough to navigate the thoughts, feelings and opinions of the people they engage with, as well as their own. Program on the Environment Associate Teaching Professor¬†P. Sean McDonald recently hosted a discussion with scientist and science communication practitioner Faith Kearns, to explore some of the approaches Kearns uses and details in her new book, “Getting to the Heart of Science Communication,” to better listen, work with conflict, and understand trauma, loss and healing.


Faith Kearns is a scientist and science communication practitioner who focuses primarily on water, wildfire and climate change in the western United States. Her work has been published in “New Republic,” “On Being,” “Bay Nature” and more. She has been working in the science communication field for more than 25 years, starting with the Ecological Society of America and going on to serve as a AAAS Science and Policy Fellow at the US Department of State, manage a wildfire research and outreach center at the University of California, Berkeley, and bridge science and policy advocacy efforts at the Pew Charitable Trusts. She currently works with the California Institute for Water Resources. Kearns holds an undergraduate environmental science degree from Northern Arizona University, and a doctorate in environmental science, policy and management from the University of California, Berkeley.


P. Sean McDonald is the Capstone instructor for the Program on the Environment. He directs the internship activities and senior interdisciplinary research of Program on the Environment students and assists them in developing an independent scholarly project that dovetails with their hands-on work. Sean also maintains an active research program focused on marine ecology and natural resource issues, in which he focuses on applying ecological principles to problems involving exploitation, cultivation and conservation of aquatic species in a changing global landscape. In particular, he is interested in responses to major agents of ecosystem change, such as climate change and invasive species, in human and natural systems. McDonald teaches a course on professional environmental communication, hosts a weekly seminar on communication with scientists, artists, advocates and other environmental practitioners, and moderates Climate Science on Tap events for the public at local breweries.

About Amplify

Amplify is a series of conversations among faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate students who want to explore and engage in science communication and outreach. Bringing together individuals from the College of the Environment and around UW, our goals are to create an opportunity to consider and challenge ideas in science communication, outreach and engagement; to learn how others are addressing issues in these arenas; and to amplify conversations about science in order to better serve society.

Hosted by the College of the Environment, Amplify begins with conversations over a glass of wine and a bite to eat, leading to a rapid and informative panel featuring three to five faculty with diverse opinions, experience, or expertise on the topic of the night. The evening ends with another opportunity for casual interactions with the panelists and other attendees.