#MySciComm: Greg Nickerson on shifting from history and journalism to scicomm

This week, Greg Nickerson responds to the #MySciComm questions!

Greg with Irish Elk
Greg with an Irish Elk; photo courtesy of Greg Nickerson

Greg is a writer and filmmaker for the Wyoming Migration Initiative, a project at the University of Wyoming that tracks wildlife migrations and shares that information with the public. He studied history of the American West and worked as a journalist in the Wyoming State Capitol before turning his interest to the human stories of wildlife migration. Connect with him @GregNickersonWY, on Facebook and at www.gregorynickerson.com.

The #MySciComm series features a host of SciComm professionals. We’re looking for more contributors, so please get in touch if you’d like to write a post!

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Okay, Greg…

1) How did you get into the kind of SciComm that you do?

I think of myself first as a scholar and educator, and all of my science communication flows from that. 

This means learning the science and getting involved in the process, from reading scientific papers to capturing mule deer and putting on GPS tracking collars.

Like many westerners, I was brought up in a family of elk hunters. As a teenager I learned to travel in the mountains and read the signs made by wild animals as they moved through the seasons. During my early 20s I worked as an elk hunting guide and experienced firsthand how weather and snowfall drives migration.

As I started graduate school I had two friends, the photographer Joe Riis and the writer Emilene Ostlind, who were the first to follow the Path of the Pronghorn on foot and document the journeys of these animals. Their work helped build momentum for the first federally-designated wildlife corridor in the United States.

I found the project really inspiring, because it combined adventure and journalism with wildlife.

I always had a goal in the back of my mind to learn more about wildlife migrations and draw on my background of hunting experiences. The trajectory to getting there was circuitous.

I went to graduate school at the University of Wyoming to study history of the American West, then got urban experience by making history documentaries in Philadelphia for a few years. I returned to Wyoming to be the first statehouse reporter for the nonprofit news site WyoFile.org, with forays into other topics like American Indian issues and wildlife management.

As a reporter I had an opportunity to write one of the first stories about the discovery of the Red Desert to Hoback mule deer migration, and my reporting was well received by one of the sources in the story: Matt Kauffman (@wyokauffman), director of the Wyoming Migration Initiative (WMI). A year later he was searching for someone to do publicly oriented communication about wildlife migrations, and my interests and skills fit the bill.

2) What are your top 3 SciComm tips and/or resources?

1. You have options.

There is so much opportunity to use different media to communicate science: photography, film, writing, audio, art, and more.

2. Characters are critical.

For us, seeking the best, most shareable story has meant finding a compelling character from our research and giving people an emotional hook to grab onto.

3. Social media is an incredible tool for packaging science communication into episodic, character-driven stories.

For example, there is a mule deer we named Jet, and we have shared her migration on the WMI Facebook page with periodic updates. She attracts a lot of traffic, because people get emotionally engaged in her journey.

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