Published: Aug 26, 2016
Meet Ann Tihansky, Physical Scientist and Communications Specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey. Ann works as the editor for NEWSWAVE, a quarterly newsletter that shares U.S. Department of the Interior’s bureau-wide initiatives and accomplishments as well as recent science discoveries. Though she entered the workforce as a geologist, Tihansky has since melded various talents and grown her career into a role which exemplifies just how diverse the Earth and space profession can be.
You have, very successfully, manifested a career by combining several interests and talents; what advice would you give to job seekers who are looking to combine multiple skills?
Well thanks, sometimes I feel like there is so much more I want to do. In many scientific organizations, you need to have a strong science foundation as a primary skill and often it isn’t very easy to blend additional interests together (as many job positions are predetermined with a narrow focus requiring a specific skill set). I was often not recognized for these bigger communications pieces because they were not a big part of my “job description”. Many of my supervisors evaluated me in very narrow scientist role without realizing that storytelling and connecting are valuable skills as well. As a scientist working with other scientists, ability to capitalize unorthodox communication skills has been invaluable but is often reduced. However, interests in science and art are well-suited to sharing science and for me my other skills such as a storyteller and connector are also critically important. A few of my supervisors understood what I could do for them and that is when I began to break through in combining science and communications to provide non-traditional support to our scientific community with special events, conceptual graphics and outreach. I suggest volunteering to do the things you want to do, gain experience and demonstrate that these additional skills add value to your organization. If you like photography but it isn’t a valued part of your job, continue taking pictures that you can incorporate and provide to others, take trainings, ask for honest criticism. If you like writing, volunteer to review and draft at every opportunity. If you like to help with special events, volunteer. Go beyond what is normally expected. Voice your desires. Let someone know what additional skills you have and that you want to share them.
How is your science educational background contiguous with your career as a communications specialist in the government sector?
I have found that good communicators in a staff are invaluable when it comes to developing new and better ways to share findings. My primary role has been in supporting efforts through communications at the U.S. Department of the Interior as Editor of award-winning NEWSWAVE newsletter. In the government sector I’ve achieved my greatest career accomplishment where I worked at the National Ocean Policy overseeing the implementation of the first formal Executive Order and the progress since 2010. During this time, our nation has brought many communities together to address ocean and coastal issues. Having a strong scientific background is critical and when communicators understand the basic science, they can do their work more efficiently.
What is the most rewarding aspect of science communications?
I think the most rewarding thing I do is help get the word out and make connections. I combine multiple skills (i.e. communication, art, and science) to reach across a wide portfolio of issues and platforms to help tell stories. Through the broad range of topics at USGS and the Department of the Interior, I meet diverse people and help highlight the work they do. I do what I do, so that broad and diverse audiences have a clear understanding of how resource management can affect our future.
What has been the most interesting place or situation science has taken you?
My work as a geologist in west-central Florida limestone terrain has had me up-close and personal in sinkhole development, which is fascinating field. The events can be dramatic, affecting public health and safety as well as regional water management policies. I helped discover where the Peace River in Florida disappears underground into a sinkhole during specific hydrologic conditions. I also put together a report of case study examples that document induced sinkhole development in Florida. I presented these findings at international conferences in Turkey and Italy, where we toured other areas where sinkholes often occur.
In your academic and professional career, you have stressed increasing scientific literacy amongst the general public and often discuss the myriad social benefits. What are some influential ways individuals can increase scientific knowledge in their communities?
In St Petersburg, Florida, I was involved with a group of federal, state and local agencies that supported each other in public scientific special events. With each event, we learned more about each other and found great value in combining our efforts in educating the public. Over the years, these agencies and educator groups combined forces with the City of St. Petersburg, to create an annual public event to share science with the public. Science in the Sun, is a powerful platform that combines science, technology, and engineering with entertainment so the community can be more engaged and informed about resources such as energy, medicine, emergency preparedness, water, wildlife and climate. I think the bottom line here is the bottom line. Science makes good sense. We all know we make smarter decisions when we have the right information, which comes from measurements, models and scientific advancements. Convince your leaders to invest in science to save money, to make smarter decisions for our future by planning and managing our resources responsibly.
What’s the most exciting part of your research?
I grew up in the 1970’s and I saw many American environmental crises, related to poor natural resource protection. Through decades of scientific information, engineering, and natural resource protection programs we have reversed many destructive trends. However, we face new threats and challenges and cannot keep up if the public doesn’t understand the value and purpose in these programs. It is an exciting time to be in communications because there are so many new ways to reach out. The multimedia and social media platforms offer practically unlimited ways to develop, reach, inform and engage many audiences who have different levels of understanding and reasons to be interested. As we share new communication products, we can support other stakeholders, expand interest, drive understanding and advance knowledge. I am grateful to have had experience in the critical review process of publishing. Well-conceived and well-constructed communications products are expensive but can last a long time. It’s worth the extra effort to collaborate with good graphic designers, web page and social media experts to create interactive designs, schematics, and conceptual drawings. When we can translate years of research into products that help reduce risk, improve health and ensure our environmental resources are well-managed, I feel like we have completed the research task. That is really the most exciting part to me.