Science Communication Fun at the FOSEP 1000 Word Challenge

Posted: March 19, 2013 in Events, Science Communication

Last Friday the Burke Museum hosted FOSEP’s inaugural 1000 Word Challenge with fantastic results. Just under 200 people were in attendance, and the winning grand prize entry, by Yasmeen Hussain, included, “Some man things are better at listening than others. I want to know if the man things that are better at listening are also better at making babies.”

The 1000 Word (or ten hundred word to be exact) Challenge was born out of the XKCD comic strip Up Goer Fivea very successful attempt at using only the 1000 most common words to describe the blueprints of the NASA rocket Saturn V. Geneticist Theo Sanderson created a text editor that tells if each word typed is one of the 1000 most common words (and thus allowable), and soon scientists around the world were challenging each other to describe their own research using only these 1000 words. The Burke Museum was already planning an end-of-the-quarter happy hour and invited FOSEP to hold their 1000 Word Challenge during the event.

FOSEP received almost 40 individual entries from across the campus, from researchers in atmospheric science to biology, from anthropology to applied materials science. David Domke (professor and acting chair for the Department of Communication at the University of Washington (UW)), Alaina Smith (Director of External Affairs at the Burke) and Andrea Cohen (Museology Program Assistant at the Burke) served as the judges for the event.

On Friday afternoon, the judges narrowed down the entires to the top 15. After a short introduction to FOSEP and the Challenge rules, these 15 contestants were then each given an opportunity to share both how they would normally describe their research at a scientific conference and how they describe their research using only the 1000 most common words in the English language. Contestants were judges on three criteria: Language – Does the entry convey the work of the grad student in a clear and concise manner, using the 1000 words in an economical and grammatically correct fashion? Style – Does the entry go beyond clear word choice to incorporate humor, prose, rhythm or other elements of style to good effect? and Presentation – Does the candidate present their entry effectively?   Considerations are enunciation, volume, posture, and dress?

The winners were as follows:

Grand prize ($100 to University Bookstore) – Yasmeen Hussain, Graduate Student, Biology

Use of Language – Kate Allstadt, Graduate Student, Earth and Space Sciences

Style – Jonathan Calede – Graduate Student, Biology

Presentation – Brandon Peecook, Graduate Student, Biology

Each winner’s entry, in addition to each and every contestant’s entry, can be found on FOSEP’s website. This event was such a great success that FOSEP and the Burke have decided to make this a yearly event! Try out your hand at describing your research using only the 1000 most common words and start getting ready for next year’s competition!

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