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  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Horticulture Section
  • Plants
  • Communication
This professor of practice is helping the next generation of scientists become better communicators.

Carlyn Buckler is an associate professor of practice in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science. She teaches three innovative classes, heads up the Master of Professional Studies Hemp Science Focus Area, and is active in the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on campus. We recently asked her about the many hats she wears.

Just what is a Professor of Practice?

Typically, it’s someone who brings at least 10 years of experience to a position in academia. In my case, I did  genetics research – mostly maize and some human genetics. Then I spent another 12 years working on projects in communicating science to the public.

Why the transition from research to communications?

Back in graduate school in the '90s, most of us weren’t trained how to do a professional talk to our peers or how to explain the significance of our work to the general public. We were supposed to learn by watching fellow academics, many of whom were similarly untrained in science communication. I remember researchers handing off calls from the media to postdocs because they didn’t want to be misquoted or didn’t realize how important it was to explain what they were doing and why.

That’s a huge problem. In the most basic sense, the public finances scientific research through their elected representatives in Congress. But much of the public doesn’t understand and/or trust science.

I started working on science communication with our son’s preschool classmates. Kids are born scientists – as long as we can foster their curiosity. When we moved to Ithaca in the early 2000’s, the Paleontological Research Institution’s (PRI) Museum of the Earth had just opened up, and I worked for PRI writing National Science Foundation grants for public outreach.

PRI has been at the forefront of helping the public understand issues like climate change, fracking, and evolution. We put out a series of short guides that didn’t necessarily take a stance on the issues.  Rather, they helped people understand the facts so they could make informed decisions for themselves.

We also developed the first graduate-level online course on how to communicate science to the public. It went viral and was later taken over by the Earth System Science Education Alliance, of which PRI is a member.

From there, I co-developed the first master’s program in science museum studies with Dr. Gretchen Sorin at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY. I led and taught the program for five years. Then I got a call from SIPS director Chris Smart in 2017.

Hemp Science MPS Focus Area

Buckler serves as the faculty lead for the Hemp Science MPS Focus Area, and teaches Cannabis: Biology, Society and Industry.

Carlyn Buckler examining hemp plant
That’s when you came to the School of Integrative Plant Science. What’s in your portfolio now?

I teach three courses:

In Skills for Public Engagement (PLSCI 3940/5940), I help graduate and undergraduate students develop public speaking, writing, and branding competencies, and how to facilitate conversations and understand audiences. They also learn video production and social media best practices so that they are prepared to be good communicators.

In Digital Technologies in Agriculture (PLSCI 4100) students get hands-on tech experience with virtual and augmented reality, drones, robotics, 3D printing, etc. But they also learn how to collaborate effectively and understand the return on investment for these technologies.

I also teach Cannabis: Biology, Society and Industry (PLSCI 4190), which is the overview course for the Hemp Science MPS Focus Area. I also serve as the faculty lead for that focus area.

PLSCI 4190 is a broad, issue-based course. We discuss cannabis biology – genetics, pests and diseases, breeding, etc. – and have entrepreneurs talk with us about the fast-evolving cannabis industry.  We also spend time on the social justice issues associated with cannabis such as understanding how inequitable enforcement of drug laws has grossly affected people of color in this country, and what we must do to ameliorate these issues.

You’re also active with diversity, equity and inclusion issues on campus.

Last spring I accepted an invitation to chair the CALS Diversity and Inclusion Committee.  

The committee advises the CALS administration on policy and practices, as well as developing initiatives. For example, we sent a letter to the Directors of Graduate Studies in CALS strongly encouraging them to drop the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) as an admission requirement because of its well-documented bias. Because of this and other concerted efforts, the SIPS graduate fields and many others in CALS no longer have this requirement.

The committee has also helped the CALS Faculty Executive Committee (CFEC) revamp the CALS learning objective regarding students’ ability to understand diversity of other cultures and being cognizant of their own biases.

We’ve still got a lot of work to do.

I’m so thankful for the staff, students and faculty who are  at the forefront of diversity and inclusion issues in CALS and SIPS.  

The good news is that – particularly in the last year – people are becoming much more aware. Effective communication, learning to understand and appreciate each other, embracing diversity, working for equity and social justice issues will not only help the future of agriculture, but the world in general.

Craig Craimer is a communications specialist in the School of Integrative Plant Science. 

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