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  • Writer's pictureXochitl Clare

REEFlections Testimonios: Virtual vs. "IRL" (In Real Life)

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

Exploring undergraduate experiences in navigating virtual scientific storytelling

Article by Xochitl Clare | Photo by USCB Graduate Division

“Look back at it!"

REEFlecting on the Undergraduate Research Symposium I founded at UCSB (2019)--pre-COVID-19. Lessons learned in the virtual classroom this past year leading 2020 a Virtual REEFlections. Read for information to support students in more challenging days to come in our "new normal".


As we turn the corner into a pivotal decade for our planet, our society needs to develop a greater level of general scientific understanding to confront global environmental issues. Science communication and education play a critical role in establishing this general understanding and relies on individuals who can effectively inform the public on the importance of environmental research. The UCSB Research Experience & Education Facility (REEF) is a platform for developing strong undergraduate science educators that are at the forefront of this work—actively connecting with local schools and the public using scientific storytelling to disseminate marine science.


The aptitude for marine science education and communication displayed by REEF undergraduates is much needed in academic environments. Further, undergraduates involved in science outreach and education, with greater “soft-skill” strengths, tend not to feel welcome to participate in research environments, where traditionally “hard skills” are rewarded over “soft” skillsets. Despite these challenges, some exceptional REEF undergraduates manage an undergraduate course load, work at the REEF, and in UCSB labs on campus. To honor these unique students, in 2019 I developed an annual event, the REEFlections: REEF Undergraduate Symposium, as an opportunity for REEF undergraduate researchers to build scientific communication skills, and to share their work with their community. As a part of REEFlections, students work under a fast-paced timeline with program directors, organizers, and research mentors to develop dynamic presentations on their undergraduate research experience. Student speakers are encouraged to engage in reflective scientific storytelling.


"Students look backward & forwards to share how their accomplishments have shaped them in the present"


While it is clear that science communication impacts audiences and transforms public perspectives, I have observed that science communication also affects the communicators themselves. I have seen that after communicating their research experiences with their community, REEFlections students seem more empowered as environmental leaders.

An "In-Person" World: Undergraduate REEF students run weekly marine science education programs with local schools (K-12) while balancing a busy academic schedule and extracurriculars.

To further examine how science communicators are also transformed in the process of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) communication, I will examine REEFlections participant experiences in the form of interviews or testimonios”. Testimonios, “(re)tellings” of a lived experience, have been used in the field of education to challenge objectivity and provide insight on the experiences of students with non-traditional backgrounds in STEM (Rendón et al. 2020). The testimonios I collect from students and program mentors alike will help answer the question:


Does scientific storytelling contribute to students’ perspectives on science communication and their potential as future scientific leaders?


2020 Virtual REEFlections Cohort

Based on testimonios students have shared so far, it appears that students may not be able to immediately articulate the scope of their accomplishments over the course of the program. Although, since REEF students involved in REEFlections already display exemplary leadership skills (“soft skills”). Their participation in my program simply brings together those strengths in a more academic context. Therefore, I expect testimonios to be indirect in revealing a sense of newfound confidence in REEFlections participants as they realize the skills they needed to participate in STEM fields were skills they had all along.

2019 REEFlections Cohort
Ally Aplin holding a critter at the UCSB REEF

2020 Virtual REEFlections Speaker "DebREEF":

Listen to Ally Aplin REEFlect on her experience in REEFlections and as an undergraduate researcher in the Burkepile Lab on her Audio Log!











About the Author: Xochitl Clare, will be receiving her Ph.D. in Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara (23'). Her current research covers eco-physiology and global change biology. Xochitl is also passionate about multi-media science communication.

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