UConn professor stresses story in science

Tim Miller, assistant professor of digital media and design, speaks about the role of storytelling in the communication of scientific research in Konover Auditorium on Wednesday evening. He explained that as the understanding of science grows, storytelling drives inspiration and critical thinking while helping convey answers to the fundamental questions fueling scientific research. (Nicholas Hampton/The Daily Campus)

Traditionally, the world of science is comprised of raw data and technicality. However, today’s researchers need a sense of storytelling, according to Timothy Miller, a visiting assistant professor at the University of Connecticut, who spoke about incorporating narrative into research at Konover Auditorium Wednesday.

Miller, author of “Muse of Fire: Storytelling & The Art of Science Communication,” is a former nationwide speaker and employee of both the Boston Museum of Science and the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California.

Wednesday’s presentation focused on studying narrative arcs like those seen in classic stories in order to better present scientific data to the public.

“I think this question about how we tell stories, particularly how we tell stories in science, is becoming more important than it’s ever been because science now has in its grasp some really immense power,” Miller said. “We’re starting to grapple with the last questions in fundamental science.”

Miller said that presenting research as a story, and making the scientists or their discoveries the heroes of those stories, makes the topic more approachable to audiences and better advocates for research as a whole.

“You, your team and your lab are the protagonists and you have some goal, some question you are trying to answer, some problem you’re trying to solve,” Miller said. “This is the easiest story structure, because science itself and the investigations have a kind of narrative structure. They’re all about something we want badly and the trouble we have pursuing them.”

Miller highlighted the importance of mixing the fields of art and science as an opportunity to boost student cooperation and involvement. Currently, he’s working on the National Science Foundation’s National Research Traineeship, which utilizes student cooperation in the name of research.

“Rather than taking graduate students and training them very, very deeply in one specific discipline, we are going to take a cohort of graduate students from a bunch of different disciplines and train them all at the same time around one central research question,” Miller said.

Philip Gialopsos, an eighth-semester biology major in attendance, found the talk to be helpful as a student with a science background.

“As a scientist, I worry about how I share my ideas with the world,” Gialopsos said. “Coming to this made me excited about different potentials that I can have in sharing the stories that people don’t necessarily understand about science.”

Miller closed with a message about every scholar’s responsibility to further the narrative story’s role in the fields of exploration and discovery.

“As the power of science grows, I think our responsibility to use it intelligently grows too,” Miller said. “I think that we all have a responsibility to choose what stories we want to tell and then learn to tell them as well as we can.”


Collin Sitz is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at collin.sitz@uconn.edu.