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Voices from STEM Fields on DL

What do practicing STEM professionals say about their use of communication and other literacy skills in their work?

These interviews highlight some of the unique literacy skills of STEM professionals and how they communicate in their day-to-day work. These "disciplinary literacy" skills differ from generic literacy skills applied to science and should be taught as part of a science course. We hope that teachers will use these clips in their own professional learning to help reflect on how well their instruction is lining up with the work of professionals. We also hope that teachers will use these clips with students, to illustrate the importance of strategies such as careful documentation of work, peer review, clear communication, and collaboration. Thank you to Thersea Burzynski, CESA 10, for her support in creating this resource.

A detailed description of how educators could connect these interview clips to student lessons and professional learning can be found here. These ideas are organized by ELA anchor standards to support disciplinary literacy work.

STEM Professionals

  • Rebecca Cole - Parasitologist at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin
  • Kent Syverson - Glacial Geologist and Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
  • Joe Roman - Master Electrician at DAAR
  • Matt Gundry - Civil Engineer with Fleming, Andre & Associates, Inc.
  • Barbara Eikenberry - Hydrologist at the USGS Water Sciences Center in Wisconsin
  • Kurt Oettel - Oncologist at Gundersen Health in LaCrosse, WI
  • Ben Herzog - Meteorologist at the Milwaukee/Sullivan NWS Office
  • Paula Marquardt - Geneticist with the UW Forest Service in Northern Wisconsin

Rebecca Cole, USGS Wildlife Parasitologist and Zoologist

Photo of Rebecca Cole

Rebecca A. Cole is a wildlife parasitologist with the United States Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI. She runs the parasitology laboratory, where her team studies parasites from animals from across the country to help determine how they died and whether parasites contributed to their deaths. One of her current projects is studying parasites in the invasive swamp eel, found in ethnic markets and waterways in the eastern and southern U.S. You might find her working in a lab, collecting specimens in the wild, or using a variety of methods to communicate her team's findings. More information about her work can be found at this USGS website. 

Audio clips from interview with Rebecca Cole

1. Tell us about your job...

2. How do you communicate within your work?

3. How do you check on the quality or validity of other scientists’ work in the papers they write?

4. How do you document your work? [“bench sheet” = form to document work and “lat and long,” = latitude and longitude where the specimen was found]

5. Do you prefer handwritten or digital notes as you’re conducting investigations? Why?

Kent Syverson, Glacial Geologist, UW-Eau Claire

Photo of Kent Iverson

Kent Syverson is a glacial geologist, working as a professor and chair of the geology department at UW-Eau Claire. He has researched the state’s Driftless Area and gathered evidence of permafrost conditions in WI. You might find him studying an outcrop with a group of undergraduate and graduate students, supporting them in making accurate observations in waterproof notebooks. More recently he has become very interested in the geology of frac sand deposits in Wisconsin and has done consulting with the sand industry. More information about his work can be found at this UW-Eau Claire website. 

Audio clips from interview with Kent Syverson

1. Tell us about your job...

2. How do you communicate within your work?

3. What does the process of sharing and revising your work within peer-reviewed publications look like?

4. What do you do when you come across information that appears contradictory to other sources of information you are using? And, how do you determine the validity of another’s work?

5. How you document your work when doing scientific investigations in the field?

6. Are you ever required to defend your work? How do you go about doing that?

Matt Gundry, Civil Engineer, Fleming, Andre & Associates, Inc.

Photo of Matt Gundry

Matt Gundry is a civil engineer in Northwest Wisconsin with Fleming, Andre & Associates, Inc. (FAA). He designs highways, bridges, buildings and commercial sites. He also reviews transportation systems and structures for safety and capacity in considering proposed changes to zoning or new development in an area. As a less obvious part of his engineering work, he also does economic analysis of engineering projects. He analyzes life cycles of structures and roadways, considering issues such as whether and when replacement vs. repair makes sense. More information about the work of his company can be found on this FAA website. 

Audio clips from interview with Matt Gundry

1. What do you do day to day in your job?

2. What are the ways you communicate on the job?

3. If you were assigned a new project on an unfamiliar topic, what is your process for learning about that topic?

4. What do you do when you come across information that appears contradictory to other sources of information you are using?

5. Do you ever have to defend your work? What does that look like?

6. What standards or regulations do you have to follow and how do you document your work to ensure those are being followed?

Joe Roman, Master Electrician and Electrical Inspector at DAAR

Photo of Joe Roman

Joe Roman is a master electrician and electrical inspector with DAAR Corporation out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In his work as an inspector, he ensures that jobs, largely in the transportation sector, are being completed according to contract and Dept of Transportation specifications. His job revolves around clear communication - with hundreds of workers and multiple organizations working together on complex projects, it's essential that everyone is on the same page. More information about his workplace, DAAR, can be found at this website. 

Audio clips from interview with Joe Roman

1. Tell us about your job...

2. When you’re writing inspection reports and otherwise communicating on the job, what do you have to consider in those communications?

3. What if there’s a contradiction in reports? What do you do about that?

4. If you were assigned a new project on an unfamiliar topic, what is your process for learning about that topic? [Keys are the importance of asking questions and listening!]

5. How do you synthesize all of the information you’re gathering? And, what do you have to consider in sharing that information? [audience awareness]

Barbara Eikenberry, USGS Hydrologist

Photo of Barb Eikenberry doing water testing!

Barb Scudder Eikenberry is a hydrologist (includes elements of chemistry, biology, and environmental science) with the United States Geological Survey's Water Sciences Center in Middleton, WI, where she has worked since 1981. Her expertise is in water quality assessment using freshwater organisms. Her emphasis is on the accumulation of chemicals in these organisms, as well as community ecology of algae, invertebrates, and fish. More information about her work can be found at this USGS website. 

Audio clips from interview with Barb Eikenberry

1. Tell us about your job...

2. How do you communicate within your work?

3. If you were assigned a new project on a new topic, what would be your process for learning about that?

4. As you’re doing your research, what if you come across studies that appear contradictory?

5. When you make a proposal, publish, or present your work, are you ever required to defend that work? [gets into the peer review process]

6. How do you document your work, such as data recording? Do you prefer digital or handwritten for that? And, do you use photos as well?

7. How do communicate with individuals who may not be happy about or agree with the information you’re sharing?

Kurt Oettel, Oncologist, Gundersen Health

Photo of Kurt Oettel

Dr. Kurt Oettel is a medical oncologist with Gundersen Health System in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Most of his day is spent seeing patients in the clinic where he specializes in treating cancer and blood disorders. One day a week he provides services at other clinics across the region, such as the Ho-Chunk clinic in Black River Falls. He repeatedly emphasized that effective communication skills are a critical part of his work with patients. He received both his bachelor’s degree in zoology and his medical degree from UW-Madison. More information about his workplace and areas of specialty can be found at this Gundersen Health website.

Audio clips from interview with Dr. Oettel

1. What do you do day-to-day in your job?

2. What are the ways you communicate on the job and what are any challenges you face with that?

3. How do you document your work, such as patient records?

4. What is your process for learning about new topics, such as innovative treatments?

5. If you come across treatment information that you question, how do you vet that? And, how do you then reason through a treatment decision?

6. Are there other literacy skills required in your work that we haven’t discussed? [where Dr. Oettel emphasizes communication skills]

Ben Herzog, NWS Meteorologist

Photo of Ben Herzog!

Benjamin (Ben) Herzog is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Milwaukee, WI. His main job is data quality control, where he verifies observations, and ensures the weather equipment is working properly. He also updates short-term forecasts of weather based on the most current models available. Increasingly, he regularly communicates weather information for the region through social media, such as Twitter. In the office, you could find him checking equipment or writing a new piece of computer code. More information about the NWS Regional Office in the Milwaukee area and Ben's work can be found at this NWS website. 

Audio clips from interview with Ben Herzog

1. Tell us about your job...

2. A lot of your job has to do with communication, what do you have to consider within those communications? [where he discusses the challenge of weather forecasting!]

3. How do you use data and models in your work? And what happens when models provide contradictory information?

4. For short term severe weather events, what do you do in your communications to make sure people are listening?

5. How do you defend your work? In other words, if you make a forecast, how do you support and share your claim?

6. If you were assigned a new project on an unfamiliar topic, what is your process for learning about that topic?

7. Any final comments relating to communication skills and your work as a scientist?

Paula Marquardt, US Forest Service Geneticist

Photo of Paula Marquardt

Paula Marquardt is a geneticist with the United States Forest Service in Northern Wisconsin. She works with a variety of organisms, including bats and turtles, though her specialty is trees and plants. She studies how air pollution and insect damage affect tree growth and plants’ ability to carry out life functions. She’s also studying the movement of insects across forest systems. You might find her taking samples in the field, doing experiments in a lab, or writing up reports at her computer. Her work is an important part of sustainably managing forests, where biodiversity and genetic diversity will help ensure healthy future generations of all organisms in an ecosystem. More information about the US Forest Service and Dr. Marquardt's work can be found at this US Forest Service website. 

Audio clips from interview with Paula Marquardt

1. What do you do in your day-to-day ?

2. What are the ways you communicate on the job?

3. If you were assigned a new project on an unfamiliar topic, what is your process for learning about that topic?

4. What do you do when you come across information that appears contradictory to other sources of information you are using? (process used)

5. Tell me about how you document your work.

6. How do you synthesize multiple sources of information?

For questions about this information, contact Kevin Anderson (608) 266-3319