It’s fall term. Do you know what this means? It means I’ll spend the next 12 weeks teaching Scientific Communication to a bunch of students, and thinking a lot about how to communicate efficiently. The first exercise we’ve done was to find an important figure, and discuss, in four slides and four minutes, how it changed the way we thought about science. It was interesting, because it helped me establish a baseline for the class (before approaching presentations in a more formal way), and also evaluate what each student will have to work on. And like the previous years, I think there are a few things that are easy to do, and would immediately improve presentations. Let’s dig in.
It starts, like all great stories do, with Lavender. When I was a PhD student, one of my projects was to study time-series of bacteria-bacteriophage infection networks in the soil. We had a little plot of soil, about 10 cm by 50 cm, in one of the remote university “green” spaces (Montpellier in the summer is the brownish kind of green). On day 1, we got our five soil samples, and started isolating them in the lab. Then after a week, we thought it was time for another sample. Took a fork and some falcon tubes (we were good at improv science), headed down the stairs. No more soil plot. It had been replaced by the loveliest arrangement of rocks, fresh soil, and lavender plants I had ever seen. No more plot, no more sampling, no more project, no more paper.
A good figure is worth a thousand words. But some figures can change the world in very profound ways. Today, I would like to discuss what I think is the most important scientific figure ever drawn.