Faculty Spotlight: Heather Watts and Patrick Scott

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Students use light and shadow techniques to merge filmmaking with their assigned scientific article.

“In science, there’s an increasing need and demand for scientists to communicate their research to the public; and for the public to be able to understand and appreciate the work that’s being done by scientists.”    – Professor Heather Watts, Biology Department

Together, Heather Watts and Patrick Scott (Film Production Department) did just that. The two professors created a course called Biology, Film, & Science Communication. It’s a new class equally composed of students from The Seaver College of Science and Engineering and the School of Film and Television. The goal of the course is to merge art and science together in a collective and cohesive way that allows students to gain communication and teamwork skills.

Each week, students can either select or be assigned to a scientific research paper in the field of biology, all centered around the theme of animal movements. Then, they are tasked with using a particular technique from filmmaking to communicate the message to a given audience. Watts explains, “One week they might be using stop motion to communicate about a research paper related to fish migration.”

The greatest asset about the space for the course is its flexibility. Each week is something different; so to be able to have a classroom where students can move desks around, reorganize chairs, and clear the space for filming is excellent. It’s the physical space of the room that helps Watts and Scott organize the class each week – the arrangement is great for groups to work in.

What Watts and Scott often talk about, is how they can mix up the groups to make sure that every student not only gets a chance to work with each other, but also so they see and adapt their teamwork skills based on those new dynamics. The students enrolled in the course have been most successful when challenged to the best of their abilities; both in terms of communicating the nature of the science and also in an artistically pleasing and dynamic way.

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The film and science students collaborate on new project ideas.

Patrick Scott notes, “It’s sometimes hard for creative people to be reminded that more important than their artistic skill or their artistic vision is their ability to work within other groups, to communicate with people who are outside of their field, and to be able to meet a client’s needs.” What the class focuses on is the teamwork, interdisciplinary skills, and interpersonal skills that are important to whatever field these students go into.

Scott admits, “I can’t think of a single field these students could go into – whether it’s film, or science, or something completely different – where teamwork, communication, and learning to roll with the punches isn’t important.” The new Biology, Film, & Science Communication course is the perfect place for students to develop these abilities, and to gain experience and understanding fields outside of their own.