The Art of Scientific Storytelling with Rafael Luna, PhD

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We were joined by Rafael Luna, PhD, a program director at Harvard Medical School by day and a scientific storyteller by night!
Take Home messages
·       Genesis of Scientific Storytelling
o   Publish or Perish (Academia)
o   How to publish early and often?
o   What is a story? It should have…
§  A beginning and end
§  Conflict and resolution
§  Compelling narrative
§  Logical series of events
o   What is a hypothesis?
§  Educated guess
o   Scientific research = scientific story
Hypothesis Validation = conflict resolution
·       How to write the manuscript
o   Audience Suggestions:
§  Outline
§  Mission statement for paper
§  Start with figures and then rearrange to make sense (like a storyboard)
§  Figure titles
o   Important thing: actually put something down, need to start somewhere
o   Rafael’s recommend order: Title, abstract, figures, results, discussion/introduction (and then return back to work on/tweak each section)
§  How do we compose a title?
·       Title = conclusion
·       One sentence conclusion of your work
o   Narrative Elements: Protagonist, antagonist, conflict, scene, resolution, stakes (The Lion King Trailer as an example)
o   Beginning and ending of narrative very important
o   Titles that pack a punch
§  Put manuscript together from that powerful title
§  Hypothesis
·       Different experiments/results that support hypothesis and build up to the climax result (which is the most important/interesting results that supports the hypothesis)
o   You can build up to the climax result so that you can end the manuscript properly and keep the reader engaged
·       Then validate your data
·       Hypothesis is resolved: have everything in conclusion, everything in your needs to be substantiated by your results
·       Have to be measured with your words and if you want to get it published need to have the data to support your statements
o   Example: Luna et al Cell Reports 2012
§  The evidence for your antagonist/protagonist is in your work
§  Need to look at your work from different angles to properly put together your manuscript
§  Changing the focus between the antagonist/protagonist can change the manuscript substantially which can impact how your paper is received by editors/reviewers
o   Examples of title variations:
§  Missing an antagonist?
·       You end up not knowing the mechanism
§  If you have 2 protagonists…
·       Difficult to go deeper in the mechanism because you have more than one protagonist to focus on
§  Processes can also be protagonists
§  Name your process or device to get more attention for your manuscript
§  If you have a drug without a proper name (combination of numbers and letters) you need to give it a name to let readers know what it means
§  Put as many narrative elements as possible in your title but if you can’t make sure it’s in your abstract
·       Recommendations: publish along the way (through your graduate, postdoc career)
o   Learn how to end a story (which is your mission/conclusion)
o   Catalyze academic writing
·       Let Rafael know if you publish well using his method (get your picture on his successful hall of fame)
·       Use this method when it matters (to tell a logical story)
·       Get feedback from your peers on your manuscript right away!
o   The sooner you know where the pitfalls are the sooner you can fix them!


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