What you can’t explain in 3 minutes

Over the past two years, scientists have proved that you can do a lot in 3 minutes. Dozens of ocean scientists submitting to Ocean 180 have successfully explained the results, meaning, and significance of a recent publication in their entries, fitting it all into a beautiful and concise 180-second long video abstract.

The time limit is, without a doubt, a challenge. Taking months, sometimes years, of work and fitting it into 3 minutes isn’t simple. Scientists need to carefully consider and select the material which can be included to make the strongest video abstract. We know that in an effort to make the video fit within the time limit and to maximize its impact, there are dozens of stories, experiences, and mishaps along the way that end up on the cutting room floor.

Each time we visit a classroom participating as Ocean 180 judges, we we hear the resounding request to make the videos longer. They know there’s more to the story too. Where did the scientists go to school? How did they think to start this project? What are they working on now? 3 minutes rarely satisfy the curiosity in the room. If anything, the video abstracts inspire a slew of questions, debate, and curiosity.

While we can’t extend the time of the videos (sorry!), we don’t want to leave these questions unanswered. To connect students to the scientists behind the videos, and to help them find some answers, Ocean 180 hosts an annual Student-Scientist Summit. This one-hour virtual assembly gives student judges the chance to interact with the winning scientists and ask the questions sparked by the video abstracts.Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 12.42.58 PM

Following up on the success of the inaugural Summit in 2014, this year’s event brought together over 600 middle school students and their teachers in classrooms around the world. They were joined by the top 3 scientists, who fielded questions from students about their research, creating video abstracts, and careers in ocean science.

Throughout the Summit, students were given a chance to see the winning scientists beyond their 3 minute videos. Scientists shared their experiences in middle school, their journey to becoming ocean scientists, and those moments where things went less than perfect.

Contrary to what their video abstract might show, research can be messy. Scientists make mistakes, equipment doesn’t work the way you want it to, and test subjects are uncooperative. Sometimes things will go in a way you didn’t plan, and that’s ok. The winning entry “Drones at the Beach” certainly made their research look flawless, but Partick Rynne was quick to dispel that idea.  “We fail all the time,” he explained. “But those are usually the moments you learn the most.” Dr. Claire Simeone and Dr. Kelly Jaakkola concurred, and shared how failures and setbacks provided challenges, but ultimately helped push their research along even further.

It was an important reminder for students, and everyone else listening in. As these three incredibly successful scientists explained, failure is only a setback if you don’t learn from it. They reminded us that research is not a neat and tidy process, but can be unpredictable in many ways. Each time they encountered a hurdle or saw their experiments fail, it was an indication they needed to learn more. Those seemingly negative events were actually what allowed their work to grow and thrive in new ways. As it turns out, sometimes a failure is absolutely perfect.

The next time you find yourself browsing the Ocean 180 winners, remember that research doesn’t always fit neatly into 3 minute videos. While these scientists have done an excellent job of summarizing and sharing their research, the results in each video are supported by countless adventures, surprises, mistakes, setbacks, and lessons. Those moments, while they don’t always make the final cut, are sometimes just as important as the final discoveries.

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