Multimedia Science StorytellingHow to do great science and tell the world about it

Multimedia Science Storytelling

Program Details

When: Jan 9-Jan 20, 2018

Cost: $1,400 OTS members; $2,100 Non-OTS member

Duration:2 weeks

Accreditation: 2 credits

Deadline:Oct 27, 2017

Language: English

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Multimedia Science Storytelling

We believe in bringing the beautiful stories behind science/scientists to the world! Effective science communication achieves the goal of knowledge transfer. But great science communication captures the imagination and inspires. Great science communication takes advantage of one of the oldest human traditions - storytelling! And hey, there is science behind it - our brains induce oxytocin production when we are exposed to well crafted character-driven stories and oxytocin makes us donate to charity, cooperate with others, and be generally better humans. If that wasn’t benefit enough, character-driven stories that emotionally resonate with audiences also improve understanding of complex science concepts. In fact, great science communication is so important that it was even highlighted in the esteemed scientific journal PNAS! We didn’t need research to tell us that narratives are more engaging, but the research is clear - stories resonate more than data. Every 21st-century scientist can and must become an expert communicator!

Course participants are eligible for pilot and research awards provided by the OTS Fellowship program. Students most complete the course successfully to be eligible. For more information click here


Dr. Jane Zelikova - AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the Department of Energy Office of Fossil Energy.

Invited faculty


Program Description

With the guidance of expert science storytellers in audio and film productions, students will tell compelling stories, and at the end of the 2-week course, produce a small portfolio of multimedia content -- a mini-collection of science stories told through audio and video.

Objectives of course:

  • To provide scientists with technical skills and framework to produce compelling written, audio, and video stories that draw in audiences.
  • To produce a series of science stories in a variety of media, enabling students to put their new skills into practice.


The course is an intensive field course that runs all day. It begins with breakfast at 06:30 and starts with lectures of fieldwork by 08:00 hrs. Lunch is at 12:00 hrs and dinner at 18:00 hrs. Dinners are usually followed by a lecture and or group discussions. The pace can be overwhelming at first, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you get used to it, and by how much you see and learn.

Sites Visited

The Multimedia Science Storytelling course takes place at the following three field sites in Costa Rica.

Las Cruces Biological Station. 1100 m elevation. Situated in premontane rainforest on the Pacific slope, Las Cruces has a world-class plant collection in the Wilson Botanical Garden and an associated 160 hectare tract of old growth mid-elevation forest. Las Cruces is surrounded by agricultural landscapes, ideal for research on fragmentation and restoration ecology.

La Selva Biological Station. 50 m elevation.  Situated in wet lowland rainforest on the Atlantic slope, La Selva is not only OTS' largest and longest-running station, but also one of the world's premiere centers of tropical forest research. Over 1500 hectares of old- and second-growth rainforest is readily accessible via an extensive trail system. Besides its impressive forest and excellent laboratory and classroom facilities, one of La Selva's great assets is the opportunity to interact with researchers from around the world. In addition to this, the station connects to Braulio Carrillo National Park via a forested altitudinal transect ranging from 30 m to 2500 m above sea level.


Multimedia Science Storytelling is characterized by having one full-time coordinator. Jane Zelikova will lead this edition of the course. Students will have the opportunity to interact, be taught by and participate in group field projects with faculty from different media interests and backgrounds. A list of invited faculty is provided.


JJZ Bio Photo 2ane Zelikova is a scientist, producer, biker, skier, and chaser of Frisbees, climber of rocks, adventurer, budding filmmaker, avid reader, bad surfer, and obsessive consumer of gummy bears. With a PhD in ecology, Jane is interested in how the world works and her research examines the impacts of climate change on natural and managed ecosystems. When not chasing carbon molecules in soils and in the energy sector, she makes short films, with science at the core. She is driven by her insatiable FOMO, and truly believes everyone has a story to tell.

Invited Faculty List

Flora Lichtman (Gimlet Media and Sweet Fern Productions)

florFlora hosts Every Little Thing, a podcast from Gimlet Media. Previously, Flora was a writer for "Bill Nye Saves the World" on Netflix and co-directed an Emmy-nominated series of science documentaries for The New York Times. Before that, Flora was a video producer and guest host for public radio's Science Friday.


Pat Walters (Gimlet Media, formerly of Pop-Up Magazine and Radiolab).

PatPat Walters (@patwalters) is an editor at Gimlet Media, the podcast company started in 2014 by former This American Life producer and Planet Money co-founder Alex Blumberg. Pat has been a journalist for 10 years, and has worked across a variety of mediums. For five years, he was staff a staff producer at the hit public radio show and podcast Radiolab, and was on the team that won the show's first Peabody Award. He was also the senior producer of Pop-Up Magazine, an acclaimed live production that transports the contents of a magazine onto a stage (the world's first "live magazine"), and produced the show's first national tour, as well as a session at the TED conference in Vancouver. And before editing at Gimlet, Pat hosted and produced the podcast Undone, an iTunes chart-topping documentary show that revisited historic news events and what happened afterwards. Pat's written magazine stories for The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and Popular Science, among others, and he fact-checked Rebecca Skloot's #1 New York Times bestselling book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. He has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Memphis, and he lives in Brooklyn.

Molly Webster (Radiolab)


Molly Webster is features producer and guest host at WNYC's Radiolab. Her ability to comprehend and totally immerse herself in complicated issues has helped Radiolab investigate everything from international surrogacy and metamorphosis, to what happens when you can’t escape your own beating heart. After focusing on biology in college, she graduated from New York University’s science writing program and began to pursue science journalism, reporting and producing for outlets like National Geographic Adventure, Scientific American, Nature, and Freakonomics Radio, as well as creating live science conversations over at The World Science Festival, where she brought together science, the arts, and philosophy. An Ohio native, when she’s not at Radiolab, you’ll find her outside, staring off into the distance.

Morgan Heim (Filmmaker Days Edge Productions)

Mo Morgan (Mo) Heim, is a wildlife photojournalist and filmmaker. She used to work as a wildlife ecologist for NOAA on things like killer whale surveys and the Elwha Dam Removal project. During these projects she got the storytelling bug, and later earned a master’s in environmental journalism. She is a senior fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Stories she likes to cover include endangered fishing cats and shrimp farm development, and the environmental impacts of marijuana grows in our nation’s forests. Her photographic work has appeared in outlets such as Smithsonian, Discover,, Nature Conservancy Magazine, and One of her favorite film projects has been her collaboration with Dr. Jane Zelikova, on their film The End of Snow, about changing snowpack in the West. Mo is a terrible skier, but loves snow. The film has premiered at Telluride Mountain Film, Adventure Film, DC Environmental Film Fest and in the International Wildlife Film Festival.

Please make sure to review this page frequently as invited faculty members may be changed or added to the list as the course draws near to the start date.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Multimedia Science Storytelling course costs $2100 per student. Students from OTS-member institutions pay $1400 tuition (after deducting a $700 member scholarship from the $2,100 total cost).

Cost includes: all lodging and meals, transportation during the course, and all course materials. Personal expenses such as laundry, mail, entertainment, international travel, airport tax ($29), insurance, medical expenses, etc. are not covered. Also, students planning additional time in Costa Rica before or after the course should allow $50-60 per day.

Course fees are due in full one month prior to start of course.

Additional scholarships may be available for students with demonstrated financial need. If you are interested in being considered for a partial scholarship please make sure to include a request for a partial scholarship along with the rest of the required documents. The letter should outline your financial situation, previous scholarships/grants (if any), and the amount you are seeking from outside sources to cover the costs of the course. The letter will help us asses your situation individually and determine your eligibility for a partial scholarship if you are selected for the course.

Please note that the scholarships are awarded and applied only to the tuition/course cost. They cannot be applied in any other way, for example travel expenses. Although we may be able to award a partial scholarship, we recommend that you seek funds for the course outside through you own means, such as applying for grants from your department or organizing small fund raisers.

Application Process

Course enrollment is limited to 22 students. Selection of participants is highly competitive. Qualified students from OTS member schools will have first priority, and any number of applications will be considered from each OTS institution. Applications from non-OTS institutions are welcome. The course is taught in English; however, Spanish is useful, and participants are urged to develop basic Spanish skills.

Please keep in mind that the transcripts from the course may take up to two months to process before they are sent out to your institution. Accepted students are encouraged to consult with their advisor and department what is need to transfer the credits once the course is over.

How to apply?

The application process is simple.

Click on the Apply Now button on the program page and follow the online instructions to fill out the application on-line.

At the end of the application you will be required to upload the following documents in pdf format.

  • Curriculum Vitae (4 page max.)
  • Letter of Interest
  • Letter requesting financial aid (if applicable)

You will be required to request the following:

  • Two letters of reference.
  • A graduate advisory supplement which needs to be filled out and sent to us by your graduate advisor. This form can be downloaded from the online application page.
  • OTS Delegate Endorsement (only applies to OTS member institution students). This form is downloaded from the online application page.

Please request that these documents be sent directly to We will not accept any reference letter, supplement or endorsement that is not sent directly from the referral person.

Prospective applicants from member institutions must consult with one of the two representatives of the OTS Assembly of Delegates at their institution.

Advice and endorsement by the local representative are a necessary part of the application process. There are two Delegates at each OTS member institution and their names can be found on the Assembly of Delegates page or by contacting OTS Costa Rica Education Program at See list of member institutions.

Accommodations and Meals

It is important to recognize that the OTS program differs from your typical on-campus life.

You will be a guest in Costa Rica, and consequently you will need to be sensitive to and respectful of Costa Rican customs and culture. In general, Costa Ricans (“Ticos” and “Ticas”) are warm, friendly, and courteous. We encourage you to interact with many Ticos, and we hope you will develop some good friendships.

It is important to remember that certain behaviors that are acceptable among fellow classmates at an OTS site may not be acceptable when dealing with non-course participants. For example, Costa Ricans tend to be conservative in their attitudes toward nudity and sex. Thus, stages of undress that are acceptable and inevitable in field station dormitories are offensive in public. Also, nudity on beaches, no matter how apparently deserted, is inappropriate.

Costa Ricans tend to be much more tolerant of noise (say, the loud music coming from the neighbor’s house or the children shouting and running in the living room) than many of us are in the U.S. While we ask that you be respectful of Costa Rican ways and customs, we also understand that cultural norms can often be subtle, complex, and even counter-intuitive. If you would like some advance preparation regarding Ticos and their way of life, we suggest you read Biesanz, et al. The Ticos Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica (1999, ISBN 978-1555877378) before coming to Costa Rica. Other sources you should consider are Palmer and Molina´s (2004) The Costa Rica Reader History, Culture, Politics (ISBN 0-8223-3372-4), Baker´s (2015) Moon Costa Rica and Coates' (1997) Central America A Natural and Cultural History (ISBN 0-300-08065-4). Please feel free to ask OTS staff about any questions you have regarding cultural differences and norms at any time.

Though you may have one or two roommates on campus, in Costa Rica you will be living closely with 15-22 other students and two to five professors or field assistants. This means communication and respect will be crucial. All of us need to be as open, honest, and cooperative as possible. We also need to have sincere respect for one another, regardless of different opinions and lifestyles. This includes respect for privacy, respect for rules and regulations, and even respect for the fact that unpredictability is an inherent feature of field-based programs such as ours. Indeed, next to communication and cooperation, flexibility and a good sense of humor are the most important characteristics of a successful student in our program. By living and working with the same people for several weeks, you will undoubtedly develop a number of very close friendships. The combination of uncomfortable (being wet, muddy, and tired), wacky (a bunch of Gringos on the dance floor), wonderful situations (watching iguanas sunning on the bridge at La Selva), and truly amazing (interacting with people from all sorts of social back-grounds in very different settings) creates great images and memories. You will, for sure, share these with your fellow participants well beyond the end of the course.

As OTS students, you must not only be proactive in asking the questions (and finding the answers) that are important to you, you must also be ready to share your own knowledge and experience with the rest of the group.

Passport and Visa Information

You must have a valid Passport to travel to Costa Rica. It is important that the passport does not expire within 6 months of entering Costa Rica. If you are NOT a citizen of a North American or European country, you will probably need a special visa to get into Costa Rica. We recommend that you contact your respective consulate or embassy services to determine if you need a visa to travel to Costa Rica. It is important to take into account the requirements to get a visa approved before you apply for one of our courses. If you are accepted into one of our courses we will provide any information necessary (within reason) to help with the visa application. Please keep in mind that visa application processes can take several months depending on the country of issue. For more information on this topic please visit

U.S. citizens entering Costa Rica are automatically granted a 90-day tourist Visa. Students planning to stay in Costa Rica after the program end date need to take this into account.

Please consult OTS if you have any questions about this.