Scientist’s Talk on TEDGlobal Stage Featured on TED.com

By Kat Kerlin

Mike Gil is used to spreading the word about his love of science through his nonprofit sciall.org and its YouTube channel, but he’s about to get a bigger audience. His TED Talk, recorded last summer, was posted today on TED’s main channel. Only a fraction of talks given at TED conferences are posted to the main website, which has millions of subscribers.

“Who here is fascinated by life under the sea?” he asked the audience in his opening line. All hands go up.

Gil is a marine biologist, a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UC Davis, a TED Global Fellow, and—this just in—a newly named National Geographic Explorer. He was one of 18 change-makers from around the world invited to deliver their talks last August from the TEDGlobal stage in Arusha, Tanzania.

His roughly 4.5-minute talk explores how fish communicate and what that means for the future of coral reefs. It’s based off his recent research about the social lives of fish.

“I spy on fish,” he tells the TED audience. His spying is helping to show how the copying behaviors of fish hold big implications for coral reefs. It’s also helping to uncover better ways of managing the reefs.

In addition to conducting science, Gil is passionate about making science accessible, and conveying the adventure, fun and discovery of the field. With his YouTube channel, he takes viewers with him as he explores the world, diving among the reefs and using self-deprecating humor to show the mishaps that can come from field work.

A 2017 survey and analysis of his series, published in the journal Ideas in Ecology and Evolution, found that these videos are indeed reaching a diverse audience and have improved viewers’ perceptions about science and careers in science, particularly among women and minorities.

The TED experience

As a TED Global Fellow, he was able to build on this passion for sharing science with the public. But the experience didn’t end when he stepped off the stage. Gil said that forging friendships and connections with a diverse and dynamic group of professionals was the greatest benefit. Fellows also receive career coaching for six months following their talks and become part of an active and influential network of TED fellows.

While it took “unbelievable amounts of time” to create a talk that’s not even 5 minutes long, he said it’s worth it and is now even more energized about science communication. “Science is meant to serve the general public, and to do that it has to be communicated,” he said.

Gil, who swims with sharks on a fairly regular basis, also has some advice about taking risks: “I think my selection as a TED fellow gives credence to the idea that if you have a creative idea that you’re very passionate about, even if it seems extremely unorthodox and against the grain of your discipline, you should mount the courage to pursue the idea, and to do it sooner rather than later. If you really care about it, you will get good at it, and people will start to notice. It could turn into something beyond what you dreamed of.”

Kat Kerlin writes about the environment for UC Davis Strategic Communications. Follow her at @UCDavis_Kerlin

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