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Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences hosts improv workshops for PREP, IMSD students

Improvisation theory encourages flexibility, confidence and creativity for scientists

By Kylee Denesha

UMass Medical School Communications

October 21, 2020
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Via Zoom, the group took part in a variety of verbal and physical exercises that encouraged them to embrace confidence, flexibility and creativity.

Students in the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) and Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences gathered on Zoom recently for a unique opportunity to practice their quick-thinking skills.

Acting and improvisation facilitator Shawn Kinley led two virtual training workshops for the PREP and IMSD programs. Kinley teaches improvisation theory to professionals in science, the arts and business among several other fields.

“In life, pressed with situations that might be challenging, we second guess ourselves. We are inclined to say ‘no’ before we say ‘yes,’” said Kinley, addressing the virtual workshop of about 25 students. “We need to learn to take risks, especially in science. When things do not go the way we planned, we need to adapt, respond and expand possibilities. Think ‘yes’ and run with it, instead of ‘no.’”

The group took part in a variety of verbal and physical exercises that encouraged them to embrace confidence, flexibility and creativity. The activities included cohesive storytelling, public speaking and devised movement.

“The work we did in the sessions definitely applies to the science we are doing and will do over the course of our careers,” said Shayla Newman-Toledo, first-year PREP student. She graduated from UMass Boston last spring with a bachelor’s degree in biology. “We practiced how far communication and tone can take us. Sometimes we may not feel comfortable speaking up in a professional setting, but even if you’re incorrect, you still learn something by trying.”

“The sessions were very refreshing to take part in,” said Eric Romo, MD/PhD student in the Clinical and Population Health Research program. Romo is also a former PREP student and IMSD scholar. “It encouraged me to be more spontaneous and vulnerable. In science and medicine, a lot of planning goes into decision-making. This challenged me to embrace the value of trusting myself to speak up. In a career setting, I’m sure this will help with collaboration skills.”

The PREP and IMSD students were joined in the sessions by their program directors and principal investigators of the NIH-funded training grants: Kate Lapane, PhD, professor of population & quantitative health sciences and associate dean of clinical and population health research, and Brian Lewis, PhD, professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology and assistant vice provost of outreach and recruitment.

“We want our students to take chances and learn to roll with any situation that they may encounter,” said Dr. Lapane. “In our research, now and in the future, we will come across moments that do not go as expected. It’s important for our trainees to understand how to acclimate and adjust when things do not go our way, whether it is an experiment, a presentation or everyday communication.”

“We wanted to find a way for our students to have fun while learning, especially in a time where we are all apart,” said Dr. Lewis. “It’s a way to broaden our horizons, and for some of us, get out of our comfort zones.”