The Make Your Metaphor Project

How does it work? 

Using your smart phone, tablet, or webcam, we invite you to make two short (1+ minute) videos: a “scientific” version and “lay” version.  You can then upload these by following the “Upload Your Video” link or by contacting,, or in the Development Office.

Why a “scientific” and “lay” version?

We encourage you to submit both versions as it is often enjoyable and enlightening to view the contrast between the two styles of communication. Calibrate the “scientific version” as if speaking to a colleague at a conference or internal meeting. For the “lay version,” imagine that you are explaining your work to a friend at a party or a non-scientist sitting next to you on a train.

How much work is involved?

While these videos need not be polished, we encourage you to think carefully through what you wish to cover.  Look below for tips on creating your video.  The examples on the "Explore the Gallery" page represent fellow PSOM faculty tackling the challenge of describing their work — help us to add to and deepen this list.

Why should I participate?

The videos you create will likely be a great start — a first draft — that will eventually make your PSOM webpage more dynamic. We hope you will be able to repurpose these videos to share the story of your lab to any audience.

Your video may also be used by the Development Office to educate Penn Medicine Board members, alumni, and friends who may be interested in the latest activity in our research enterprise. The better we communicate your science, the more people will appreciate and perhaps even support your important work. 

Make Your Metaphor videos may also be used for Penn Medicine News accounts across various social media platforms. We use these videos to raise the visibility of basic biomedical research throughout the Penn Medicine community to help enrich the broader dialogue about the role of science in modern advances in quality of life.

Finally, this should be fun! Take your own passion for your work and allow it to shine through the making of this video. The more excited you are to share your story, the more someone else will enjoy hearing it. Below are suggestions put together by the Development Office for creating your video.


Suggestions for How to Create Your Lay Video


  • While a variety of different approaches may work, here is an outline of what you might cover:

    • the biomedical problem you are addressing in your lab

    • why it matters

    • potential solutions

    • the benefits of fixing it

  • Deciding what to say is only the first step; sorting out how to say it is just as important.  The goal of the “lay version” video is to get someone interested enough to ask a question about your research program.  Below are some tips and an example.


  • Try to avoid scientific terminology.  Instead, consider using a metaphor drawn from everyday life to help your audience understand your research aims — for example, our immune system responding to an infection might be described as a battle and you’re helping to create a better soldier or a cancer cell’s metabolism might be likened to a car that you’re trying to deprive of gasoline.

  • Cut to the chase — practice describing why your research matters to the public interest in 1 – 2 sentences.  For example, most people won't understand why they should care about research on proteins inside nerve cells.  But they do care if a scientist tells them that she is working to better understand Alzheimer's disease so that we can develop more precise new treatments.  Even if practical applications are a long way off, describe how the research will create new knowledge that will eventually improve human health or an aspect of people's lives.

  • Have fun!  You can be looser and more conversational in this medium.  The goal is to seem approachable and engaging to a non-scientist.  Throw a joke in!

  • Communicating concisely requires careful thought.  You may find it helpful to write out and revise your lay version.


Here’s one example (check out the library of videos of your fellow scientists to see more):

PennCHOP Microbiome Program

  • Scientists have recently discovered a new organ in the human body – this organ isn’t made of human cells, it’s made of microbes!

  • We are all covered in trillions of microbes – from your feet to your gut to your brain.  Microbes outnumber human cells 10:1.

    • Collectively, we call all these microbes the microbiome.

    • And, scientists like to think of these microbes collectively – like the rainforest, the healthy human microbiome is a balanced ecosystem.  We now know that the correct balance of microbes keeps potential pathogens in check and regulates our immune system.  Microbes perform essential functions such as digesting food and synthesizing vitamins, and when there are problems the microbial community has been linked to major diseases such as cancer, heart disease, autism, stroke, mood, gut disorders, and eczema.

    • In the last 10 years, there has been an explosion of interest in the microbiome – much of this driven by incredible new DNA sequencing tools.  We now have the tools to comprehensively analyze the microbiome.  Penn has a host of great labs doing work in different areas on the microbiome.

  • To capitalize on our strength in this area, we launched a major new initiative – the PennCHOP Microbiome project.  We are focusing on DNA sequencing, engineering bacterial communities, and improving diagnosis.

  • In 10 – 20 years our goal is to use microbes to find new ways to diagnose and treat diseases as diverse as cancer, heart disease, autism, stroke, and mood disorders.  We are convinced we’ve found a major new avenue to improve the lives of people who have these diseases.


Sources and Additional Resources

While these links are geared to job-seeking post docs, they informed the Tips section (above) and may be of use to you too in creating your lay video:






For technical assistance, contact:

Aaron Todd

Assistant Director
Leadership & Strategic Initiatives
Penn Medicine Development and Alumni Relations

p: (215) 573-3204

Direct questions about the Make Your Metaphor Project to:

Torren Blair

Director of Development
Basic Science Programs and Leadership & Strategic Initiatives
Penn Medicine Development and Alumni Relations

p: (215) 898-7680

Megan Osvath

Associate Director of Development for Biomedical Research
Basic Science Programs and Leadership & Strategic Initiatives
Penn Medicine Development and Alumni Relations

p: (215) 573-9394