Effective communication will improve the value of scientific discoveries, says Eleni Wood
As scientists, our work is often driven by data collection and results. But a key step in the scientific process, and one that increases the value of our findings, is the effective communication of our investigative processes and results. Science communication is not only important within our fields for the advancement of our disciplines – communication to other audiences also influences the public perception and credibility of scientists and the work we do.
Science communication comes in many guises, and by using a variety of media to deliver your scientific message you can reach a wider audience. During my own PhD, in geology, I have experimented with different methods of communication: from delivering public lectures and sharing my research developments on Twitter to creating short videos for YouTube and podcasting. Each have their merits, but the time pressures of my PhD leave me with a finite amount of time that I can dedicate to communication. I therefore have to think critically about the purposes of different forms of scientific communication, as well as when I should communicate and how I can be effective.
Here’s my advice on how to communicate science to both your peers and the general public:
Conferences and open access journals
Conferences are a buzzing hive of science and are one of the best ways to meet your peers in person. Attending a conference can help you gain connections and nurture collaborations. Along with journal publications, conferences are one of the traditional academic methods of sharing ideas, gaining consensus and building a reputation for your research. Additionally, you can now actively make sure that your peer reviewed research is freely available to all by publishing in open access journals.
Engagement activities are another important form of communication for the scientific community. There are countless ways in which this can be done – from presentations to workshops to blogs to videos to podcasts. These activities might encourage participation in research; educate and inspire the next generation of scientists; and boost the impact of your research by making sure that it reaches the people who need it most.
Presenting to stakeholders
Presenting your research to funders and other interested parties ensures that they stay up-to-speed with the latest research findings, and gives them an opportunity to feedback on how the research impacts on their lives. If done well, this can generate social and economic impacts from research and it may even increase the likelihood of future funding.
Building an online presence is not a requirement for being a successful scientist (yet!), but it is a fast-growing way in which researchers are sharing their science. Via likes, shares, retweets and other forms of attention on Twitter, ResearchGate, Facebook and more, you can post regular updates on scientific developments and progress. It’s quick and easy and it has the potential to reach a huge amount of people very very quickly.
Choosing your method
So, if you’re stuck with a busy academic calendar, which methods should you choose? One well-thought-out piece of scientific communication may have a much larger impact than pinging off 140-character snippets into the Twittersphere. However, maintaining an online profile could mean that your research reaches a much wider audience. Of course doing both is optimal, if you’re able to find the time.
The truth is there’s no silver bullet. Personally, I enjoy the storytelling aspect of science communication. And, while Twitter and podcasting are my go to methods of regular science communication, nothing beats face to face interaction with people at a conference or other event. Be a scientist, experiment, and find out what you’re good at.
Breaking down the Ivory Tower
Communication matters because science matters. With the pressures on science to help solve the world’s issues, it is more important than ever before that scientists are effective and accountable communicators. By becoming better communicators, we are less likely to fall foul of misinterpretation. It gives us connections with interested parties, which, in turn helps foster public trust. By helping others understand science, we can continue to solve problems and better understand the world around us.
Eleni Wood is a 3rd year PhD student and metamorphic geologist at the Open University, studying high pressure and temperature metamorphism relating to Himalayan mountain growth, in north-west Bhutan. When she’s not at the microscope she’s behind the microphone interviewing researchers for the podcast Fieldwork Diairies. Follow her and her podcast on twitter @EleniWood and @FieldworkDiary.