Science communication comes in many forms. Discover your favourite, says Andy Tay
There’s a few reasons why scientists may be discouraged from science communication. Here, I’m hoping to break down some of those barriers, and introduce channels and platforms where scientists can practise. First, here are some of the reasons stopping more scientists from practising science communication, as well as my rebuttals.
Barriers to science communication
It is time-consuming and difficult
My advice – practice makes perfect! I can still remember the numerous edits I had to make when I first wrote for this blog in February 2016. With more practice and after getting familiar with the style of blog writing, my essays are becoming better received by editors. It gets faster and it gets easier.
It is stressful to be a science representative as the discussion may be outside the scope of my work
Before you volunteer to communicate about science, it is important to know who your audience is. This helps you to prepare the right materials to engage people, and helps you assess if you’re the right person for the job. If you feel that you are not the best person, politely decline the offer, volunteer to help next time and recommend someone whom you know is more qualified for the opportunity.
There is no perceived benefit
This is a huge fallacy. Science communication has strengthened my ability to organize content and engage with people, and I’m better at gathering information efficiently when writing academic papers. Science communication has also provided me with learning opportunities as a Naturejobs journalist at a Career Expo.
Opportunities for science communication
Communication is important for the scientific community, and it’s important for you. Here‘s some of the different ways you can communicate science. Find something that works for you.
Science writing can come in many different styles like reports, news, blogs, fiction etc. The Conversation, for instance, is a blogging platform for one to contribute discursive pieces to stimulate public interest. The articles are meant to be pitched at a 16-year-olds, so the editors will help you learn how to best communicate to a non-expert audience. Scientific news agencies such as Science Alert offer opportunities to write journalistic pieces.
If you are a fan of science fiction, consider writing to outlets such as Nautilus and Aeon, both of which have a wide reader base. Getting published in these magazines will earn you the credentials when you pitch to more recognized titles. Recently, Quartzy, the lab management platform, has also introduced The Q blog and it recruiting writers to share stories about research life and tips. Each article also comes with a token of appreciation (USD 50) from the company.
For some of you who are better in graphics, you can also consider using images and videos to communicate science. You can contribute images to the Wellcome Trust’s repository for use in exhibitions.
During my attendance at the Week of International Scientific Talent (WIST), a programme organized by Universcience to expose students to diverse ways of science communication, I met colleagues who are using cartoons and a YouTube channel (Kok Bisa) to promote science in their own countries. Science also organizes an annual Data Stories competition where scientists can submit short videos of their work and have their work featured on Science.
Museums can provide an inclusive environment for people of all ages to engage in scientific dialogues. Cité des Sciences in Paris occasionally hosts scientists who are interested in designing exhibits. When I visited, I got a chance to learn how curators conceptualize themes for exhibitions and how they design their exhibits to make learning accessible for most visitors. One can also consider volunteering in schools to explain science to younger students. For example, in the University of California, Los Angeles, there are multiple opportunities for college students to perform experiments to inspire the curious minds of younger students. Some conferences like microTAS might also have special sessions to allow attendees to interact with younger students.
Communication is an important skill for scientists — we need to restore public and financial support of research, and the only way to do that is by explaining what we do.
Make use of some of the resources described here to find your favourite method for communicating science.
His research focuses on the evolution of magnetotactic bacteria and biophysics of neurons. In his free time, Andy enjoys using the gym and writing.
Andy is grateful for the financial support from Universcience to visit Paris during the Week of International Scientific Talent.