I love being a scientist. The excitement of a new experiment, the gaffer tape to hold it together, searching through the data and the moment you realise you have something worth sharing. But how to share it? In today’s media world science communication is now more in demand than ever. I’ve tried to capture some ideas and tips that I have benefited from. There are many ways to communicate your scientific message – and I am in no way an expert – but these are some things that I think are important.
To me, being a scientist is a wonderful privilege. I love the idea of peering out into the murky unknown trying to understand new stuff. However, I also get to give up my evenings and weekends in the pursuit of data, spend months analysing numbers and agonise over when to trust results enough to share them. Which brings the challenge of when and how to share results? Conferences, journal papers, textbooks, public lectures and maybe the odd newspaper article used to be the standard mode. However, with the advance of the smart phone there is a range of multimedia applications, many of which I am still getting the hang of!
I guess the obvious ways are journal papers or conference presentations, I’ve found these great ways to communicate my research with other specialists – getting through the peer review alone leaves me with a feeling that the work is making some form of contribution to a science area (even if incremental!). However, away from the “traditional” academic communications, I’ve had fun building water powered rockets with local children, teaching Venn diagrams through juggling and explaining the electron spin moment to the local WI. As a scientist I’ve realised that local groups really do want to hear what you are up to. I’ve also discovered the benefits of sharing scientific adventures through vlogs, blogs, tweets and more! Not only do I get a record of my science adventures (check out Team Auguste on Youtube – yep a blatant plug!) but friends and family can also see why I spend my weekends standing in a field…
I think there was an old rhyme which went something like: don’t care was made to care, don’t care was hung, don’t care was put in a pot until don’t care was done. Although I’m not sure I fully understand the deep subtleties, I did get the main message – not caring wasn’t an acceptable option. This message has stayed with me in the lab today; I care that my experiment is performed to the best of my ability, I care that my colleagues are happy, I care that I’m working on something which I hope will make a difference and I care about sharing how brilliant science is. I know sometimes I will mess up, however I reckon that because I care I’ll keep improving over time.
I found that I’ve needed to spend time identifying the message and the audience I am trying to share it with. One of best experiences I had was the FameLab competition. Competitors get a mere three minutes on stage to speak on a STEM subject and I quickly realised I could only hope to share a couple of key points and it helped if I embedded the science in examples the audience could identify with. At no point did I shy away from the glorious techy details of my research, however I tried to explain the science in the context of examples the audience could identify with. I’d really recommend these short sharp science engagements; there are plenty out there from pop up science cafes to university organised events. Give it a go and you may be surprised at what you identify in your research when you boil it down to just a few minutes!
I often find myself loving to read the blogs of others or watching their TEDx talks; seeing excellent stuff makes me want to work harder with my own efforts. My conclusion has been to play to my strengths. I have seen brilliantly funny presentations, the use of cleverly orchestrated demonstrations and speakers who can act as a character as they share ground breaking results. However, I’ve also seen straight talking, softly spoken, calm speakers who have held me spell bound. So I guess my plan has been to soak up as much advice as I can, not to be afraid to try a different approach, but to recognise my own “communication style” and work with it.
Need My top needy things I check before a scientific engagement are…
- Do I need more/different data? Am I happy with the scientific conclusions?
- Do I need to check with any other authors/sponsors before I share a piece of work?
- Do I need to improve any skills before sharing? Should someone review my poster, or listen to a run through of my talk?
- Finally do I need to share that bit of science right now? Sometimes it may be more important to revise for an exam, comfort a family member or look after my health. Don’t feel you have to share, do it because it feels right – trust your gut instinct.
Check This one is so important, I check, check, check and check again! Top things I can think to check are:
- You believe in your science and have checked to the best of your ability the scientific method that was applied.
- If a journal article you have checked the requested format and have permission from all collaborating authors to go ahead.
- If a poster check the board size and layout that you will use at the venue (don’t be caught out by a portrait versus landscape moment). Also check what fastenings will be available.
- If a talk check your slides. Know what form the venue wants them in, check if you need a laser pen. If using a prop check (personally) that you have packed it. Do not rely on anyone else but yourself to get the kit you need for a talk to the venue unless you really, really trust them!
- Check your appearance. Not so crucial for a journal paper, but if you are defending a grant application, at an interview panel or about to walk into a stage think about the image you want to project.
- Check dates and times. Then write them down somewhere so you don’t forget.
- Finally, check again that science content. You don’t want to be remembered as the confident speaker who knew nothing about their subject!
Last but by no means least is the one that makes me want to share science and that’s enjoyment. I love science and I love to share it. Maybe it sounds a bit pretentious, but I feel science is precious knowledge and it truly deserves the coverage – plus it’s through sharing science that I’ve met some brilliant people and made wonderful new friends.
ps A tad sad..but did you spot what the section titles spell?!