A PhD level course to develop the skills needed to be an effective science communicator.
In an increasingly linked and networked world, scientists need to be effective communicators to many different audiences, from grant agencies to scientific peers, public audiences and the media. To communicate science well does not always come naturally, but just like other aspects of scientific work, science communication is a skill that can be learnt and developed. In this PhD level, course students will learn about the common skills that all effective science communicators have identifying and characterizing the target audience, distilling the relevant information to be communicated, effective ways to deliver and receive information, and the variety of techniques and media by which scientific information is communicated.
Date: 1-5 October 2018 (Closed for 2018, check back next year!)
Day 1 – Why communicate science? Introduce course project: web-page
Day 2 – Developing a communication toolkit
Day 3 – The media ecosystem
Day 4 – Public outreach
Day 5 – Creating a video and project presentations
The five-day course will cover the following topics
Elevator talks – how to distill information down to the essential points.
Analyzing and preparing for communication – how to identify your audience and their knowledge base, what methods and technology are available for communication.
The media ecosystem – how people encounter science in their everyday lives (e.g., radio, TV, newspapers, blogs, podcasts, social media, websites). How to tell a story?
How does one become a public science communicator?
Creating content to communicate your science.
The nature of this subject will involve active participation, interaction and creativity. Students will be required to communicate with different groups of people in different contexts during the course to practice and develop these skills. The activities that participants will undertake include:
Creating an ‘elevator talk’ about your own research
Creating a visual abstract about your own research
How to write for different audiences
Scientific story telling
Creating a short 2-minute video about your work
In addition to these group activities, students will be given 1.5 hours every day to develop their own research/science communication web-page.
Science is fascinating and comes naturally to us all. Why? is one of the most common questions you’ll get from a small child, and it is only later on, through repetition, jargon and memorization that many begin to lose interest. Our scientific training is partly to blame, with its emphasis on careful phrasing, concise and technical prose stripped of embellishments and analogies, and a lack of motivation to reach out to others beyond our field. What is the purpose of your research if not to change the scientific landscape and improve (at the least) the world’s understanding of a subject, perhaps even to improve society?
I am passionate about scientific research and am alarmed at the general public’s lack of understanding of the scientific process and the incredible achievements researchers are making. I believe we can change things by becoming more approachable and open about science. If that isn’t enough of a reason for you to communicate your research, consider that ultimately it will also help your career to become a better communicator. By stepping beyond the jargon and your sharp focus, you will get a better picture of the greater issues surrounding your work. This will help with your paper and grant writing and establishing interdisciplinary collaborations, as well as give you greater visibility globally.
I want to help motivate you early in your career, and together change the face of science.
My journey as a science communicator has largely been accidental. In the past decade an explosion has taken place in terms of where and how much information the public can access driven almost exclusively by the internet. In the past, my quest for scientific knowledge was fulfilled through reading scientific papers, popular science books, and watching documentaries. Today, a primarily young generation of scientists have taken to blogs, podcasts and social media to create a popular conversation around the science that interests them. At the same time these new science communication channels emerged, a new voice for scientific dissent emerged using these very same internet-based tools. Dissent in the form of conspiracy theories had previously been considered fringe, but with a new media for voicing alternative views of the world, science has come under unprecedented attack. Despite the news media's attempts to present a balanced view on scientific issues such as climate change, genetically modified foods, and vaccines, it has been anything but balanced. Fair-and-balanced reporting on science, has meant that the public views one scientist advocating for the body of evidence-based science and one skeptic advocating for a fringe that lacks evidence. For these reasons I realized that I must become a voice for scientific reasoning and share the joy I find in life as a scientist.
Science communications does not have to be a counter for the alternative realities of many living in the echo chambers of the internet. Science communication should be done because it is fun and no one knows your science better than you. If you do not communicate your science to the public who will? Our funding depends on the public's trust in science and the value it provides in making our societies, economies and world a better place.
From coming up with creative ideas and drafting proposals to writing papers and communicating the results, I am continuously looking for principles and techniques that help me and my colleagues to conduct better science. And I bet you cannot give me a better way to learn these skills than teaching.
Of all aspects of the scientific process, science communication is core, because "what is unclearly said is unclearly thought." That is, science communication forces us to think clearly about our research. Moreover, science communication is also about inspiring critical thinking, which society desperately needs. It is our responsibility as researchers to share our insights with the people who pay our salaries and allow us to run our experiments. And what can be more rewarding than sharing the beauty that we see in the world and how it works?