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Science Communication

An interview with deep-sea biologist Diva Amon

Opinion | Researchers
An interview with deep-sea biologist Diva Amon

Marine biologist and science communicator, Diva Amon, is a fellow at NHM London and Director of SpeSeas and Co-lead of the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI). She tells us why sharing her research with the world is so important to her.

Diva Amon studies the deep ocean. She regularly embarks on trips around the world to study undiscovered habitats in the unknown depths below. Dedicated to her work, she has travelled as far down as 2.7 km below sea level to collect samples. She once even spent over a year of her life on a ship for her research. Yet, somehow she still finds time to raise public awareness of her field. An advocate for science communication, she has conquered both marine ecosystems and the hearts of the public alike. Like much of the rest of the planet, the habitats she studies are under threat. She feels a duty to communicate her research and be a role model for younger generations.

Diva believes that the worlds of academia and research haven’t always been great at communicating science. “Especially in the world that I work in, the deep sea is incredibly out of sight and out of mind. It has a really bad PR problem,” she says. “As a result, the public is not only misinformed, but also unaware of much of the research going on behind the scenes. I think we have a moral obligation to communicate about what we do, especially if our work is publicly funded.” She wants to share her passion too, “I get the privilege of experiencing this incredible place and I feel the need to share it with as many people as possible in the hope that maybe it may spark curiosity for this very unique place.”

According to Diva, communication of deep sea research is largely unsuccessful because of subscription-based academic publishing. Knowledge is locked behind paywalls and research findings are simply unreadable to the average person. She says that science can’t make an impact on the world if we keep it locked up in this way, “…the people making the laws and regulations that govern our oceans can’t access the research they need to make informed decisions. And even if they could access it, they usually can’t understand it.” 

She wants this to change. “I believe academic publishing is broken and needs a huge reform. We need to change the model somehow and make science available to everyone.” Open access is one way to go. But could more journals help publicize research? There are many other communication channels that can be used: blogs, books, social media, press releases or illustration. Diva even suggests that editorial policies should be more accessible to the public and other members of the community, not just scientists. 

Coming from Trinidad and Tobago, Diva Amon has a unique experience of how science communication has evolved over the last decade. “Back then, because I was interested in science, I would seek out information in any way I could, reading popular science novels, science news and magazines, and watching documentaries. Today the information is accessible in so many more ways and there is so much more being produced.” For one thing, social media has completely changed the landscape in science communication, everything has become more rapidly available.

Diva says that it helps to have someone who can show you where to begin. She was lucky enough to have two PhD supervisors willing to help, encourage and nourish her interest in science communication. For anyone hoping to start out, her advice is “…if public speaking isn’t something you feel extremely comfortable doing, start with schools, because you usually always get great feedback and it is rewarding. You can also find fantastic programs which allow you to talk to schools around the world even from the comfort of your home or lab. My advice: don’t start small, start comfortable. Avoid, for instance, the high-profile events at first. Even now they are not always easy for me.” 

Still, science communication isn’t for everyone. And that’s OK. Diva has produced a huge amount of content. She has published in CNN International, National Geographic, BBC World, ABC Australia, NHK, Los Angeles Times and more. She has spoken at a great number of important events, too. But, even now, she gets cold feet. “I still get impostor syndrome. The way I deal with it is essentially by telling myself: ‘fake it until you make it’. Even if you feel you don’t have the confidence or the ability, if you pretend, then others will believe it as well. So often when I’m nervous, I say to myself: ‘You can do this, you have the ability, but if you feel you don’t, pretend you do.’” Regardless, Diva still finds the time and the strength to put herself and her research out to the wider world.

For her, it’s not all about the research, though. “Growing up, the lack of diversity in science communication and especially among those advocating environmental issues was profound. It was important for me that I become a role model for younger generations,” she adds. “Having that diversity of voices is part of the reasons why I do science communication… I didn’t have a face, a voice, or someone from a similar background as a role model. So, it is important that I am potentially that role model for future generations. If I can get people from where I’m from, or similar, to care about the ocean, its environment and even potentially think about careers in science, I think I will have succeeded.” 

Diva continues to strive to inspire others with her research. Whether it be kilometers under the surface of the ocean, or the energy to overcome nerves at a public talk; she is prepared to go the distance.

This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Hindawi. The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.

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