“Not only is it important to ask questions and find the answers, as a scientist I felt obligated to communicate with the world what we were learning.” Wise words from Stephen Hawking. And many scientists are doing just that. A 2014 survey carried out by AAAS showed that 98% of scientists interviewed are interacting with the public, at least some of the time. Personally, I think that is great news.
What are the ways to share your research findings? Where best to start? Of the possibilities, I think we can break science communication outlets down into three categories: public speaking, written communication and all things digital. Here, is a whistle-stop tour through some of the different ways of communicating your science to the public.
Speak about it
Speaking about science is my personal favorite. It allows you, the credible expert in your subject, to share your findings and experience directly with the world. However, there are certain drawbacks to take into account: the stress of speaking to an audience or camera, the effort of preparing in advance and the risk of making a “live” mistake.
For PhD students across the world there are pitch competitions like Three-Minute Thesis or FameLab. The idea is to present a science topic in under three minutes and against the clock. Public speaking does not always have to be competitive, though. There are other, more laid-back, opportunities to talk about your science. In a bar, for example, at festivals like Pint of Science, standing on a soap box at a Soap Box Science event or, more generally, lab tours.
Also, the media in general can be a great way to speak about your work, primarily because TV or radio channels will already have a steady viewership and a large scope to reach the masses. Just take the example of successful radio shows like The Naked Scientists (UK) or La Méthode Scientifique (France). For programs about science, they have a great number of listeners and regularly invite real researchers into the studio to talk about their area of expertise.
Write about it
When preparing a written piece, you have time to put your ideas down on the page and edit at your own pace. What stumps a lot of people, though, is that the art of writing well is a skill. Finding your voice and expressing ideas in words takes practice.
How to get around that?
Option one: you give it a shot and accept that your writing isn’t perfect, but you will get better. A great place for this is in a blog. You can edit a blog post as often as you like, even after you have posted it online, so you can keep refining your work if you wish.
Option two: let a journalist or writer pen the piece. That means allowing yourself to be interviewed and trusting someone else to do a good job – which most journalists do, by the way. In a recent webinar organized by Science Magazine, Washington Post editor, Laura Helmuth, encouraged scientists to give journalists some of their time to answer questions. Scientific expertise is invaluable to good journalism.
Option three: Collaborate. Your research institution, university or funding body will all have a communications team. Let them know you want to write something and ask them to give you a hand. Otherwise, there are brilliant magazines such as The Conversation, who will pair you up with a journalist to co-create an article.
Tweet about it
In this category, I include any social media or internet-based communication outlet: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, podcasts, websites and all the rest. A 2014 survey by Nature highlighted that many scientists use Twitter and LinkedIn for professional reasons, but Facebook not so much.
The internet is a great place to test things out with minimum risk, connect with other people in your community and produce content cheaply. YouTube is a go-to for science dissemination in video format and podcasts are a great way to dive deeper into the nitty gritty of a topic. Be aware, though, that the biggest disadvantage of digital content is the risk of zero audience. You could spend weeks making a beautiful clip, post it online and get only three views. Social media and online presence require regularity.
It takes time to build a following, but when you get there, the data says it’s worth it. A 2018 study published in Facets showed that the audience reach of scientists Twitter accounts increased exponentially over the threshold of 1,000 followers. The scope for reaching a wide audience is there; it just requires a healthy serving of patience and perseverance in the meantime.
Speak, write, tweet…
To conclude, whether you choose to talk, write or tweet about your work, remember that there is always something interesting to say. Test out new ideas and have fun with your SciComm activities. The more you enjoy it, the more you will get out of it.
This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.