Communicating science is a really important part of being a researcher. Not only is it crucial for scientists to advise and support government policies and decisions, but also to highlight the relevance of given research to society. Science communication involves all sorts of ways of educating a variety of audiences, in order to bridge the gap between the world of science and different groups of the public. It also plays a massive role in making science more inclusive and diverse, by giving access to audiences otherwise excluded or left out.
I believe that each member of the scientific community has the responsibility to engage with and educate the general public about their research. I’m excited to see that each year, more and more researchers get involved in science communication activities and events, such as festivals, TED talks, TV or radio programmes. However, some scientists still seem a little apprehensive about it, since at first it may seem to greatly differ from the well-known way of presenting their data to an expert audience, at conferences or annual meetings.
Learning how to communicate one’s research effectively, usually requires trial and error. Until very recently, there weren’t many classes or courses available that would teach scientists to communicate with different groups. Thankfully the importance of public engagement and awareness is becoming more and more recognised and universities are offering modules or workshops regarding organising outreach activities and interacting with the lay audience.
The key to effective science communication is figuring out the balance between the details and the big picture. It’s about explaining the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ in simple terms to non-scientists, to help them understand and appreciate our work and its relevance. As Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough,” and I think that should be the starting point while communicating research. Going back to the basics of a certain topic may be unnecessary when presenting in front of fellow scientists, who are familiar with the terminology and complex processes. But finding a more simplistic way of conveying the message is absolutely crucial when preparing a talk, presentation or programme that will be both interesting and educational for a non-specialised member of the audience.
Science communication also brings a lot of benefits to scientists themselves! It allows for great improvement of writing and presenting skills, to be used in preparing research papers and conference talks. It also helps in becoming a better mentor for students and early-stage researchers. It’s worth mentioning that a lot of funding bodies, including charities and research councils, not only encourage scientists to communicate their research to the general public, but also make it a part of requirements to secure further funding. Moreover, various university, job or scholarship applications usually include a rubric regarding one’s experience with public engagement activities.
Talking about science is just as important in person, as it is online, especially now more than ever. In particular, the use of social media platforms for communicating research is gaining an increasing amount of interest. It’s an easy way to show the public what a typical day in the lab looks like or share the most recent publications. It’s also a great opportunity for the audience to engage directly with the scientists, ask them questions and gain insight into their work. And as a researcher and science blogger, I strongly encourage you to engage with us on our platforms, trust me, we really love talking about science!