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A Crash Course in Science Communication: Why it’s important and how to get started
“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”-Stephen Hawking
Written by Alyssa Ash, PhD student in Dr. Jason Snyder's lab.
As graduate students, we are inundated with new knowledge all the time, from staying current on the latest research to making our own discoveries. We take in a lot of information, but the ultimate goal is to communicate this newfound knowledge in a coherent, accessible way.
It is no secret that scientists can struggle with communication. Breaking down complex research into a digestible format is tough, and miscommunication between scientists and journalists can lead to confusion and inflation of scientific findings. During this current pandemic, we have seen research conducted and published on Covid-19 at an unprecedented rate. The media quickly report these research studies after they are published, or even before they are peer-reviewed. It is more important than ever that scientists can explain their work effectively so that the general public can be accurately informed and not misled.
We occasionally practice our science communication skills, from conversations with our supervisors and committee members to presentations with our departments or at conferences. But in reality, these events can be few and far between, and sometimes we can go months without really expressing the research and ideas we spend hours working on.
While engaging in science communication (SciComm) may be considered an extracurricular activity during graduate school, it is critical to success in graduate school and beyond. Participating in SciComm opportunities (like writing a post for this blog) as often as possible is the best way to develop your communication abilities. My hope with this article is to provide you with some resources that will motivate you to practice SciComm in your own way.
UBC SciComm Platforms:
There are plenty of ways to get involved at UBC, from writing for the Ubyssey Science section or applying for funding to create your fun SciComm project with the Graduate Student Initiative Fund or through the Innovation UBC start-up idea competition. Here are some past and ongoing projects run at UBC in Neuroscience and Psychology:
- Graduate students Kyle Gooderham and Drake Levere from the Psych Dept created Brain Buzz podcast to make research more accessible and digestible for those in and outside of academia. They host researchers from UBC as well as other institutions to discuss research topics in a casual interview format.
- A Month in Neurodegenerative Disease Research (AMiNDR) is a new podcast that summarizes the latest research in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Created by current and past UBC graduate students Sarah Louadi, Ellen Koch, Elyn Rowe, Naila Kuhlmann and Asad Lone, this podcast keeps you informed on the go and recently won third place in Innovation UBC’s start-up idea competition.
- Created by many UBC Neuroscience graduate students, this History of Neuroscience website was created to highlight pivotal neuroscience findings in history with an interactive timeline and cartoon imagery by science cartoonist Armin Mortazavi.
- The Her Royal Science podcast was created by a recent UBC Neuroscience graduate Dr. Asma Bashir as a platform for scientists from underrepresented minorities to discuss their experiences in STEM as well as their lives outside of work.
- UBC Brain Bytes is a short video series created by Neuroscience graduate students Sonja Soo and myself alongside a graduate of the UBC Journalism School Michael Ruffolo. It featured current Neuroscience graduate students discussing their published research and field of study, in an interview format that is accessible for the public.
General SciComm Platforms:
1. Twitter: A quick and painless entry into SciComm, simply post about topics and research you find interesting while simultaneously staying current on the recent work in your field. Once you start following relevant researchers and academic journals, you will curate a feed that will keep you informed, curious, and motivated to engage more with others about science. Check out this advice on how to use social media (or specifically Twitter) as a scientist and here are some local SciComm accounts to start off with:
- Science in the City: A feed for life sciences news and events, based out of Vancouver and provided by StemCell Technologies.
- The Science Communication Action Team (SciCATs): A Vancouver-based team that provides training and information on science communication.
- Curiosity Collider: A BC-based non-profit organization that shares science and art collaborations to promote scientific knowledge to the public in an engaging and accessible way.
2. Instagram: There are many Instagram accounts advising on SciComm and graduate school that I use for resources, knowledge, and inspiration. Using Instagram is a great way to share your ideas and cool data with the world without too much extra work on your end. Here is a quick sample of some science accounts to follow:
- @thescicommunity: A global community of science communicators promoting all areas of science and highlighting work by scientists and grad students all over the world.
- @herstemstory: Hosted by Prasha Dutra, an engineer and women in STEM coach, this account promotes women working in science and provides career tips, with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. She also hosts a podcast by the same name.
- @massivesci: Massive Science is a content and media company showcasing the latest scientific findings and translated research. They aim to help scientists share stories to promote sharing science content internationally, with over 2000 contributors, over a variety of research areas. They have an online publication featuring videos and articles you can check out here.
3. Podcasts: There are several great educational science podcasts out there that are the perfect companion for commuting or doing that routine bench work, such as the ones found here. For more of a personal approach to science, I recommend these podcasts below for stories from the scientists themselves:
- Hello PhD: Hosted by Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, previous graduate students providing advice on surviving graduate school, scientific training, and careers following a PhD. They interview scientists, graduate students, and educators across disciplines in an engaging conversational format.
- The Story Collider is a nonprofit organization that shares personal stories about science from cities across the world with a weekly podcast as well as live shows. They showcase different scientists each episode with a variety of topics, from institutional racism to overcoming barriers and adversity when pursuing higher education.
Other SciComm resources: