Chapter 8: SciComm- what, why, where!?

If you follow me on twitter which I hope you do, firstly to feed my ego and secondly to keep updated about this blog, you might know that last week I went to another event in London. For once this wasn’t a CDT event, instead it was for the London Science Communication Symposium (AKA SciComm Social). In general, Science communication is shortened to SciComm; it is slightly less of a mouthful and people think it sounds cooler. This symposium was a gathering of people involved in various types of SciComm coming together to have a discussion about the field. There were students who were studying it as a Masters, some worked in public engagement for an institution, others worked as freelancers, and then there was me - an awkward PhD student. It was interesting getting a look into the field of SciComm so I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the highlights that I took away from the symposium.

Hard to define

An idea which occurred on more than one occasion was that defining Science communication is hard. One of the reasons for this is because it can take many forms, whether that is a blog, videos, or outreach events. This variety makes it difficult to create a specific definition. The best way to look at it is an attempt to involve and inform those not directly associated with science about the in's and out's of both scientific research and science in general. This description doesn’t quite do it justice so I apologise to all those who attended the event, but it is one of easiest ways I can think to describe it.

The day mostly consisted of people much brighter (therefore ever so slightly intimidating) than me giving brief talks about their subject/area of SciComm followed by a discussion panel. The overarching theme for the day was “Why”, in particular why people do SciComm. It was a question that asked people to delve into their motivations and the discussions took some interesting twists and turns. The following points are those which I found most interesting and were particularly focused how SciComm is done and what it should aim to achieve.

Consider and connect with your audience

A common thread throughout the day was that to be effective as a Science Communicator you need to understand your audience. This means you have to connect with them so that they actually engage with what you are trying to talk about. To do this a number of suggestions were made. This included making what you are discussing personal, because having a personal connection to something is much more engaging than just being talked at. Likewise, we were advised to focus on telling stories and creating narratives. It sounds obvious but humans care about stories, it’s why myths and legends exist. If you want to get someone involved in a conversation you have to get them involved and stories are a great way to get people involved.  

Making it better

Another fantastic point looked at how to improve the work you do in SciComm. One of the best bits of advice was that you “learn by doing.” Once again, this sounds obvious but it is easy to forget that sometimes you get lost in the planning and thinking rather than the actually doing. It was suggested that the best way to improve the kind of SciComm work you do is by doing more of it. Likewise, another brilliant point, which relates to the previous point about making it personal was to bring everything you are to your work. Don’t be afraid of injecting your personality into what you do. If you can bring personality into your work you can make it unique and much more engaging.

Science communication is changing

While the concept of SciComm might be new to some people it has been around in various forms throughout the years. One of the most important themes, I felt, was that it has naturally changed over the years, but to ensure that that change is for the better we need to take charge and help direct it. In this case we need to try and change how the research community interacts with the outside world. Ideally, we should be aiming to bring science and culture together, and make the concept of science accessible to everyone. This once again relates back to a previous point concerning connecting with an audience. We should be aiming to engage in a conversation with one another, not just throwing facts out there and expecting  people to find it engaging. This was definitely one of my highlights from the day and is something that I want to try and work on myself. I’m still not sure how to get started but just having an awareness of what I am aiming towards will help.

On a final note, one of the most inspiring sentiments of the day was as follows: “go and make cool shit happen.” If that isn’t inspiring I don’t know what is.

Those were just some of key points that I took away from the  SciComm Symposium, and will hopefully learn from. If you want to know more about what went on PhD student Rebecca Emerton has posted a blog which I recommended that you check out. Likewise take a look at the group’s twitter if you want more information and have a look at the people who were talking during the day. I recommend that anyone interested in science communication or anyone who wants to find out more considers going next year, I know I will be.

That’s enough for this week, next week I will submitting my first year report so I might not post but I plan on being back the week after and will be talking about a new experiment I’m trying, involving pizza, the ancient Greeks and a cold shower. Until next time, this is Steve the Scientist signing off.