It’s never too early to start standing up for science

29 April 2018 - By: Anastasia Skamarauskas

It’s never too early to start standing up for science

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By Anastasia Skamarauskas, Sense About Science

Sense about Science is an independent campaigning charity that runs the Voice of Young Science (VoYS) network. With the support of universities and learned societies across Europe, the early career researchers that make up this international network are encouraged and empowered to stand up for science in public discussion.

The shifting focus towards public engagement means that investing time in communicating research with the public is an investment in your career. Universities respond positively to their researchers commenting in the media – on work in your field as well as just your own research. Reading and evaluating a paper is something early career researchers are qualified to do and can help journalists put what they’re reporting on into context. Engaging with media, policy and the public can make you stand out and be a real asset to your department.

The researchers often gain as much insight as the audience, taking the lessons into future activities. The children’s heart surgery project had a lot of positive press and a great reaction from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) who funded it, but the real target was parents like Alex.

“Martin and I now have a better understanding of the critical questions to ask - especially if hospital statistics hit the news again. We know how the NHS monitors hospitals and we find it reassuring to know there is a site we can go to for impartial and trustworthy information.”- Alex Smith, mum of a child with a heart condition.

After the success of this project we wanted to share our approach to public engagement – public-led, expert-fed – and with the help of NIHR, created “Public engagement: a Practical Guide”1. This is the latest in our resources for researchers on standing up for science.

The tips and advice from these guides are shared at our VoYS workshops. These are free events that bring panels of journalists, policymakers, press officers and experienced researchers to audiences of early career researchers from across STEM. Panels are led by audience questions and address their concerns about speaking out whilst giving practical tips on how to do it. We end with an interactive session on how to engage people with research.

Attendees join the VoYS network and become part of a community that takes responsibility for public discussions on science and evidence. VoYS members share their activities, run campaigns on issues they feel strongly about and support each other in their efforts.

So what can an early career researcher do today? Get in touch with your press officer and let them know you’re happy to comment on your research area. Look out for inquiries run by parliamentary select committees on parliament.uk – you can submit evidence to any inquiry. Get in touch with local community groups who might have questions about your area of work that you can help them get to grips with. And of course, join the VoYS network2 and apply for a workshop!

1. Public Engagement: a Practical Guide http://senseaboutscience.org/activities/public-engagement-guide/
2. VoYS Network: senseaboutscience.org/voys
 
Category: Science Communication
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Anastasia Skamarauskas

Ana is the communications officer at Sense about Science and she also works on the Voice of Young Science (VoYS) programme, a unique and growing network of over 2000 early career researchers who are committed to playing an active role in public discussions about science.

Ana graduated from the University of Bristol with a BSc in Zoology. She went on to work for the university’s centre for public engagement. After a passion for sports engagement was ignited by teaching gliding to cadets, Ana coached in Fijian schools as part of a programme to improve participation.