Communicating your science

30 May 2019 - By: Alex Evans

Communicating your science

By Alex Evans

How would you describe your research to a feisty festival crowd? Or to a panel of journalists? Or to your 6-year-old niece? An interactive careers workshop at the 2018 SEB Annual Meeting organised by Dr Zoe Self Davies aimed to get attendees thinking about effectively communicating their science to a diverse range of audiences.
Careers Workshop
SEB Florence 2018 Careers workshop Photo: Simon Callaghan

Research doesn’t have to be fun to be interesting,” stated Zoe at the start of the workshop, explaining that when communicated effectively, science can elicit a much wider range of emotions that help to convey the importance and impacts of your research. In fact, if not planned or communicated appropriately, your efforts may even discourage audiences from engaging further if they are left feeling confused or disinterested. This, Zoe explains, is the heart of the issue. “A lot of science communication is based on what the scientists want to do, or what they think is interesting, but this is a backwards way of doing things.”

Inspired by previous interactive SEB+ events, Zoe designed the workshop to be as communal as possible, where the attendees would be able to learn from each other’s experiences, as well as from the expert advice provided by Zoe. “The goal of the session was to get attendees to really think about their audience and how to communicate their science in different ways,” she explained.

By crafting a series of communication-based tasks targeted towards varied audiences, such as school children, minority groups, and journalists, Zoe hoped to get the attendees to think about the different ways in which they could tailor their research to engage people. One particularly intriguing task got the attendees thinking about their social media and how to summarise their research for Twitter using a strictly limited character count, encouraging attendees to select their words carefully for maximum clarity and impact. An additional challenge had the attendees crafting a super-simplified description of their research with only the 10,000 most commonly used words in the English language using the UpGoerFive technique (REF)—a much harder task than you might initially think.

In conversation after the workshop, Zoe expressed surprise at the number of people who hadn’t fully realised how exciting and communicable their research was to a range of audiences. “It can be difficult to take an outside perspective on your work and see it the way other people might see it,” she said. Having talked to many of the workshop attendees throughout the session, Zoe was impressed by the interesting variety of science communication stories and strategies being shared. “I seriously need to up my game after talking to someone who got me interested in slime moulds,” exclaimed Zoe. “It’s been a few months since the workshop and this still stands out to me—now that’s a sign of great science communication!”

If you’re interested in improving your communications, Zoe has a few words of advice: “SEB+ is a great place to start by attending sessions and talking to people. Social media, Twitter in particular, is a fantastic place to get ideas and find like-minded people.” One of the workshop facilitators and winner of the 2018 SEB+ President’s Medal, Esther Ngumbi, also had some great advice to share with those interested in developing their skills: “We live in a time where science communication is rapidly growing in popularity. There are now so many practical and helpful resources available online, as well as those being provided increasingly often by universities and academic societies that are worth checking out.”

Category: Science Communication
Alex evans

Alex Evans

Alex Evans is a Research Postgraduate at the University of Leeds investigating the energetics of bird flight. In his spare time, Alex enjoys writing about the natural world, contributing to the Bird Brained Science blog and exploring other avenues of science communication.