Many universities have dedicated student-run science publications. Such publications are ideal places for young science writers to work with an editorial team, build up confidence and grow their portfolios. But they are also teasers of what is to come from the emerging generation of science writers.
Periodically, we’ll cover some of those student-run science publications here on The SA Incubator. Today, we re-introduce the public blog, Mind the Science Gap, run by the University of Michigan for its Masters of Public Health students. The blog is intended to be platform where students can practice communicating science to a non-expert audience.
Everyone’s a writer. Some write full-time, some write for fun, others write routinely as part of their jobs. For ten Masters of Public Health students of the University of Michigan, writing is part of their course. For ten weeks, these students write to learn.
In their outreach blog, Mind the Science Gap (MTSG), students write about issues related to public health for a general non-expert audience every week. Typically, they discuss a science paper and relate it to our everyday lives. They do so in great conversational and joyous fashion. It is perhaps this jovial style of writing which makes reading MTSG a satisfying experience.
In “Why aren’t my kids hyper after binging on sugar?”, Gillian Mayman explains how it isn’t sugar which makes kids hyper. The real culprit? Placebo effect. As Gillian navigates the scientific method, she accompanies her carefully-crafted paragraphs with very awesome and helpful illustrations. Her drawings were not just inserted in there to “beautify” her post, no. They are meant to supplement her text in order to communicate the science at hand in a simpler way. They serve a purpose. This post in particular epitomises the aim of MTSG.
By blogging on MTSG, students are not learning how to run a science blog or even how to write proper science blog posts or articles (at least not deliberately). Instead, the aim of the blog is to provide students with an outlet to “translate complex science into something a broad audience can understand and appreciate.”
And why is it so important that students are able to explain science to the more general population? The syllabus, available in full on the blog, nails it:
In today’s data-rich and hyper-connected world, the gap between access to information and informed decision-making is widening. It is a gap that threatens to undermine actions on public health as managers, policy makers, consumers and others struggle to fish relevant information from an ever-growing sea of noise. And it is a gap that is flourishing in a world where anyone with a smartphone and an Internet connection can become an instant “expert”.
To bridge this gap, the next generation of public health professionals will need to be adept at working with new communication platforms, and skilled at translating “information” into “intelligence” for a broad audience. These skills will become increasingly relevant to communicating effectively with managers, clients and customers. But more broadly, they will be critical to supporting evidence-informed decisions as social influences continue to guide public health activities within society.
While the blog posts cover interesting topics, they do tend to lack a certain cutting-edge. For instance, the students fail to dwell further into the subject or paper they’re covering. Findings from other similar research, which would have fleshed out their stories and allowed them to dwell further into the topic at hand, are not covered. Critical analysis of the papers they’re covering is not privileged either. This is a particularly glaring neglect as it allows overblown results and implications to seep through.
But let’s not forget that this blog is part of a learning phase for those ten students. And right now, they have only just started to blog. They have another two months to go and are bound to get even better. To accelerate the process, go and leave comments and critiques on their interesting posts.
Some more posts from MTSG:
Energy Drinks and Caffeine Toxicity (“The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”) by Sheela Doraiswamy
Right now, there may be poop on your cell phone (and oh so much more) by Ashley Cummings
Have Your Cake and Eat It Too by Kari Wolozyk
Lather, rinse, repeat…as needed? by Ezinne Ndukwe
“Guiltless Gluttony” by Ali Schumacher
Read Andrew Maynard’s post from earlier this year about MTSG on this blog.