Today began with a double double espresso and a talk by Ulrike Felt. It’s a good way to start the day.

Dr. Felt is a professor of sociology at the University of Vienna (Austria) and presented on the effects of storytelling in science. She suggested that we think critically about the increased scientific communication efforts that are taking place worldwide. In some instances they are called public engagement of science, public understanding of science, etc. But, she feels that why this is important remains largely unquestioned.

Even policymakers provide moral, and at times, financial support for communication efforts. Researchers are asked to be active in communicating their research to audiences outside of their peer audience.

In order to hit the mark with communicating science at times it needs to be made more attractive than what it is in reality. Dr. Felt pointed to an example of a student who was excited to use a pipette and wondered how that same student would feel if rather than pipetting, she would have to make photocopies all day.

Felt also questioned how does communication guide or focus research efforts in particular areas. Does the research require a press package? Storytelling becomes a strategy and becomes a specific skill set.

Science is exciting but research can be laborious and tedious. Felt cautious to Mind the Gap so the images of science (i.e. CSI: Miami) do not grow too wide.

The day was filled with two sessions with a variety of workshops. Based on my work at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, I chose “Training Researchers for Science Communication.”

Professor Nian Zheng of the China Research Institute for Science Popularization discussed China’s goal of increasing the number of science populizers from 1.75 million to 4 million by 2020. This is largely seen as an effort to promote science literacy to the citizen population migrating from the farm to the city. Unfortunately, Professor Zheng did not go into specifics about how the populizers were being trained.

Michela Pichereddu introduced MAITRE, which provides international media training for food and nutrition researchers. The program aims to train 600 scientists through 50 workshops in three years.

The workshops are led by journalists and help provide practical knowledge and experience to the researchers. It also provides an opportunity for networking between researchers and the researchers and the journalists.

Next, was a review of the post-graduate course SCS (Science – Communication – Society). This is a weeklong workshop at the University of Turin to promote scientific citizenship and bridge the gap between science and society. Through five editions, 254 researchers have attended. As of now, the program is intended solely for Italian researchers, but the program is looking into possibly expanding.

For the afternoon session, I attended one by a trio of professors from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Bob Legg, Russel Hirst, and Mark Littman discussed the Science Communication Center at their university. Funded as part of a NIH/NSF grant, the SCC provides workshop, offers consultation, and serves as a resource to students looking to better their communication skills. It also helps students prepare for media interviews by providing hands on experiences.

The fourth participant in the session was Béatrice Korc who was kind enough to translate her talk for the benefit of the English-speakers in the room. It was a kind gesture that is very much appreciated. Korc is responsible for training postgraduate students on how their research impacts society at the University of Lyon.

Later in the evening, meeting attendees were treated to a tour of Nancy’s botanical garden.


Science Communication in Nancy, France