Recently, I attended a multiday science communication workshop at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign aimed at graduate students and postdocs. At the end, after 25 intense hours, we had learned the art of writing and presenting our science as a TED-style talk and in a radio interview format.
The workshop culminated with participants sharing their research in 90-second elevator pitch presentations. As I listened to one student and postdoc, after another, I could not help but appreciate the difference training can have on improving the ability of scientists to communicate with the public. The topics they covered ranged from materials science to quantum computing to additive manufacturing—and they were able to present complex research in short, digestible soundbites.
It is encouraging, to see the rising appreciation for science communication by graduate students in universities and professional societies. Workshops at Stanford University and at a meeting of the Materials Research Society are good examples. ComSciCon also has several science communication workshops lined up for 2019 at different regions including Atlanta, Houston, and Michigan.
Perhaps the bigger question to ponder is: how do we ensure newly trained science communicators have opportunities to share that what they have learned?
The truth is that the demands of science and graduate school can quickly weigh down on newly trained students. Without platforms to practice that what they have learned, many can get rusty, and the skills acquired at these workshops lost.
Of course, continuing to grow as a science communicator depends on participants’ goals and what they want to make out of this new field. Regardless, here are some options to consider.
First, they can reach out to their respective departments, colleges, schools or even graduate school to find out what support can be provided to them. Schools, for example, can organize workshops where alumni have the opportunity to train their peers.
Alternatively, universities can offer them opportunities to co-write press releases and department blogs. What is more, if institutions have local radio stations, they can provide them with the opportunity to present.
Conversely, because many students also belong to professional societies, they can propose to organize symposiums at the annual meeting. For example, as an entomologist, I belong to the Entomological Society of America, where I have the opportunity to propose organizing a member symposium or program workshop. Doing so creates a valuable opportunity to refresh, learn more and share.
At the same time, newbies can look for other enthusiasts on social media using common hashtags, such as #scicomm and #phdlife. Through social media, they can learn about other opportunities to grow their public engagement skills.
Outreach activities can also allow newly trained communicators to build their passion. Many departments have outreach events. Moreover, students can also be creative and find newer venues to engage the public with science. For example, a University of Missouri–St. Louis biology PhD student is using the local brewery as a venue for students to share their science.
Importantly, workshop alumni can look for internships. This would give them the chance to explore and practice in real life while spreading scientific knowledge to different audiences. Thankfully, there are useful lists out there.
Ultimately, sustaining scientists’ interest in sharing their research to a wider public will depend on availing opportunities and resources to allow them to expand their knowledge and skills. Institutions must strive to provide these venues. The time is ripe