Let’s talk about… science communication!

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 It’s a widespread cliché that scientists wear glasses, coats, and beards (sorry, Ladies!) and like to spend their whole time in darkened laboratories. Even though this species of scientists might still exist, the modern example of researchers is more extroverted than ever – thanks to Twitter, Facebook and Co. The internet – and social media in particular – might not be the source of all good, but they definitely create a platform for people who feel the urge to express themselves. Today, everyone who wants to say something, can indeed do so and could actually reach an (at least theoretically) unlimited amount of readers. Let’s just take this blog as an example: Our small but nice group of bloggers is simply enthusiastic about science, which is why we regularly channel our fascination by writing about it and spreading the word. Because hard science can be quite a dry read if one’s not familiar with all the bad ass expressions and the specific topic in general, science communication literally serves as an enzyme that helps to digest the hard stuff and spills out little nice-to-read stories that are easy to consume. Today, science communication is more important than ever. And here are some reasons to answer the ‘why’.

 

Building a bridge

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Words are the literal bridge between the scientific community and the general public. “It is extremely important to foster the acceptance and support of research within the society since most of the funding is tax money”, explains Dr Kathrin Sommer, scientist and long-time coordinator of the Bonner Forum Biomedicine. “The general public has the right to be informed about the outcome of the research that it has paid for”, she says. Thus, science communication is essential for our funding, but besides that it is also an individual and very important job sector. Scientists, journalists… who’s wearing the breeches in this field? “Science journalists straddle two disciplines which they have to reconcile if they want to be successful”, says Katja Spross, corporate publishing expert at Trio Service GmbH, a public relations agency in Bonn specialised in science communication. In her opinion, scientists must familiarise themselves with the demands and tools of journalism, just as journalists must do with regard to a particular field of science. “Both is equally possible”, she adds.

A good example for a natural scientist who is very successful in communications is Dr Andreas Archut. He is a chemist by training and has been head of external communications at Bonn University for several years now. “Back when I finished my studies a side entry into science communication was more common than today”, he explains, “but even then I would not have been able to make it without practical experience in journalism, science writing, and public relations.” According to Archut, receiving as much practical training as possible from student jobs, internships, and other options was crucial back then as it is today to get a job in communications. “Natural scientists can be very successful in the field of science communication”, Katja Spross remarks, “just think of Ranga Yogeshwar – a physicist, well known TV-science journalist, and host of the science show ‘Quarks & Co’.”

 

Every beginning is hard

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But, as usual, one cannot make something out of nothing. “Journalism in the field of science, as well as public relations work for scientific institutions, means to convey difficult matter in a comprehensible way. This requires a lot of practice,” Katja Spross says. Also, Ricarda Ziegler, a science communicator working at ‘Wissenschaft im Dialog’ (WiD) in Berlin, feels that way: “I believe that there is a suitable format for nearly every scientist. One can start by tweeting about one’s own work or become active if one’s institution participates in a local night of science.” Apart from that, there are workshops for scientists who want to learn about good science communication. Speaking of which: The ‘Forum Wissenschaftskommunikation’, a yearly interdisciplinary conference that is organised by ‘Wissenschaft im Dialog’, will take place from November 7th-9th 2018 in Bonn. Mark your calendars and save the date, because this event is the perfect occasion to dip a toe into the science communication pool. More information can be found here.

After all we’ve learned by now, the field of science communication appears bright and shiny. But what about the job situation in this field? “I think that science communication will be increasingly important in the future since most research comes with ethical, legal, and social implications and is therefore inevitably political”, Ricarda Ziegler explains. Besides the requirement for scientists to publicly speak about their work, Ziegler thinks that there’s an urgent need for professional science communicators to manage communication: “This includes designing a suitable format and framework for communication but also training a scientist in communications.” Andreas Archut agrees: “I am quite convinced that the number of positions in this sector will grow as the need for good communications increases in science.” In his opinion, the necessity of professional science communication is being recognised more and more these days, and events like the March for Science can be considered a wake-up call for those who have not noticed yet.

 

The famous to-do-list

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Communication and networking go hand in hand. “Networking is a state of mind”, Andreas Archut says. “It is an important skill for every professional – and scientists are no exception.” Thus, good networking skills are nothing one is born with, which is why they need practice as every other competence. Well, here’s what you have to do to improve your skills:

 

1. Establish a network!

A good springboard to start networking is offered by the aforementioned Bonner Forum Biomedicine, in short BFB. “The BFB organises various activities to help students to get in contact and to communicate”, Kathrin Sommer explains. The BFB annual meeting and special theme nights for example are perfect occasions to mix and mingle with like-minded people. Furthermore, this summer, from June 13th-15th, there will be a Summer School on “Wissenschaft kommunizieren” (held in German) organised by WiD and BFB. Information will soon be featured on the WiD website.

2. Express yourself – start writing!

Writing can only be practiced by writing. Authoring the perfect article takes time and experience. A good way to get both is writing a guest article for a blog. Wait… oh, look what we’ve got here! The ImmunoSensation blog warmly welcomes blog articles from guest authors at any time. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have a nice article that has to be shared with others. We’re happy to set the stage for you.

3. Practical experience.

When being in the lab all the time it’s difficult to imagine whether being a science communicator could be the right job choice. “It wasn’t until an internship that I realised that science communication could also be a possible career path”, Ricarda Ziegler remembers. So, if you’re really interested, look for an internship!

4. Learn from others, visit science slams!

If you want to see how other scientists communicate their science, go and visit a science slam. Mark your calendars: The ImmunoSensation Cluster of Excellence has organised a science slam that will take place on August 27th at “Arkadenhof der Universität Bonn”. The entry is free of charge. More science slams can be found here.

 

Well, now it’s up to you: Talk, write, tweet – whatever your channel is, go ahead and change the world!

“[…] Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking […].” – Stephen Hawking

 

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Sophie Schonauer

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