Have you ever wondered about how non-scientists could benefit from your research? We as scientists try to understand every tiny bit of our universe and sometimes spend three or more years of our life unraveling a ridiculously tiny link between two proteins. For our research, we get a lot of public money from the people of our country but how do we give something back to the public? How do we make people understand why it is worth to invest in science?
So far, the main way to give the results of our research back to the public is publishing our results in a research magazine. Thereby, we contribute to research and, on the long run, to advances in technology reaching the people by new daily-life applications or medical treatments. However, all the work behind technological advances is little communicated to the people. There are science channels or magazines and newspapers reporting about research, but these focus mainly on final results and popular topics.
So how can we communicate to the people the real everyday life in research and new proceedings in a more direct way? How can we let them feel our fascination? You as a scientist can support the people’s thinking about science by communicating your research in a comprehensible way to the public, aside from scientific publications. Even if you are working on a topic less applicable to common life, you can contribute to helping people understand science and its importance. One of the best ways to communicate your research directly to the public: slam it! Participate in a science slam and make a non-expert audience understand your scientific topic!
A fun way to present your science
So what is a science slam? At a science slam, different scientists compete in presenting their scientific research in a comprehensible way to a non-expert audience. Every participant gets about 10 minutes of time to present his topic. Finally, the audience decides who has given the best understandable and most entertaining presentation and the winner is awarded a prize.
Even though preparing and conducting a science slam comes with a lot of work, it is definitely worth to do it. Not only the audience benefits but you as well; you will understand your research in a new way and think of it from a completely different perspective. You will get practice on stage and you learn to deal with questions. And … a science slam comes along with a lot of fun!
In a more general way, you should also think about that communicating science can support people’s life. Here is an example: Have you ever wondered, why many people refuse vaccinations? Most of them are afraid or think, it is just not necessary to get a vaccination. These people might not have a sufficient idea about how a vaccination works or why vaccinations are necessary for the defense of the entire humankind against viruses or other diseases. In conclusion, they might not have been informed well enough or just don’t understand the bigger picture. People usually don’t buy a pig in a poke. Physicians telling people in a superficial way, why it is good to get a vaccination is insufficient as this is basically the same as selling a car on the internet without specifying its age, its state, its gas-consumption, its size, … Instead, it would be better, if the people would understand the mechanisms of the immune system and the dynamics of disease progression, so that they can decide based on risks and advantages whether it makes sense to get a vaccination or not. However, this would require that these people have a basic knowledge about the topic. And that’s the place where you as a scientist come into play. You do not need to participate in a science slam with presenting a vaccination topic, but by using a science slam to tell people about new advances in research you support their knowledge on topics they are not familiar with.
Some useful tips for your next science slam
So now, just think of how to explain your research in 10 minutes to someone who has never heard anything about natural sciences (or other sciences – importantly, science slams are not restricted to natural sciences). This will probably be hard. But here are some hints and ideas.
- Get on the same level as your audience and make fun of yourself. To access people’s thinking and sympathy, it is always good to put yourself on the same level as they are. For example, if you work on something with a complex name, tell them what you (and they) think of when hearing that name for the first time and play with related words. For example, you can say: “I am working with a FACS machine. So when I first heard about it, I was really surprised to work in such a modern field with such an old type of messenger and I asked my supervisor: Well, can’t we use ‘WhatsApp’?”
- Relate your research to everyday life. Sex sells. That’s one of the reasons why many science slammers translate their research into a relationship or dating situation. For example, you could explain how T cells choose their fitting B cells by putting them in the role of boys and girls trying to find a partner at a teenage party. You can also check out some other science slams and you will probably get many good examples!
- Include pictures and movies, that’s what people remember – they don’t remember a lot of text from your science slam. And if you show a cute kitten playing with a bunch of spaghetti and use it to demonstrate your science in a generalized way, people will probably never forget what you have talked about.
- Perform music on stage. If you are a good dancer or musician, just give a little live performance and relate it to your scientific situation. Rap the names and functions of the proteins you are doing research on and, thereby, tell your message.
So what to do now? Now, we are all looking forward to your first slam and to your contribution of giving back your research to the people!
Your next opportunity to slam (in German) will be the Exzellenz-Science Slam on August 27th at Bonn University. Also recommended if you only want to listen to other people’s science 🙂
If you need some more inspiration how to do your own science slam, have a look at these Science Slams at Forschungszentrum caesar:
To find out more about how to communicate science and even earn money with it, check out Sophie’s latest post here. 🙂
Jan Niklas Hansen
(featured image from colourbox.com)