Science communication for me started as something I never wanted to do. I was forced to enter the 3 Minute Thesis competition during my PhD & I was dreading it all the way until I actually started planning. Long story short, I absolutely loved it. I fell in love with being able to get creative with how we could share scientific research, especially research asking very niche questions. But my passion for scicomm spiralled from there. It made me reignite my blog Soph talks science, I started communicating PhD life and more about my research on social media and then more and more live events. And with everyone I got more of a buzz. So much so that my career is now in science communication. I've come quite a long way since that second year PhD student who was very reluctant to speak about their research for three minutes.
Because of all these things I have started doing, I get so many questions from budding scicommer about how to get started in scicomm and how to improve their skills, so as part of my series for ELISA Genie, I thought I would share 8 ways to do just that with all of you.
1. Enter the 3 Minute Thesis competition
So, I am going to start this list where I started. The challenge of 3MT is explaining your thesis in three minutes - obviously - using one static slide to a non-specialist audience. But doing research can lead you to get immersed in the specific questions you want to answer which can get frustrating. While you might think that you don’t need this extra project, preparing for 3MT forces you to think about the big picture again, it makes you think of ways that anyone can relate to your research and make it understandable. It is also a great way to perfect your elevator pitch which is an essential tool as a researcher.
2. Experiment with different mediums
Science communication comes in many different forms - writing, speaking, podcasting, video making, art - and that is just the start of the list. When practicing your scicomm skills, explore the different options out there to find what suits you or what you enjoy best. Finding that is only going to help improve your science communication. And also don’t forget to push yourself out of your comfort zone sometimes when experimenting - you won’t regret it!
3. Talk to your friends and family
Unless you are working in a family member’s own research lab, the likelihood is your friends and family won’t really know what you’re doing as part of your PhD. So, take advantage of those trips home to share some incredible science facts and teach people about what you are doing and what you aim to achieve. You won’t be able to guess the number of times I have been in a pub and people I know have asked ‘so what are you actually doing in the lab?’ and I have had my elevator pitch ready. Plus I’ve had some cool stem cell facts to throw in there too!
4. Sign up to speak at public engagement events
There are so many opportunities out there for you to sign up to to apply to now to talk about your research to a non-scientist audience. And even if there’s not near you - get organising your own! It gives you even more skills in scicomm like publicity, event management, leadership, sales and so on. But there is Pint of Science, Soapbox Science, PubhD, science festivals and more local science talks. I have also spoken at lots of local community groups too like girl guides and W.I style groups too. The tip here is practicing with a more varied audience for each event you get involved with because the better you will become at tailoring your knowledge for different people. It also gives you the opportunity to design your own props and engagement activities which I highly suggest you learn how to do too - whether it is just a model or something more interactive it helps get your point across!
5. Write, write and write some more
Practicing communicating your research by writing is not only going to help you connect with non-scientist audiences but it will also help you with writing grants, abstracts, posters, publications and so on. But there are heaps of opportunities to enter science writing competitions, writing magazine articles, online articles or guest blogs too. You just have to spend some time seeking them out and then perfecting your pitch to the hosts. And some opportunities you can even get paid for!
6. Learn to evaluate how successful what you’re doing is
Okay - so this one is a little more tricky and I am still learning how to do this myself effectively. There is also no right or wrong answer. The key is being consistent in the way you evaluate things. If you like to communicate science on social media, maybe keep tabs on which posts get the most reach and the most engagement. Then try and work out why - is it the time you post? Is it using a certain hashtag? Is it the post content? Keeping track of what works and what doesn’t will help you to learn what your audience likes and what areas you can try and improve upon. The same goes for podcasts, videos or blogs and articles - watch the views, tags and content to mould your content. Experiment with different ways of working out whether what you’re doing is working. But do not get immersed in it. It can help you improve your skills but communicating science should be something you love so make sure that is at the core of everything you do!
7. Practice writing stories and analogies
A huge part of communicating science successfully is making it relatable to your audience. We as a species respond so much better to stories that a list of facts - it is so much more memorable. So, utilise that in your scicomm. I often flex my analogy making muscles by reading new science articles and practice making analogies to explain it to my family and friends. The more you practice this, the easier it will make things for you hen sharing your own research. It also can help with relating it to different audiences - for example, I have no got startings on a story about my PhD research that primary school children could understand. Analogy is so key to scicomm so really practice that skill.
8. Find a community that you can collaborate and discuss ideas with
The best way to get started in something and growing is finding a community to do that with. It works with sports and arts, so why not scicomm. I am so lucky to be a part of The Sci Community which is full of other scientists wanting to share scientific knowledge with even more people and all of them have different skills, talents and ideas. Find a community and get to know what skills and tips they can pass on to you, but also what you can bring to the table in a new and fresh collaboration.
Whenever people ask me about doing scicomm, my answer is simply ‘Just Do It’! Take the opportunities that come your way, try different things out and experiment with different mediums. Find out what you find most fun, rewarding or what you are best suited to and pursue that and make it your own. Before you know it you’ll be getting the same messages I do asking for advice about what you do!
Follow Soph on Instagram at @soph.talks.science