Exploring new ways to communicate science

Exploring new ways to communicate science

During my PhD I have been involved in science communication to various audiences by working with the Institute’s wonderful public engagement team. Also, through my voluntary role with the charity Unique, I have honed my skills supporting those with rare chromosome disorders, by helping to update their patient information sheets. I am passionate about science communication and engagement because knowledge is empowering and everyone should have the opportunity to hear about and discuss current scientific research. It allows for united communication with people from different backgrounds that can strengthen innovation, ethical discussion and science policy.

I am continually seeking to develop my communication skills so, when I came across the opportunity to attend the London SciComm symposium I was keen to hear about what’s happening outside Cambridge and to bring back some new ideas. On entering the lecture theatre, the first thing that struck me was a palpable and contagious air of enthusiasm and lots of talking!

The day started with a session on informal science communication, where we heard from a range of talented people who communicate and engage broad and unconventional audiences with science through dance, comedy, film, youth groups and comics. It was inspiring to hear the love they had for their jobs and how they have carved their niche to find a unique selling point. Top tip: Try out an activity on the intended audience, be creative, work respectfully to each other’s strengths and don’t give up!

The second session was on more formal interactions, such as those contributing to science communication in universities, institutions/societies, museums and science centres. Anna Starkey – Creative Director at ‘We the Curious’ science centre in Bristol - gave a great talk about engaging everyone’s natural curiosity, allowing for more conversations like the one that was written on a question wall at We the Curious: “Do crabs think people walk sideways?” someone had responded “of course”.

We heard about inclusive sessions happening at the Science Museum, for instance: LGBT Lates, quieter sessions for those on the autistic spectrum or adapted sessions for those that are visually impaired. Top tips: Reach and impact are very different, think outside of the box and always think of inclusivity.

The day closed with talks on the topic of why do science communication? We heard from PhD students and the skills they developed through science communication and in one case how useful this was for a next career move. We also had a chance to think about science communication in terms of journalism, policy and public attitudes to science. One of the speakers, Hana Ayoob, was particularly captivating in her passion for equality in STEM and in answer to the why do scicomm: “I do what I do because I love it”, this was certainly the feeling I had from everyone I met.

The definition of science communication is: "successful dissemination of knowledge to a wide range of audiences including non-scientists" but now I know it goes far beyond this, it is about storytelling, curiosity, social inclusion and much more.

I left with a few additions to my reading list - the comic book series ‘Surgeon X’ and a podcast called ‘Why Aren’t You A Doctor Yet?’ - and feeling empowered to consider what I have in my own creative toolbox to improve my science communication. I have a renewed sense of the power of good science communication and how it can be used to break down societal barriers and have maximum reach.