Science communication guide 101

I get loads of questions from my followers asking how I got started with doing science communication and how I got better at it. I think I never really talked about it on social media so I decided to put together this article and tell a bit more about my story and what I learned during the process! I started doing science communication about 3 years ago as this is a necessary requirement for my PhD scholarship. I literally started from scratch as I never heard of science communication when I was in Italy. However, my PhD programme provided a few training on how to get started and how to do it effectively.

I just want to start by saying that communicating science might be initially scary. You might lack the confidence to engage with a large audience, putting your opinion on social media or just not being able to answer questions that go beyond your knowledge. This is perfectly normal, we all have gone through this time. But you get better with experience and the more you do the more you learn.

Nothing is to be feared only understood. Marie Curie

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First of all, science communication is a form of communication, that means you need to have a dialogue with people. This isn’t just about you talking about science, it’s a two-way interaction between yourself and the listener. One of the best things I learned during the process is finding common ground with your listener. It’s important to ask questions such as “Did you study this at school at all? How much do you know about the topic? Is there any aspect that you are curious about?” This is how you show empathy and you actually care about sharing your knowledge with someone that doesn’t know much about a specific topic.

When you want to communicate a complex idea, always try to relate to your audience by talking about science in everyday life. Literally, everything that happens around us is science, why we have seasons, why your toast always falls on the ground on the jam side, why you use soap to remove grease from pots and dirty plates. Don’t go straight to the scientific point you want to communicate! It’s highly likely that you lose your listener’s attention by doing so.

Don’t use jargon, otherwise, people won’t understand you! I see loads of “science communicators” using words like proliferation, rodents, double-blinded test, mitochondria, electron transport. In my opinion, this is bad science communication practise. A lay-audience won’t understand technical words. They might not have heard of them at all. The best piece of advice I got from all my training is to use a language understandable by a 14 years old kid. Anything more complex than that isn’t effective!

If you want to talk about your research, don’t just talk about your data and all the machines you use in the lab. People have no idea what this is all about. What they might be more interested in is why what you are doing is important, how humanity, society, medicine or the environment benefits from your piece of research. Ultimately, which is the contribution you living as a legacy to other scientists or society? This is what a lay audience want to hear first then you can talk more about the specific problem you are trying to address. If they are particularly curious, you can also talk about your methods and how you carry out your analysis/experiments on a daily basis.

A big ego is one of the main reasons why the general public doesn’t listen to scientists anymore.

Finally, on the note of an article published by Samantha Yammine on Medium, I just want to reinforce the idea that being elitist and get defensive/aggressive when someone asks for clarification or argues a different point is just a very poor science communication practise. Unfortunately, academics all have a big ego and they never liked to be told that they are wrong. They are all okay with compliments but none likes the critique! If they get defensive by saying: “You must agree with me because I do this job for years, You are none to tell me I am wrong, You are shaming me, don’t take it personally.