In science, we often focus our attention on research. This makes sense and is completely obvious, but science involves more than pipetting and coding. In fact, most – if not all – of the communication of our work will be conveyed in writing for scientific journals. How often have we not been staring at a paper wondering what the author was actually trying to do, and why this is impactful?
This is exactly why I wanted to follow the science communication summer school.
The 5-day summer school gave us background knowledge on the history of science communication and different approaches which do (or don’t) work. We enjoyed a great set of lectures by people who communicate science in several different ways, be it citizen science, writing a book, making television shows, or working for the university as a communication officer. What does it take to write a book and what does it get you? How do you talk about science on television and which events should you definitely skip?
For me, the most valuable aspects of the summer school were the practical ones. We got some very solid insights on how to incorporate public engagement in grant applications, an amazing writing workshop by Lisette van Hulst (www.textandtraining.com/) and a hands-on presenting workshop by Julia Cramer. Writing sounds so easy, we do it all the time. Yet it was so useful to have a lecture on the proper construction of sentences and stories. Where is the verb? Last time I had a class like this was at least 15 years ago. It’s useful to revisit basic English, especially for non-native speakers. Lisette asked us to look at our own work and correct it, based on a few simple guidelines. Truly, I felt a bit embarrassed to see very typical mistakes. During the presenting workshop, Julia focused on all the things we normally don’t talk about. Most of our presenting workshops in science are about powerpoint slides and how to talk about our results and conclusions. But we rarely talk about when and where we walk during presentations, where to leave all those limbs (I never know what to do with my arms), or when to put vocal emphasis on a statement.
These practical workshops were only the start, as Anne and Julia also asked us to spend a few hours to design a ‘product’ to communicate a specific scientific problem. Here again, we discussed issues that I had not properly considered before. Usually, when I wrote blogs, I wonder what I would like to write about. This is wrong. I should have wondered what people like to read about. For someone as highly educated as I am – I felt quite stupid.
I can only encourage scientists to follow the next science communication summer school, regardless of whether you have ambitions to spend a lot more time on science communication. It’s useful for every scientist to know how to engage an audience and to communicate our work. This is literally our job.
Thank you Anne Land and Julia Cramer for an amazing summer school!