Science communication is an essential part of research, and one which is necessary to better understand how scientists can work alongside other members of society. As a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication, I am bound to say this, but engaging with a variety of audiences has helped me to have a greater understanding of what I do as a scientist, and also why I do it. It has also been a tremendous amount of fun, mainly because I have been fortunate enough to combine some of the other passions in my life as part of this process. At the moment, my current research involves using poetry and games to develop a dialogue between experts and non-experts. Some of this is performative in nature, whereas other aspects are much more facilitatory, for example the use of poetry writing workshops to determine the needs of Manchester faiths groups in relation to climate change.
Finding a way to combine your scientific research with skills and passions that you have developed away from environmental science may seem unlikely, or even daunting. However, there are many inspirational examples of engaging science communication that combines scientific expertise with creative flair, whether it be the rap of Alex Lathbridge, the comics of Matthew Partridge, or even the crocheting skills of Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim. Across the UK there are also a number of great events such as FameLab and BrightClub that promote and reward engaging science communication, many of which also provide training for those starting out on their science communication journeys.
An even greater challenge is in moving beyond the performative element of science communication; utilising these skills and passions to develop a two-way conversation between scientists and non-scientists to find out what people need rather than telling them what they want. Recent examples of this include Lara Mani’s use of videogames to enhance volcanic hazard education and communication on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, and the Climate Symphony lab, which brought together journalists, scientists, and sound artists to explore climate change data through sound and music composition.
At times the science communication landscape can be a little confusing, and it can be difficult for scientists to find out where to start and what approach to take. Recently I co-edited a Special Issue in Science Communication with my colleague Professor Andreas Prokop, from the University of Manchester, for the journal ‘Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology.’ Whilst this is a journal that NERC scientists might not normally read, I think that it provides a useful stepping stone into science communication, providing advice from practitioners in the field, as well as examples of successful science communication initiatives. The editorial in particular should, I hope, provide an excellent resource for additional resources from which to develop and hone your communication skills.
Developing and delivering effective science communication takes time and dedication, but it is also incredibly rewarding. As well as helping science to better connect with society, it will enable you to better understand the fundamental concepts of your own work, providing you with new ideas, and reminding you why you fell in love with research in the first instance.
Dr Sam Illingworth is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is also the Programme Leader for the MSc in Science Communication. You can find out more about Sam’s research, and read some of his poetry on his website.