“You’re a scientist; that’s awesome! So… what do you do?” We’ve all been there; friends and family ask about our research out of politeness without expecting to understand it. People believe science is the realm of scientists, and who can blame them? Barriers like jargon, complexity and paywalls prevent them from accessing the frontiers of research. Science communication, or SciComm, challenges this narrative. While it is valuable to the public, here are eight reasons why doing science communication benefits you as a scientist.
1. Science communication helps you understand your research better
It is no surprise that science communication benefits the public, giving them a glimpse into cutting-edge research not found in textbooks. Many scientists don’t realize that it can be just as beneficial to them! By being involved with SciComm, you are effectively stepping into a role of an educator. It’s no easy task to teach people of different ages and backgrounds on a scientific topic with no syllabus in hand. What’s more, the audience that isn’t obliged to pay attention to what you say or write!
To communicate our science in a way that is engaging, we must first develop a deep understanding of our research. Taking the time to break down hard science into easily digestible chunks involves reframing your research from a different perspective. If we fail at communicating our work to a layperson, perhaps we don’t understand our research well enough.
2. It improves your (transferable) communication skills
In SciComm, we need to use both our knowledge of science and communication skills to get our points across. Whether we choose to write, speak, sing or dance, the ability to communicate clearly and effectively has apparent benefits. In a research setting, we appreciate well designed presentations and reports that get the point across without requiring too much deciphering.
If you’re a graduate student or faculty member, there’s a good chance that you have to teach science. This is a form of SciComm, since you have to explain tough science concepts at a less advanced level. Use this opportunity to improve your presentation and communication skills.
Even if you decide later to take on another career path outside of research (or science altogether), the ability to digest complex information and communicate it to a broader audience is highly transferable (and your future coworkers will thank you for it).
3. SciComm expands your research reach
While publishing in a journal is an outstanding achievement, your reach is limited to scientists in a particular field. With SciComm, you can expand your reach to millions of people around the world.
News websites and social media accounts showcase groundbreaking science to the public, but these can only cover so much (the same content is also often regurgitated). Science communication acts as a bridge between scientists and the science-curious. After all, so much good science is done that it seems silly to withhold all this knowledge. So many of us want to learn beyond what we can find in textbooks!
4. It widens your professional network
Explaining science concepts is a popular pastime among scientists, who are keen for the people around them to marvel at the wonders of science (as much as they can tolerate, anyway). Researchers are beginning to understand the importance of such communication in a professional setting. Many scientists are keen to discuss ways to improve how they can better educate the public on various science topics, making science communication a good conversation starter.
Furthermore, there are various science communication and outreach roles today, as research institutions and companies realize the importance of sharing their science beyond scientists. Perhaps your SciComm journey could lead you to take on such roles in the future!
5. Science communication benefits your online presence
These days, a glittering CV is often not enough to stand out; having an online presence is key to raising awareness (and possible funding). Many scientists have personal websites that supplement their customary profiles on Google Scholar and LinkedIn. Science communication in articles, videos and podcasts are opportunities to create links that direct others to these profiles, further growing your online presence. As your skills improve, you might receive freelancing opportunities or even job offers in SciComm, providing you with additional income streams.
6. It breaks down barriers (and elitism) in the way of science
Though it can be tough to admit, gatekeeping and elitism in science are real issues. There is a baffling need for some researchers to maintain their supposed self-importance by restricting their knowledge from others. “It’s too complex for them to understand”, or “It’s not worth explaining to the public since they can’t contribute anyway”.
What they don’t realize is that this sort of elitism is detrimental to their science. Aside from preventing the public from accessing information, it brushes over the important role non-scientists play in scientific research. You see, research is mainly paid for by taxpayers, who often have little clue where their money goes. By bridging this disconnect, there is a chance of better support. There is a good chance that science communication benefits a scientist’s work down the line.
7. And builds a more scientifically literate world
Despite living in a world that is the product of scientific discoveries, from technology to medicine, many people still turn a blind eye toward science. This means ineffective ‘therapies’ like alkaline water and other false cures continue to take root in our society, alongside corporations that take advantage of public fear to peddle their ‘natural‘ and non-GMO products.
Scientific literacy is the ability to link what we learn about science to what we encounter in everyday life. We can use science communication to educate the public against false claims, showing the world that a healthy dose of rational thinking is all we need to prevent falling for false claims and promises. Everyone benefits from living in a world where we use evidence-based, empirical data to make decisions.
8. Communicating science is a fun distraction from your research
Lastly, science communication is fun! It provides a welcome distraction from the stress of research and work while teaching us the value of science beyond the ivory tower. Science communication benefits both scientists and non-scientists alike. Through videos, infographics, talks, podcasts, articles and other media, even the most complex theories can be broken down to cater to different levels of understanding.
If you’re keen on writing, you can check out our Write For Us program, where we’ll guide you through publishing a popular science article right here on the FTLOScience website. For other forms of content creation, the vibrant SciComm community on social media channels will be more than happy to help you get started on your journey!