Monday, 15 December 2014

Science communication: musings of an early career researcher.

Sci-Comm, outreach, educator, public awareness... As an early career researcher all these words buzz around your head, often quite happily distracting you from the task at hand such as writing your thesis (or something like that). That’s not to say that spending time with the ideas surrounding these words is simply fruitless procrastination. It’s important that we engage with what these words mean to us, its not as simple as just “being a scientist” nowadays. We have to communicate to the public what we write in our papers, otherwise who are we speaking to, ourselves? Surely the point is to make science less esoteric? So we have to engage with, well, engaging!! We also need to be engaging and engage others... We are married to this career and it’s certainly not for the money so we should be sharing our passion. From five year olds to fire men, communities in developing countries to our local politicians we need to communicate what we know. So, we hold events, we write blogs, we have sections in newspapers and we engage with local community groups and schools..... I’ve done some but not all of these things myself and it has been most rewarding. However, there is something that I would like to admit.....

When it comes to my closest friends and family there is a communication break down.

It’s easy to communicate with those who want to listen but how do we break the barrier with those who don’t? With people who are too busy to listen or make changes? With people who think that they are not important enough to need to know this information or the “what can I do about it anyway” brigade! Maybe this is not a problem for everyone but I find it is for me, I don’t want to “bother” the people around me. It upsets me when a close friend uses a plastic bag just to carry their loaf of bread, as much as it does whenever I see anyone do this, but I can’t seem to say anything. Yet, these are people who I share my deepest self with.... it doesn’t make sense.

So, I wonder, how do we break that barrier of communication? How do we practice science communication every day with everyone, or is that too much? Do we not communicate with those closest to us because we are afraid that they will show us to be hypocrites, not always practicing what we preach in terms of environmental stewardship. Or do we find we don’t have the words to convey complex ideas about ecology to everyone around us. It’s something I have been thinking about a lot lately, how and why we pick and choose our moments to be communicators. Do we need the downtime, is the task just too demanding sometimes? I think we can learn a lot from those closest to us about what type of communication works. Think about it, if those around you don’t understand what you are trying to say there is a rather large chance lot’s of others wont too, so that blog you wrote probably wont engage on lots of levels. How about communicating an idea to your family from the youngest to the oldest. How do you change your words, your analogies or your examples to get an idea across and how can you use that knowledge when communicating with others. More importantly what turns those around your off, what makes them stop listening. What do you find hard to say you, what areas are not practicing what you preach. It is these sticky areas where we can probably learn the most. It’s like a grass roots way of making ourselves better communicators and it just takes us being a little bit more aware in our day-to-day lives.... How good at science communication are we with those we hold closest to our hearts.  

This blog was written by Jen Cooper, one of our paper-makers early career researchers. 

More from Jen on her blog at marine mutterings

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