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Wednesday, September 27, 2023
URBANA, Illinois, Feb 8 2022 (IPS) - In the spirit of science communication, I posted via twitter a video clip of a bee that had taken a little too much of pollen. It received over 30,000 views and had over 100,000 impressions. Over the years, before the pandemic, thanks to several science communication workshops and trainings about various ways to communicate science, I have continued to grow as a science communicator.
The appreciation and appetite for science communication was on the rise among institutions of higher learning, professional societies and early career and junior scientists prior to the pandemic was equally growing. The National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine published a report on best practices while pointing out potential research areas to advance science communication.
Throughout the literature, there was a proliferation in journal articles, book chapters, and technical reports and web resources by Professional societies such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Workshops on science communication were routinely embedded in Professional Society annual meetings.
Thanks to science communications, many large-scale science related challenges and great advances in scientific discoveries with major implications to humanity have been translated into solutions and communicated effectively with the public. With on-going science-related challenges like COVID-19 and the climate crisis, science communication is more crucial than ever.
But, with no major incentives, it may be difficult to convince graduate students, postdocs, and tenured and untenured professors to partake of science communication. This is understandable because of the many demands in academia.
New graduate students, newly minted PhDs who may have transitioned to post-Doctoral fellowships and newly recruited Assistant Professors may have a hard time deciding if it is worth parking in science communication. However, as I know firsthand, it can be very beneficial to people’s careers to engage in it.
Oftentimes, when scientists publish in scientific journals, the audience is small. This is because, scientific articles can only be accessed by far fewer people, since journals require expensive subscriptions. But if they take the extra step of communicating their research, and disseminating it widely via blog, op-eds and social media, they can reach a much bigger audience.
Indeed, disseminating science via social media entails a public service. Throughout the pandemic, for instance, the value of science communication to the public has been instrumental with many scientists being called upon to provide accurate information about the latest scientific advancements.
This has led to vast increases in their followings on Twitter and Instagram from people outside academic circles. Sharing our scientific findings with the public allows us to practice speaking and writing in non-scientific language in a timely manner while reaching more diverse audiences. This can also build trust among various communities and the public.
Science communication can also help advance one’s career. For instance, since external reputation is a key metric that is used by universities to evaluate and promote professors, being active and disseminating your science via social media can help establish that reputation that would benefit you professionally. This is something that’s happened in my own career.
Being active online can help you build your professional network, which can lead to peers recommending you awards, inviting you to give talks and participate on panels, or asking you to judge to conference presentations and other competitions.
Newly formed networks may also lead to the birth of new collaborations and co-writing grant proposals. I can attest to this too as I built my professional network through Twitter. For example, I’ve received invitations to present in university departments and opportunities to present my work at the Entomological Society of America.
Moreover, the social media platforms offer ways to track impact. In Twitter, for example, you can track how many people re-tweeted the tweet, how many people interacted with the tweet, how many people accessed the links, and from what geographical location where they from.
All these data can help science communicators to better understand their audience while finding creative ways to continue engaging audiences. It can also be included in portfolio for academic promotion.
Of course, there are negatives that can come about with science communication on social media. The large volumes of science and other information shared can come at the expense of quality, and people with enough followers, but no expertise can have influence over science conversations and easily spread misinformation.
At the same time, science is continuously evolving, and the results today may improve in the future, and that is always a difficult point to communicate to non-scientists. It is also possible that those with followers can be sponsored by companies or organizations to share certain opinions and specific content. But the benefits outweigh the negatives.
So, if you want to start engaging in science communication, first, find out what already exists in your department, institution, region, and professional society. Explore what opportunities are available to begin your science communication efforts. In addition, inquire from your department if there are science communication classes you can attend.
Science communication will continue to be important into the future. Social media and other avenues of communicating science are here to stay and they are shaping present day and potentially future academic cultures.
Newbies and those who have not tried to partake of science communication can take their first steps. In the end, both the academic community and the public benefit when scientists share their discoveries with the public.
Dr. Esther Ngumbi is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and a Senior Food Security Fellow with the Aspen Institute, New Voices.
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