Being able to effectively communicate scientific ideas and results — without muddled jargon getting in the way — is essential for sound public decision-making. Most academic research is funded with taxpayer dollars, after all.
And now, perhaps more than ever, there is an urgent need for researchers to convince legislators and voters about why their work matters. To that end, a series of events organized by Drexel University graduate students are giving researchers the chance to demystify what they do for the lay public.
I was happy to speak this month at a career development workshop titled, “Communicating Your Science,” which was geared toward budding scientists and biomedical engineers. The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies in the College of Medicine jointly sponsored the event with the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems
The workshop addressed how to communicate scientific and technical information in a variety of interactions, including media interviews, testifying before Congress and talking to the public through social media.
My talk boiled down to this key takeaway:
Communicating science to the public is important. But getting a reporter’s attention can be tough. And your message can easily get lost or misinterpreted as it moves from the researcher, to the media to society. That’s why it’s necessary to:
Know your audience
Be able to answer the “Who cares?” question
Use metaphors, analogies and stories
Remember that you are the expert
The workshop included talks from Nathan Fried, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania (@NeuronNate), who has used his neuroscience expertise to build a dedicated social media following, and Michael Heintz, director of advocacy outreach and training at the Society of Neuroscience, who touched on the importance and tools for government advocacy. Heintz’s main point: “Focus the conversation on what you are for, not against.”
The day ended with the opportunity for students to use the skills they learned throughout the day, with improvisation exercises led by Bobbi Block, who teaches theater in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design.
A Taste of Science
But it’s not enough to know how to talk about science — researchers have to get out of their labs and start meeting people. That’s why a group of College of Medicine students are bringing “your favorite neighborhood scientists” to a bar near you this month.
Taste of Science (formerly Pint of Science) is an outreach organization that brings scientific lectures to bars, coffee shops and restaurants around the country. Starting Monday, April 24, Taste of Science comes to Philadelphia for events at Franky Bradley’s, Frankford Hall and Fergie’s Pub. Drexel faculty will join researchers from various Philadelphia institutions to contemplate topics that range from the cosmos to climate change.
Anyone with an interest, and non-scientists in particular, are encouraged to attend, said Andrew Matamoros, a doctoral candidate in the College of Medicine, and the event manager/city coordinator for Taste of Science Philadelphia.
“These researchers are doing really amazing, cutting-edge work, and what makes these events so fun is how excited they are to be a part of it,” he said. “They know that non-scientists matter the most, because they are voters.”
The three events are free, but those interested should register for tickets at the Taste of Science website.
Here’s the line-up of themes and speakers this week:
Exploring Galaxies Near and Far…
Monday, April 24, at 6 p.m.
Franky Bradley’s, 1320 Chancellor Street
- Mark Trodden, PhD, University of Pennsylvania
- Jonathan Tannen, PhD, Econsult Solutions, Inc.
- Alex Hill, PhD, Haverford College
Drones, Dinosaurs, and More!
Tuesday, April 25 at 6 p.m.
Frankford Hall, 1210 Frankford Avenue
- Denise Garcia, PhD, College of Arts and Sciences at Drexel
- Peter Dodson, PhD, University of Pennsylvania
- Ellie Pavlick, PhD, University of Pennsylvania
- Matt Piccoli, PhD, University of Pennsylvania
Climate Change: How We Got Here, and Looking to the Future
Wednesday, April 26
Fergie’s Pub, 12114 Sansom Street
- Darin Hayton, PhD, Haverford College
- Katy Gonder, PhD, College of Arts and Sciences at Drexel
- Mike Zdilla, PhD, Temple University
- Megan Ryerson, PhD, University of Pennsylvania
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