Cassie Sims is a PhD student and SCI early career member, sitting on the committees of SCI’s Agrisciences Group and Agrifood Early Career Committee. Read more of Cassie’s work at soci.org/news and soci.org/blog.
Undertaking an internship in digital media has exposed me to a completely new part of science. As a young scientist, we are regularly taught the value of communicating our work, but often we are not taught how to best do this.
There are many nuances and tricks to getting digital media to be the most engaging it can be, and here are a few that I have learnt over the last couple of months.
Know your audience
Before you start producing any kind of content, you need to know your audience. Are they scientists or the general public, early- or late-career, students or professionals? Understanding your target demographic can help you make informed decisions about the media or topic you choose, and how you write the piece.
It is crucial to know who your audience is!
It is important to keep your audience in mind at every stage of the process, from conception of the idea, to writing, presentation and marketing. By targeting your piece, you will produce a higher quality piece of content and have much more engagement overall.
Image is important
When presenting a piece of work to the world, be in a long-read article or just a Tweet, image is crucial. Choosing images or photographs to best display your message takes time and careful curation.
Images can be obtained from a wide variety of sources, from stock photo websites, such as Shutterstock or Pixabay, to original images you may have designed or photographed. Remember to always give credit where appropriate.
At SCI we are big fans of gifs and emojis. When targeting a younger audience, or using more informal media like out blog, these can engage and draw the eye much more than a standard image. This again requires meticulous decision-making skills, and it can be crucial to know the meanings behind each emoji.
Trust your gut
A large part of science communication is choosing which science to communicate. This involves selecting topics and editing to the most critical and interesting information.
At SCI, we release innovation news pieces on a regular basis, where we choose the most exciting science news from the week. This involves looking through press releases, and sometimes selecting one piece from hundreds can be a daunting task.
One thing I have learnt during my time at SCI is to trust that I can select something that people will want to read. When pitching ideas for articles and blog pieces, I have learnt to value my own opinion in what is engaging and relevant science that our members and the broader public might want to read about.
One of the many commitments I have as part of my PhD training is in public engagement. This means that I get to attend events and talk about my research and other areas of science to kids, teenagers, mums, dads, grandparents… everyone!
I used to be terrified of this, as I thought that people wouldn’t understand or care. Any time friends or relatives asked what I was doing in the lab, I was never able to give a proper and comprehensive answer, and moving to England from Italy made this even worse, as I had to talk about my research in another language.
But my idea that people wouldn’t care about or understand my research was very wrong. In fact, if people ask what you are doing in the lab, it’s because they are interested. It is true that they might not grasp complicated scientific theories, equations, and laws, but it is a scientist’s duty to make science accessible to everyone, especially when they show an interest.
I have been receiving a lot of training on how to communicate and entertain the general public with science, and here are a few ways I have found to make communication easier…
Make it simple
Talking to the public is very different to talking to a panel of academics. Many of the people you engage with will not have much prior scientific knowledge, so try to be as simple as possible – use examples, and substitute specialised terms with more common ones. Rather than saying you synthesised a molecule, say that you made a material or compound – there is no need to be specific from the very beginning. Talk clearly and carefully, and ask if what you said was clear enough.
Relate your research to everyday life
Everything happening around us is science. All natural events can be explained by physical, chemical, and mathematical rules. Telling your story will be a lot easier if you make a comparison with everyday life events. If someone complains about messy housemates, you can tell them that the state of disorder of the universe is constantly increased according to the second law of thermodynamics, so their housemates are behaving naturally!
Talk about why your research matters
Don’t forget that what you are doing is the lab isn’t only important to you – remind people that everybody benefits from research, whether that is through delivering useful new innovations to the market through industry, or lessening our impact on the planet. Science and innovation means progress, and, directly or indirectly, every new scientific discovery has the potential to provide benefit to society. If you can make this clear, people will relate to you more easily.
Communicate with enthusiasm
When you talk about science and your research, talk about what interests you to as many people as possible, and make it fun – use drawings, props, Lego – use whatever you can to help communicate the science in an engaging way.