Science and Journalism – Opposites or Not So Much?

This blog was written in collaboration with our partners at Promega GmbH.

Scientists are comfortable speaking to people who know their field. Speaking to scientists outside of their field of expertise can become a little more challenging, and many find the greatest challenge of all is speaking to people who do not have a science background and are hearing about a scientific concept for the first time, such as journalists in the popular media. What can scientists and journalists do to make the most of the interface of science and journalism?

Digital image depicting the intersection of science and journalism.

The importance of the interface between science and journalism is increasingly visible with scientific topics appearing on the national news more frequently due to COVID-19, climate change, and diseases like cancer. So, where can journalists go to learn best practices for interviewing scientists and writing about scientific topics? Promega GmbH offers a platform in which scientists and journalists come together and learn from each other in a constructive exchange. In this workshop setting, scientists speak about a certain topic, and journalists from all kinds of backgrounds can ask questions. When the journalist authors an article about what they learned in that workshop, both sides benefit. The scientists’ work becomes visible, and society learns more about scientific research and discovery that can help all of us to better understand the world and contribute to a brighter future.

Here we describe several common themes that have emerged from these science journalism workshops that may help you the next time you find yourself trying to explain your research to someone unfamiliar with your field.

Continue reading “Science and Journalism – Opposites or Not So Much?”

Overcoming 5 Bottlenecks in Communicating Life Sciences Research

As a first-year grad student, I was so excited to start my thesis work. I brainstormed to make a list of experiments to try and then discussed them with one of the senior grad students in the lab. As I enthusiastically explained the goals of my experiments and what I was planning, he gave me a strange look. Puzzled, I asked for some feedback. He told me that, while these were good research ideas, almost all of them had been published. Hence, my first lesson learned from grad school: immerse yourself in the field by reading relevant papers and then plan some innovative experiments to move forward. It’s critical to have a deep knowledge of your field of study—not just to be a good grad student, but to see what is being done and then build on it, or take a totally different approach to innovate.

Reading papers is a big part of keeping up with the latest research. And attending conferences can give you a sense of current work before it’s published. However, I’m sure that, at least once, you’ve heard a cool talk at a conference and then quite a while later, haven’t seen the corresponding paper (so that you can read about all the ins and outs of what they did!). Why would this be?  They may have been discussing the data early on in their project. Or perhaps they submitted a manuscript and the review/publishing process is taking a long time. Maybe the data were so surprising that they felt they needed to do a lot of follow-up work to support their conclusions. Or maybe their PI takes forever to write/comment on manuscripts. Etc.

The sooner that you can find out what is going on in a field, the sooner you can design smart, relevant experiments. What can be done to get cutting edge work out there to facilitate the progression of a field as a whole?

Bottlenecks in communicating research can occur at 5 different points in the process. Here are some tips to try to alleviate these delays. Continue reading “Overcoming 5 Bottlenecks in Communicating Life Sciences Research”

The Intersection of Poetry and Science

March 21, 2018 is World Poetry Day, we’re getting into the spirit with some scientific poetry. Science and poetry overlap more than many diehards in either camp would like to admit. History is filled with poets who dabbled in science, as well as scientists who dabbled in poetry. In honor of World Poetry Day, I’ve pulled out some of my favorites. Continue reading “The Intersection of Poetry and Science”

Compelling Science Communication

An archive of 35mm slides. There's probably one in a dark corner of your lab.
An archive of 35mm slides. There’s probably one in a dark corner of your lab.

Back in the dark ages, when I was in graduate school, compelling science communication meant traveling to a conference to give a presentation from 35mm slides. We always made sure that our slide carousels were in our carry-on baggage. That carousel was more important than our underwear or our toothbrush, no trusting it to baggage claim.

Things have improved markedly, I’m happy to say. Now everything has to go in the carry-on baggage, because most PIs don’t have the financial room in their grants to pay for checked bag fees. Fortunately, we can store copies of our presentations on several different clouds and bring a thumb drive or two on board the plane, tucked safely away in the underwear in the duffle bag that doesn’t quite fit in the overhead compartment. No need to choose between unwieldy slide carousels and clothes.

But are PowerPoint® and Prezi® presentations the best way to communicate your science? When you hit your audience with slide after slide of bullets are you killing their interest? When you show that slide of three years worth of work and say “Don’t worry about trying to read this…” are you killing your presentation?

Is there a better more compelling way to communicate science? Accurately. So that people care. So that people understand.

FameLab International certainly thinks so. Begun in 2005 by the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK, FameLab seeks to promote better science communication through sponsorship of a competition in which scientists and engineers have three short minutes to communicate their science with enthusiasm and accuracy–armed “with only their wits and a few props that they can carry on stage.” The competition will have run its course in 2021, but viewing the videos is a great way to learn how to give great presentaiton.

It is truly a global competition with over 5,000 young scientists and engineers from 25 countries around the world competing for the grand prize each year. The Grand Final Competition is held in June each year, but you can take a sneak peak at some of the entrants on the FameLab Facebook page now.

Here’s a winning taste from the 2014 competition. There is more on the FameLab YouTube channel.