By Amruta Indapurkar
I am a student scientist, and I think that if scientists can effectively communicate their ideas and research to other scientists and the general population, then that will help people become more aware of advancements in science and will also build their trust in science. However, according to General Social Survey, the public’s confidence of in science has remained stable from 1973 to 2013. Ninety-five percent of people agree that scientists are working toward solving challenging problems, and 88% of people agree that scientists are dedicated to the good of humanity. However, in a Life Sciences Survey from Virginia Commonwealth University, 50% of people strongly or somewhat agree that scientists have created more problems than they have solved. Therefore, it is very important to communicate progress in research with the general community.
With public trust in science, support of the field and the science itself may become more dimensional and comprehensive. For example, thousands of people marched in Washington, D.C., and in other major cities of the Unites States in support of science. Paul J. Meyer, a pioneer in the personal development industry, said a wonderful thing about communication, “Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.” Similarly, communicating science with the general population will build a connection between science and the public that will lead to successful discoveries and scientific advances.
Depending on the target audience, communication in science can be achieved in different ways. First, if the target audience is knowledgeable of the subject matter, then the ideas or research can be communicated by peer-reviewed journal articles, posters and podium presentations, grants, and scientific reports. Second, if the target audience is not experts in the field, then scientists must come up with alternative, simpler ways to convey ideas. Some ways of reaching the public include writing blogs, making videos, tweeting, and writing newspaper articles. All these communications should be in unpretentious language that the general population can understand. This second way of communication is generally called outreach or engagement with the public. Scientists don’t have to communicate in both ways. They can either choose the first way of communication to help other science communities and find collaborations for themselves, or they can choose the second way and try to engage the entire world with science.
The above-mentioned ways of communicating with different types of audiences require effective communication skills. However, the same communication skills won’t be applicable for different audiences. Public communication can be especially hard for scientists because, for example, research must be presented in simple ways for the public versus more complex ways when presented at a conference.
According to an article published in Scientific American, communication skills are so important that they are now considered as one of the core professional skills separate from soft skills. The article also lists some resources that can be used to improve such communication skills. According to another article, several courses and training programs, webinars, and workshops have been incorporated at universities to make scientists and student scientists better communicators.
Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain your idea to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Communication between scientists and the public is the same kind of relationship. Scientists must think deeper and come up with a method that can be easily explained to the public. If a scientist has a clear idea of why s/he wants to convey the idea and what the ultimate goal of his/her research is, then the scientist can come up with effective ways to communicate that idea to others, which will help science flourish.