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This episode features another appearance by Dr. Eva Amsen from ShareYourSci.com, easternblot.net, and evaamsen.com. In episode #50, she talked about building a career in science communication. Today, she discusses SciComm for researchers. This conversation is the second half of a two-part discussion on science communication and research.
Transitioning from blogging to SciComm
When Eva started the easternblot blog in 2003, she also had a blog containing general content she shared with friends. “Then I gradually changed that into a more science-y blog where I was doing a bit of science (communication).”
After freelancing for Nature Network from 2007 until 2012, Eva realized that she was writing predominantly for those people who left comments on the blog. These readers mostly consisted of other scientists, science bloggers and science writers.
When Nature Network closed, she merged the two blogs. She realized she had a website with content from multiple niches.
“It got very confusing and I got a little bit of an identity crisis by thinking, “What is this website, and what am I doing with it?”
The first step in transitioning to ShareYourSci was identifying the audience
At first, Eva created different categories, including science communication. Then she decided to set up an entirely new website for the SciComm audience.
“So, yeah, I started this from scratch in a very systematic way,” she explained.
This topic is the first chapter in the workbook because, according to Eva, it is “the first thing that you need to think about, and also the first thing that everyone seems to forget. I also had that epiphany, trying to figure out who my audience was.”
She didn’t think about audience identification in the beginning because the audience in research fields is well-defined. However, when she started to do science communication, knowing her audience was critical.
“No one will ever specifically say, ‘Think about your audience,’” she said. “But they’ll say, ‘Well, you’re going to give a talk in a pub.’ The people there don’t know much about science, so you leave out the jargon. [However] your audience in that pub chose to come to a science talk. That is a different audience than 30 school kids, maybe one of which has an active interest in science.”
Eva does a lot of R2P (researcher to public) and R2R (researcher to researcher) communication. She sent the first draft of the SciComm for Researchers workbook to a couple of beta readers, one of whom said, “You forgot about that research and business interaction or even researchers and doctors.” She made adjustments based on their recommendations.
“Most of my experience is either researchers to the public or researchers to researchers. So yeah, it’s the part that I always forget about as well.”
SciComm and its impact
Research funders want to know that your work is important and that people are interested in it, so many of them are now encouraging some level of science communication. Eva said that she knows researchers who write, run podcasts, and work with journalists.
One website called 500 Women Scientists has a database where you search for who is willing to do interviews. Another website is called Diverse Sources, which consists of scientists who make themselves available to the media. Many researchers are also working with their institutional media departments to answer journalist questions.
When she started science blogging, a lot of blogs were aimed at teaching people scientific ideas like evolution. Today, the hot topic is climate change. The delivery, however, is different than it used to be. It’s not a case of people lacking access to scientific information: anyone can Google things and find the research, so that deficit model – the idea that we can solve all issues by providing scientific information – clearly isn’t working. Therefore, a lot of science communication at the moment is focused on the audience.
“[This means] connecting with the audience and trying to understand where they’re coming from, and giving people space to ask questions, rather than throwing a bunch of information at them,” Eva explained. “It also means understanding cultural differences that might make a difference in how people interpret things.”
As an example of the latter point, she said, “Let’s assume you’ve discovered that if cats go outside, they may need less exercise indoors and a different kind of food. Now, if you’re talking about that research in North America versus Europe, you’re going to get a completely different audience because, in Europe, it is the norm to let cats outside. In North America, it’s the norm to keep your cats indoors, and people who leave their cats outside, or even let them out for a short amount of time, get criticized for putting the cat in danger and putting the bird population in danger.”
It gets more challenging when you’re covering issues close to home, like vaccine research. Parents are naturally worried about their children. If a scientist tells them that they should vaccinate their children, it won’t convince them when they have friends and family who urge otherwise.
“Maybe we need another parent to go talk to them. Find a parent who is a scientist, and that might help,” Eva said. “So it’s more thinking about the people and the process rather than facts.”
Managing your online presence
Although many universities give their researchers a small online presence, content is usually limited to a photo and one paragraph of text. Eva recommended setting up your own website.
“That will give you so much more freedom. You can show pictures and videos of your work, excursions where you’ve been on, and talks that you’ve given. It also makes it easier for people to find you.”
She also recommended using LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. “I always go to people’s Twitter’s accounts because that’s the easiest way to see what’s going on at the moment… You have control over it and you’re easily findable by people searching for experts.”
Eva also advised researchers who want to run their own website or social media profiles to check their university’s policies on such issues. “(Some) universities want you to tag the university in your tweets or have something in your profile that specifically states that the content expresses your own opinions and that the university is not responsible.”
Some researchers are concerned that they cannot talk about their research online because a journal might tell them, “We can’t publish this. You tweeted about it.”
“It’s not that strict,” Eva said. “You can say what you’re working on, but don’t put the figures and the results directly online. That is what they mean when they say they can’t publish previously published results.”
Eva’s future plans: more writing and more events
Eva said that she will continue to do freelance writing. She is hoping to arrange some more in-person events for ShareYourSci.
“I’ve been hosting a few co-working mornings in London but, I’m trying to get some workshops out there this year. I will also continue to put content on the site and provide useful information for researchers who want to learn about science communication.”
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