Last month I was asked to speak on a panel about science communication. The panel was part of a first year graduate course offered by the chemistry department at McMaster University (specifically by @Moran_MirabalRG and @katiemoisse). I was joined by @AlexGelle, @michelleogrod and Tim Li.
The bulk of the conversation centred around the question “why engage in SciComm”. I know when I started grad school, a career in SciComm wasn’t on my radar at all. Still, you don’t have to have your sights on a SciComm career to make it worth getting involved in some projects. (In fact, I think learning to communicate your work can only help make you a better scientist.)
Here are some of my takeaways from the panel.
Shows you are interested in teaching
Communicating science is not the same as doing science. Neither is teaching. In Canada it has become increasingly common to find tenure-track teaching positions at universities. It still isn’t the “norm”, but these positions are an attractive option for those who want to stay in the university atmosphere but don’t necessarily want to start their own lab.
In some ways, science communication shares more with teaching than it does with research. Boosting your resume with #SciComm experience is a great way to show your passion for teaching (and hone some of your communication skills!)
Extra skills from podcasting made switching to digital teaching easier
This note is from my personal experience. Partly because I was at the right place at the right time, but also because of my technical skills related to online platforms, audio and video, I was able to snag an 8-month teaching contract that only opened up because of COVID. Didn’t see that coming when I first started my podcast…
A place to practice leadership skills
Managing teams is crucial in and out of academia. If you haven’t worked with a Primary Investigator (or supervisor) yet, you will be surprised how little they get to be in the lab. You’d think being a professional scientist would mean you spend most of your time in the lab. Nope. The reality is an overwhelming part of their job is managing a team of graduate students and managing your time across many different projects. But you probably don’t get any real leadership training. If you work with an outreach organization for a while, you may get the opportunity to become an organizer or manager, and can give you an edge when you find yourself supervising in the future.
SciComm helped me step out of my bubble, find support (and check my privilege)
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with your own issues. We all have things going on in our lives that keep us busy and overwhelmed, and it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. It’s also easy to forget about people who have different (and systemic) challenges that you might not have. Graduate school can be isolating, but I’ve found support from the SciComm community. It’s also forced me to look at the systems that I benefit from which hold others back.
Connecting with others through SciComm can be both comforting and push you out of your comfort zone. You will meet people who have been where you’ve been and can offer support. You’ll also meet people and learn about initiatives that desperately need your support. Both are good outcomes. You can’t have one and not the other. That’s what being part of a community means.
Anyway, what’s a short article without a list? Here are a few Do’s and Don’t s from the panel.
- Join twitter, tweet at your friends, strangers, people you respect, and branch out of your field
- Say yes to stepping out of your comfort zone
- Say no to unpaid or uncompensated work unless you are getting something specific out of it
- Work for free. That doesn’t mean you need to be paid money, but make sure you are getting something out of it besides “exposure”.
- Go in alone – find people at your stage, and above to guide you. Don’t flounder
- Reinvent the wheel. Can you join a blog? Can you join a podcast? Might have to start from scratch, but don’t if you don’t have to
- Overexert yourself
What do you think? Are you a “Science Communicator”? If there was a graduate course on communications, would you take it? If you are a professional, what kind of things do you wish you would have learned in school?