Piotr Sordyl wrote this article as a summary of the importance of science communication. If you’re looking for an exciting communication career and are passionate about science – reading this article could spark the next step for you! Enjoy the read.
Encountering Science Communication
The first time I encountered the idea of Science Communication was through wonderful books authored by Carl Sagan, an American scientist in the field of astronomy, an author, and a great science communicator. Through the explorations of tantalising topics and fascinating presentation of many reflection-inducing thoughts, his books sparked my interest in science and pursuit of the unknown. They also allowed me to realise how much the popularisation of science is needed in our world. By doing this, society—or more specifically, every person— would have access to and a better understanding of the vast pool of knowledge that discipline of thought unlocks for humankind, influencing and altering every aspect of our lives.
Science Communication is one of the non-traditional career paths open to an individual interested and passionate about science. Last year December, Andy Ridgway, who worked as a science journalist (and still writes) and is currently a Senior lecturer for MSc Science Communication/PgDip at the University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol, hosted one of the DAS monthly employability seminars ‘Careers in science communication’ with guest Sophie Pavelle, a Campaign and Communications Coordinator for the Beaver Trust, Freelance Science Communicator and UWE alumni (graduate of MSc Science Communication). They both spoke about their experiences, the nature of Science Communication and steps worth taking in the pursuit of such a career.
What it’s all about
What does Science Communication entail? As the name suggests, it focuses on communicating the science to the general public that are not experts themselves and have varied levels of understanding, helping make science approachable and comprehensible. Andy broadly summarized it as a science that is not published in scientific journals, but instead in magazines (e.g. New Scientist), or presented in shows, festivals, television, podcasts (e.g. SETI Institute’s Big Picture Science, or for the promotion of STEM). He also spoke of the important shift in paradigm in recent decades from simply reporting research to society to an increased engagement and dialog between the two – producing an exchange of knowledge and ideas.
A more open attitude in communication between science and society can lead to more people experiencing science and have a more informed view on it. Misinformation and misrepresentation of facts often lead to confusion, fear, and rejection of what is unknown or poorly understood. As science technology evolves, a reliable communication platform between science and society needs to be well established now more than ever. It is important that the ethical issues of how to best implement current and future discoveries, and if at all, is discussed on a societal level aswell.
What to expect
What can you do to become a Science Communicator? There is no one, simple answer to such a question, however, there are certain steps that you may wish to consider. The simplest would be to read a lot, as it will potentially lead to new discoveries and improve your vocabulary, style, and intuition of your own writing. Another step (suggested by Andy), is creating your own blog, allowing you to practice and develop your own skill whilst making your work available for others to read. Even if the blog is not on the matter of science, it allows you to show off your passion for a given topic and your writing capability.
You may also consider joining one of the many UWE blogs, such as this one, and write content for them. Alternatively, if you would like to author an article for a magazine, there is an opportunity to write for the departmental publication called Science Matters. If you are interested in this, email Andy (contact details below) and he will add your name to the writers list – you will be assigned a topic, which involves interviewing a researcher (a staff member or postgraduate student) and writing about it.
Sophie shared her experiences of uncertainty along her own journey to where she is now. Her words can bring a little bit of solace to those who are worried about not having a set path yet: “There is beauty in not having a plan.”. I share that sentiment, and I wholeheartedly recommend you seek, explore and gain experiences, as all of them can lead you to discovering your life’s greatest passions, and discovering what makes you happy.
Nowadays, it is an advantage, often even a requirement, to have work experience — which can be daunting someone new to the job market. Sophie helpfully shared a few tips regarding how to search for a placement opportunity: make a list of your interests; google it; speak to people you know and including those who are (or might) be doing a placement and compare your experiences; keep your CV clear to read with highlights of what you have accomplished; and reach out to the organizations you are interested in working for by sending confident yet concise emails.
Another value in work experience pointed out by Sophie is that you can take that opportunity to see what you are good at, what you might like to do as a job, and what you might not. It is as valuable to quit something after five minutes, as it is to have a completed work experience—some places are right for us and some are not, and we can only benefit from paying attention to how they make us feel.
Yet another step you can take towards a career in Science Communication are further studies, such as MSc in Science Communication. Sophie (graduate) spoke highly of the course, emphasizing it as practical, non-lab based and highly creative.
Andy pointed out that UWE is one of the few universities in the UK that has a dedicated group of academics who research into Science Communication but also practice it as well, for example the Science for Environment Policy newsletter that goes across Europe (aimed at policy makers). The Science Communication unit at UWE is also involved in the RETHINK Project, which considers how science is communicated online, who does it, in what way, and how the information provided is perceived by its readers.
Science Communication is an important part of science, especially since it serves as a spokesperson for the sciences in its interactions with the public. It also very importantly fulfils the role of a trusted friend and confidant — it listens to the worries and hesitations of the public and is responsible for relaying truthful and reliable information.
In the times like ours, when we face issues globally, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate and biodiversity crisis; Science Communication is essential to enable informed action and positive change in the right direction, to create a strong link between science and society (conversing as two respectful partners, without condescension, or fear), and to emphasize dependencies between the state of the natural world and condition of humankind. These are all great challenges for the new generation of Science Communicators to tackle.
To write for Science Matters, contact Andy Ridgway: Andy.Ridgway@uwe.ac.uk
Thank you for reading.
Written by Piotr Sordyl
Hello, my name is Piotr (I can assure you it is not as difficult to pronounce as it may seem) and I am a mature, international student on Foundation Year Biological Sciences course. I am originally from Poland, however, Bristol has been my home for over 7 years now (which sometimes makes me stagger when asked where I am from).
I take great pleasure in weaving tales, and so I have been writing and working on ideas for novels. I am interested in neuroscience, zoology, astrobiology, planetary science, to name a few and I intend to use the knowledge gained through my studies to write books, popularizing it to a wider audience.
I run roleplay games sessions for my friends, collaboratively telling stories that become alive in our shared imagination. I am also an aspiring violinist, learning how to take my first steps.
From the editors: Wow. We hope you are as inspired about the reach and potential of science communication as you are! Piotr shared so many nuggets from the DAS Monthly Employability seminar and we hope that you take this on in your pursuit of curiosity into the sciences.
As always, we welcome articles and contributions from everyone who has a story to tell and a question they would like to be answered through this blog platform. Please get in touch via email – ScienceFutures@uwe.ac.uk. Also connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter!