To apply for the bursary, you must have applied for the MSc Science Communication by Friday 5th June 2020 and be wishing to start the course in September 2020. Only those who have been or who are in the process of being offered a conditional or unconditional full time place will be considered eligible. The bursary may only be used on the Science Communication courses offered at UWE Bristol.
MSc in Science Communication is taught at UWE Bristol’s Frenchay campus. If
however restrictions due to coronavirus are in place during part of the
programme, full teaching will be provided online so that your learning is not
To apply for the
bursary, please complete one of the following;
Write a short popular article that is no more than 300 words long on an area of science, health or the environment. The article should include a headline. Also provide brief details of the publication where the article would appear, outlining its audience, the types of article it publishes and why your article is a good fit with the publication – this should be no more than 200 words. The chosen publication should be a newspaper, magazine or website that covers science-related topics for non-experts.
Write an outline for a science communication activity (maximum 500 words) on an area of science, health or the environment. The outline should describe the planned activity, give an indication of content and details of the target audience.
Your work should be emailed to Andy Ridgway (details below) to be received by 5pm on Monday 15th June 2020. You will be informed if you have been successful in your application for a bursary by Friday 3rd July 2020. The successful applicant should inform us if they are subsequently successful in receiving funding from a different source or sponsor i.e. employers, local schemes, so that the bursary may be allocated to a different student.
Further information on UWE Bristol fees, studentship and bursary advice is also available here:
If you are not interested in applying
for a bursary, the deadline for applications to the programmes remains the 31st
July 2020. Please note – we are currently receiving a high number of
applications and would encourage you to apply as soon as your application is
Have you ever considered researching corporate misbehaviour?
I hadn’t either until October when, just after I had started
my MSc, a placement opportunity came through the Science Communication Unit and
landed in my email inbox. It was asking for applicants with attention to
detail, good writing ability, an enquiring mind, and an interest in public
health or social policy.
I was interested so I applied and that is how I ended up
walking, getting the train, and jumping on a bus to get to Bath and back on some
of the coldest and darkest days in January.
I spent a week with the Tobacco Control Research Group at the
University of Bath. The placement and training course supported the work of the
team of academics and journalists who produce the Tobacco Tactics website. This investigates and
publishes on the activities of international tobacco companies and their
We spent the first two days hearing from academic
members of the research group and guest speakers as well as getting acquainted
with the research topics. We participated in lectures on topics such as writing
for different audiences, investigative techniques and freedom of information
requests. By Wednesday we were ready for practical sessions. In groups we spent
three days working on different topics, researching and writing up our
findings. We worked hard!
Each day we also heard from PhD students. They presented
their research topics which included corporate influence on science; illicit
trade; and social media monitoring. These lunchtime talks were interesting and
I particularly enjoyed learning about digital methods such as collecting and
analysing Twitter data.
Working with students from undergraduate and postgraduate courses at
Bath, UWE Bristol and Gloucester universities was really valuable as we were
able to share our wide range of interests and experiences to learn from and
collaborate with each other during the placement.
Throughout the week I had many moments where I linked what I was
learning on placement to what I was learning in my MSc, to my previous studies,
and to experiences I have had in different job roles. This was rewarding and
motivating whilst I am studying and thinking about my future career plans.
Because of the industry the group researches, in order to undertake the
placement we had to sign a conflict of interest form and our conversations and
work were kept on a secure network which is required for this area of public
a junior assistant professor at Utrecht
University, which means I split my time 50/50 between teaching and PhD
research. The moment I knew I wanted to specialize in science communication was
when I was attending a lecture about an – at that time – recently published
study as part of my training in Ecology. I remember being upset by the fact
that no one outside the academic world had caught onto the study that the
researchers had spent six years on. So many more people could benefit from the new
That’s why I specialized in science communication
through a graduate program in Writing and Communication at the University of Amsterdam. It involved a year of
training in Communication Studies and Argumentation Theory as well as a six-month
internship. For my internship, I worked at the science department of a Dutch
national broadcasting agency (VPRO): I worked in communication,
was an editor for the website and assisted in the production of Labyrint, a weekly science
popularization program on national television.
finishing my training, I worked as a teacher both at the University of
Amsterdam, where I taught science communication and academic skills, and at
Utrecht University where I taught in interdisciplinary research skills and
academic writing. In my role as a teacher, I became interested in teaching practices
and wondered why science communication played such a small role in academic
programs. In the Dutch educational context, science communication training is
part of graduate training although it is mostly confined to dedicated science
communication programs or electorate courses. I especially noticed the lack of
structural training in science communication and a lack of attention being paid
to skills associated with communication in undergraduate training programs. As
such, I wanted to know how science communication training could be implemented
in the undergraduate program where I taught: Liberal Arts and Sciences at
Utrecht University. Liberal education students are trained in interdisciplinary
research skills and use insights from different disciplinary fields to study societal
issues. These are real-world problems that often need societal awareness to
come to a solution. Because most liberal education students pursue a career
that enables them to make an impact on society, it’s important for them to
learn how to communicate outside of their academic specialization.
my PhD project, I get to explore science communication for interdisciplinary
research settings. As my passion as a teacher is on teaching writing skills,
they are the focus of my project. I use insights from both Linguistics and
Educational Sciences to discover how writing skills in the genre of science
communication, or popularization, can best be taught in liberal education
settings. I use Liberal Arts and Sciences at Utrecht University as a case study.
I found out about the Science Communication Unit (SCU)
when I was applying for the
Julie Johnson Kidd Travel Research Fellowship. This grant allows teachers
in liberal education to spend time at another university. Although Utrecht
University has a highly regarded Linguistics department, it does not have a
research group dedicated to science communication research, which is why I felt
I could really benefit from input from the Science Communication Unit at UWE
Bristol. What attracted me to the SCU was the fact that the research group
combines insights from theory and practice, being known internationally as a
leader in academic research into science communication, as well as producing its
own science communication efforts. What made me especially enthusiastic about a
stay at the Science Communication Unit was the MSc Science
Communication that offers training to a new generation of science
In terms of my PhD, the literature told me that
explicit teaching of science communication skills would lead to better scores
and a higher self-perception of writing abilities. The next step was finding teaching
interventions that are effective in teaching these writing skills, and the Science
Communication programme was the perfect way for me to see teaching activities in
action. The module ‘Writing Science’ was of specific interest to me as it is
unique to have a course that focuses solely on writing skills in science communication.
As part of my sabbatical I could sit in on teaching in this course and observe
best practices in teaching. I was also able to ask students taking the module to
participate in my research by letting them write one-minute papers and reflect
on learning goals, the content of the classes and the results of the teaching
efforts. Furthermore, I let students fill in a questionnaire about
self-perception of their science communication skills and writing abilities.
This gave me insights into the self-perception of their writing skills as well
as their likes and dislikes in the way that the curriculum was built. I’ve
never seen a more enthusiastic group of students! They loved everything about
the programme and had no dislikes.
I was also able to interview Emma Weitkamp, Hannah Little and Andy Ridgway, staff who teach on the module, about their didactical frameworks, educational vision, how to build a science communication curriculum, and educational techniques. I got to sit in on teaching for undergraduate programmes at UWE Bristol and on masterclasses, continuing professional development aimed at those working in the field. What really stood out to me is that in all their teaching, the SCU team would actively make the connection between theory and practice, offering many examples of science communication efforts to their students, as well as enabling students to participate in real-world science communication themselves.
generally, my time in Bristol gave me insights into effective teaching
techniques for science communication within the context of a specialized
graduate programme. I will bring these insights with me to inform my further
research. The next step in my own project is implementing teaching
interventions in the undergraduate programme Liberal Arts and Sciences, and my
stay in Bristol gave me some great insights into how I might construct this
part of my research.
I felt like a research stay at the start of my second year of research was a great time for me to spend some time at SCU. This stay gave me some great insights into theory and practice and helped me bring more focus to my project. The entire team made me feel very welcome during my time at UWE, with academics Andy Ridgway, Andrew Glester, Clare Wilkinson and Kathy Fawcett, letting me sit-in on their teaching. Furthermore, it was great to spend time with fellow PhD students David Judge and Elena Milani, who became real friends and helped exploring Bristol. In short, I would highly encourage any PhD student thinking about spending time at UWE Bristol to say yes to the opportunity!
We spent the
morning with Isla Gladstone, a senior curator at Bristol Museum, learning about
the museum’s action plan and ambitions. In the morning, we were given a group
exercise to pick an audience and create a science communication led activity
based on the taxidermy animal we were given. The groups were given a kiwi bird
(Apteryx mantelli), a shrew (Soricidae), a couple of toads (Bufonidae),
and an Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius). Through this exercise we
found out that Eurasian jays are as sociable as dolphins and kiwi birds have
enormous eggs! Seriously, google it.
You often see big doors in museums saying ‘private’ and it leaves you wondering what sort of wonders could be behind those doors… Well believe you me, it’s everything you could have dreamed of. Think ‘Night in the Museum’ with Ben Stiller. We met Geology curator Deborah Hutchinson, who led us down into the basement via a public floor of the museum, but not before we were warned of the low oxygen density and potential to faint in such conditions. These air settings are under high control to manage the artefacts’ quality.
It was very exciting indeed, one step into the basement of wonders and I noticed my first gulp of air was tighter than usual. It felt like the air I was breathing couldn’t reach the bottom of my lungs unless I took a longer, deeper breath. This must be how people faint! Soon this feeling evaporated and we were left in awe of the countless, brilliant objects in the Geology stores. I say countless, but there is a margin of a million objects in there… Drawers and drawers and drawers of ‘Jurassic’ labels, skulls and bones of pre-existing dinosaurs strewn near and wide. So many incredible fossils, minerals and stories to be told including Bristol diamonds, which are in fact none other than quartz!
After our tour in the Geology store, we were led to the Natural History store. Immediately you were met with a cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) holding its prey just above your eye level. Led by Natural Sciences curator Rhian Rowson, we were guided through the narrow hallways, walking single file, listening intently to some of the stories behind the collection. There were a couple of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) pulled out of their drawer, one was darker than the other, and to our shock it was due to the coal in the air during the industrial revolution. Researchers can use the darker house sparrow as an indicator of the extent of air pollution during this time.
What really amazed and humbled me were the personal touches within both collections. The hand written labels, hand thrown plastic covers over the odd elephant skeleton in the room… it felt very homely. There wasn’t a need to present the spaces as squeaky clean galleries, which you see so often. I did however, walk backwards into a deer, which between me and the deer, I’m not sure who was more startled. There was a feeling of genuine character, care and comfort of stepping into these narrow hallways and oxygen thin walkways. For someone like myself, with a keen interest in geology and natural history, this trip was a massive privilege, and I’m very fortunate to take my camera along with me.
Chloe Russell, MSc Science Communication student, UWE Bristol
The number of people writing, tweeting, instagramming, blogging, podcasting, vlogging about all things science is unfathomably large. Then there’s the universities, the charities, the businesses and so on who are adding to the mix. It’s no wonder then that the online science communication terrain isn’t mapped. We know it’s out there, yet exactly who is doing what, where and how is something we only have snapshots of information about. Yet mapping this vast terrain is exactly what we’ve been trying to do within the Science Communication Unit as part of our work on the European Commission-funded RETHINK project .
The RETHINK project involves 10 institutions across Europe including VU Amsterdam and Ecsite, the European network of science centres. Together, we’re trying to explore how science is communicated online so we can see what’s working well and understand more about what’s going wrong when it’s not, such as the audiences that aren’t being reached. To start this process, we needed a better view of the online science communication terrain in terms of who is doing the communicating, the platforms they are using and the forms their communication takes.
Given the terrain’s scale, we decided to set some
boundaries to our exploration. Firstly, in conjunction with the other RETHINK project
partners, we decided to concentrate our mapping efforts on three topic areas –
climate change, artificial intelligence and healthy diets. These topics were
selected because they are important to all our lives. But they also represent
very different online habitats; with different individuals and organisations
doing the communicating and very diverse subject matter. It means we get a
richer insight into how varied the online science communication landscape is.
Secondly, we limited the number of each type of
communicator we would map to 10. So, for example, once we had found 10
universities communicating about climate change, we would stop. Otherwise the
mapping would have been an insurmountable task. After all, what we were really
aiming to do was to explore the different types of communicator as well as the
forms of communication they are involved with. We were mapping the extent of
the terrain – how far it reached and what was there – rather than trying to
measure the peak of each mountain; the number of specific types of organisation
or individual communicating about each topic.
To get an even better view of the terrain, the
mapping was carried out by RETHINK team members in seven countries across
Europe – Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and Serbia as well as
the UK. Each country chose two of the three topics they were going to map. Again,
to make the exploration more manageable.
To make sure we could compare the online science
communication terrains in different countries, the exploration needed to be
carried out in exactly the same way in each country. So Elena Milani, a Research Fellow within the
Science Communication Unit, developed a ‘mapping protocol’ – a set of
instructions for researchers in each country to follow when they were exploring.
So what did we find? Well, across the seven
countries, 697 different individuals and organisations that communicate climate
change, artificial intelligence and healthy diets were identified. Digging into
the data in a little more detail provides some interesting insights, including:
Climate change has the widest range of individuals
and organisations communicating about it online of the three topics. In other
words, it has a particularly rich communication environment.
The online science communication landscape is
complex – there are large differences in the types of communicators, the
platforms used and content shared between science-related subjects.
With all three topics, many of the sources of
information are not traditional experts, such as scientists or health
practitioners. Nor are they traditional mediators of information, such as
journalists. There are lots of alternative sources of information, such as
non-professional communicators and support communities.
But this is just the start. Having a clearer view
of the landscape thanks to our mapping will help with the next stages of
RETHINK, such as understanding the connections formed by communicators with
A team of Science Communication Unit researchers was selected by the Royal Institution (Ri) to explore ways to continue modernising the Christmas Lectures, an iconic series that has run since 1825. Margarida Sardo, Hannah Little and Laura Fogg Rogers conducted research to explore strengths and opportunities for improving the series, created for children and televised annually for the past 50 years fronted by presenters including David Attenborough and Carl Sagan.
A centrepiece of the
national conversation about the place of science in our lives, the lectures
were started by scientist Michael Faraday in 1825 and are now designed to be
engaging and mind-expanding viewing for people of all ages but particularly
children. A series of three on a single topic, the lectures are filmed in
London in mid-December every year then broadcast on three consecutive days
during the Christmas period. In 2018, biological anthropologist, author and TV
presenter Alice Roberts and genetics expert Aoife McLysaght brought the
evolutionary story to life in a series called ‘Who Am I?’
with children attending the 2017 and 2018 events, a social media analysis of
the 2018 broadcasts and survey of science enthusiasts, researchers found the
lectures were cherished by audiences of all ages but format changes could help
broaden their appeal among young people, as well as older audiences. They
recommended exploring ways that the channel and time of the broadcasts
(currently BBC4 at 8pm) could be made more suitable for a younger audience,
including cutting the lectures down into short clips for social media to
reflect changing viewing habits.
The research team noted
that some adult viewers believed the lectures were so focused on a younger
audience that they lacked appeal for older viewers. To continue to attract a
significant adult audience, they recommended creating a companion lecture aimed
at older science fans.
Researchers also found
audience members enjoyed the live shows, particularly the engaging, interactive
and high-quality demonstrations. TV viewers valued the televised shows and many
remarked that watching with relatives had become a family tradition. But some
science enthusiasts suggested the Ri needed to re-evaluate its target audience
and questioned whether the needs of a live lecture and a TV programme were
being confused. Viewers were roundly supportive of female scientists presenting
the show, with particular praise reserved for the performance of Alice Roberts
and Aoife McLysaght in 2018.
The Christmas Lectures branding includes the prestigious Christmas
Lectures broadcast on BBC, as well as live shows, a Schools Conference, the Ri
Advent Calendar and “I’m a Scientist… get me out of here” – most of which were
covered by the evaluation.
On 21st June UWE Bristol welcomed over 100 science-communication practitioners from the South West, the culmination of over five months of planning, organising and orchestrating, with a small team of five women at the helm. All throughout, attention was given to making the event inclusive. These are some of our learnings…
We made time at the beginning to think through what might
exclude people from our conference, and make adjustments to include them. We
pooled our knowledge from events we’d attended, and looked at what others had
been saying on blogs,
online guides (here
We chose the Business School for its facilities and
location; it is fully equipped with gender neutral toilets, seating areas with
high backs for privacy/quiet and, thanks to a recent student campaign, free
sanitary products in toilets. Outdoors, there is ample disabled parking and
inside there are wheelchair-accessible lifts. It’s the little things that
really make a difference when aiming to be inclusive; for most people, it is
relatively easy to get to by public transport.
Think about the room
Round tables, lots of
natural light, and a relatively easy-to-use AV system, as standard in most of
the rooms, made for a pleasant and relaxed setting for both the speakers and
delegates. In more interactive sessions, ‘think-pair-share’ was
used to allow everyone to participate in discussions. In future events we’d additionally
invite questions during discussions from groups that may not have had the floor
(e.g. young female, or BME).
We designated one room as a quiet zone, in case people
needed time out from social interaction. It ended up being used as a rehearsal
space, but such a room has been successful at other events.
Are there other perspectives we’re not including? Keep reflecting on this. It was identified early on that our suggested panel didn’t have a community representative, so we made contact with someone known locally for their grassroots activism. We did a similar exercise for the presenters once our call for proposals was announced – it’s okay to invite in people from marginalised groups; they’re often interested in getting involved and are a valuable source of information .
We had someone to coordinate the whole event, someone to
manage the registrations and social media, someone to recruit and manage
volunteers and managers to invite panellists and compere the day. Divide up
tasks and seek volunteer help (e.g. from students) to lighten the load and
allow you to support more people on the day. Several volunteers wore
identifiable shirts so people knew they could approach them if they were lost
or had any questions.
One barrier to participation is financial constraint, so we
offered bursary places.. Offering to pay for transport or to cover the cost of
childcare was another option.
We made sure our ticket price was kept low, at £25 for
concessions and £50 full-price, with early-bird options also. Many commented on
how fair our costing was and that it enabled them to attend.
Check your language
You’d be surprised how easily jargon or images can put off
your target audience. If the public’s only picture of the event is of white men
in a room, then that is what they’ll expect and might feel “I don’t belong here”.
Similarly, if the event includes or is for “experts” then the rest of us feel
like “non-experts”, which can be interpreted as “lacking in sufficient
knowledge”. We were careful to avoid these traps… and it is such a common
problem that one of our sessions at the conference was all about the use of
such language in public engagement.
To indicate that we would not tolerate harassment at the
conference, we included a Code of Conduct in our programme. Several people
commented that they really appreciated this extra effort!
Let people identify
We’ve been to several
events before where people get to design their own name badges, so we followed
suit. It breaks the ice, is low cost and is fun! But on a deeper level,
people’s identity is important to them. Let them define it!
Stay refreshed and
come up for air
Breaks facilitate networking and problem-solving, and allow
people time to digest what they have heard – so have lots of them! We had three
refreshment breaks, if you include lunch, with additional coffee and teas at
registration and an optional alcoholic and soft drinks reception at the end.
Food was vegan as standard, with gluten free options available – this was a
health and environmental choice. We worked with our caterers to offer oat milk,
as it is more sustainable and popular than their usual soy/almond alternative,
and to reduce single-use plastics. We knew our audience would appreciate this
and we asked them in the registration survey what they required..
During lunch, the site’s Grounds Manager led a nature walk so
people could stretch their legs and unwind from what can often be an
overwhelming morning of knowledge harvesting. We tied in what we were
discussing inside with the outdoor stroll by highlighting what UWE is doing to
improve biodiversity in the city and engage students to become ecosystem
stewards. Many people commented that the walk was their highlight!
Remember this is an
Capture photos, videos, blogs, demographic data and people’s
thoughts and feelings about how the conference went to make things better next
time. But do remember to ask people’s permission first!
The adage ‘you can’t please everyone’ is worth remembering
when designing events and conferences because, let’s face it, we all have
different needs and preferences. However, we can strive to make events as inclusive
as possible within our given constraints, so there is no excuse for not trying!
Here are just a few questions you could ask yourself in the
planning of your next event. Add to and refine the list after each event you
Does your team reflect the diversity you want to
see at the conference?
Does the panel represent the diversity you want
Have you reached out to under-served communities
and asked them why they may not attend? (e.g. could hiring a translator or
interpreter take away language barriers?)
Is your language in plain English, without
jargon or exclusionary terms? Not sure? Ask your intended audience.
Have you offered bursary places?
Is your cost affordable to as many people as
Have you asked about access and dietary
requirements and permissions (e.g. for photos, recordings, etc.) upon
Is the venue easily accessible by public
Does it have the technology you require? (e.g.
hearing loop, wifi)
Is there space to move around, walk around the
building safely and places to rest?
Is the venue breastfeeding friendly?
Are there disabled and non-binary toilets
available? Do the toilets have freely available sanitary products?
Have you advertised to multiple groups through
mediums that suit them (e.g. flyers in local community centres; speaking at a
local event; sharing event through mailing lists and newsletters)?
Are you sure the event does not clash with a
religious festival, national holiday or other important event?
If the event is held in the evening will people
need support with childcare?
Do you have a code of conduct?
Will there be food and beverages that can cater
to most needs? (Suggest ‘bring a dish’ or ‘bring your own’ if needed).
Is there a mixture of styles of sessions and
content to attract a wide audience?
If you have worked your way through this extensive but not
exhaustive list, the how should fall into place. Keep things fun and light and
be open to feedback.
During my undergraduate degree in biochemistry I spent a year studying abroad in Grenoble in the French Alps. I studied in the university for some of the time, and also did a 5 month placement in a research lab. Although interesting, it was enough to show me that a career in research was perhaps not for me, so I spent much of time gazing dreamily at the mountains wondering what else I could do.
I liked working in the laboratory, but I realised I really
wanted to be on the outside, telling people about all of the exciting things
that were going on inside. So when I came back for my final year I persuaded my
supervisors to let me do a science communication project for my final project,
rather than a bench research project, and I was hooked!
The UWE Bristol MSc Science Communication programme gave me an opportunity to work part time at Science Oxford – a small but influential charity that works to encourage the pursuit of science and enterprise. I was delivering workshops and shows to schools and the public, and also ran the regional STEM Ambassador programme, finding and training scientists and engineers across the region to work with schools too.
I always wanted to work in a museum or a science centre, so when
I took the MSc I was keen to focus on the modules relating to delivering
science communication face to face. I remember being inspired by people from
the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Royal Society, at-Bristol (as it was then known)
who we met during the course, and they all motivated me to use my wide range of
interests – art, music, family learning as well as science – to tell stories
and create conversations.
I also loved the Science on Air and Screen module, some of
which took place at the BBC. At the time I would listen to a lot of radio
(before the days of podcasts which now feature heavily in my down time!) and I
loved working in a small team to produce both a short radio show about
‘progress’, including a poet as a live guest, and a short TV piece about
Healthy Living Day. Although I haven’t gone on to work in broadcast media the
lessons on how to sum up coherently yet colloquially have come in handy when I’ve
been interviewed for radio or TV, including for BBC Stargazing Live and local
My Masters project was an evaluation of a set of touchable exhibits at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Finally a chance to do some work in a museum setting! I devised and piloted a series of protocols to help the museum evaluate how families were using their new exhibition. I now use these skills every day in my job as Public Engagement Development Manager for the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC), one of the UK research councils. A key component of my job has involved producing an evaluation framework for a complex programme of work. As STFC is a funder as well as a delivery body, we aim to measure and evaluate events and activities run by around 40 partners a year reaching in excess of 500,000 people face to face, and a further 2.5 million via online and broadcast media to better report, improve and celebrate what we do.
favourite part of the job has got to be working with scientists and engineers
who love what they do and who are really keen to share their enthusiasm with
others. I work with them to help them to do so in a way that is engaging, will
genuinely appeal to the audience they are wishing to engage – ensuring they
have thought about who that is! – and then hear all their brilliant creative
ideas for how to communicate their area of research to others!
I’ll also be using all of these skills in a new large project coming up called Wonder. The launch of Wonder marks a long-term commitment by STFC public engagement to move our focus towards audience-driven public engagement with under-served communities in the most socioeconomically-deprived areas of the UK. We want more working with people, and less delivering to people. The project is still in early days, but it means that I’ve been able to feed in ideas right from the start and use many of the skills I learned on the MSc – from reading lots of publications and reports that others have written to be sure we are using current good practice, to writing a brief for an external evaluation consultant.
Jo Lewis, MSc Science Communication student at UWE Bristol.
What language can we use to create inclusive environments in
science communication? How might letting go of expert knowledge benefit underserved
audiences? Delegates attending the Sci Comm South West 2019 conference at UWE
Bristol were asked to crowdsource solutions to these issues at the ‘Letting go
of what is not serving us’ session. Both questions generated animated group
discussions resulting in several potential solutions.
What is in a word?
Kate Baker and Silvia Bortoli, University of Exeter
Science communicators have learned the hard way that
labelling groups of people is difficult and, more often than not, inaccurate. Language
can be very powerful in setting the scene and defining the foundations of
relationships, particularly when carrying out research.
During this first part of the session, participants were
asked to consider the word ‘non-academic’.
A seemingly innocuous word which is actually quite value-laden. It hides the
expertise that exists outside universities and research centres and highlights
what people ‘are not’ rather than the skills and knowledge that they may have.
It has the potential to alienate.
So what advice did our science communicators have?
There was an overall recognition that the term ‘academic’ is
problematic, with a suggestion that should be replaced with ‘researcher’ as
this is more active and more accurately describes what they do. Some suggested
alternatives for ‘non-academic’ were:
Community – this could represent a large or
small group of people, including those online
Contributor – this is a more active term,
showing that they are not passive recipients
Collaborator – although this is seen as being
neutral and actively involved it may suggest a level of participation which is
Stakeholder – this is seen as active, but may be
more suitable for a community group or charity
Partner – this may be more suitable for an
organisation rather than an individual.
It was generally agreed that it is important not to call a
group by what they cannot do or what they are not, but rather identify what
they can do or what they are. The overall advice suggested asking the group
what they would like to be called as early on in the process as possible and
sticking with it.
Stengler, SUNY Oneonta, New York
As science communicators we are acutely aware of the
importance of knowing your audience. When developing public engagement or
outreach programmes, science communicators may be asked to liaise between
scientists and organisations who work closely with the audience. These
organisations can include charities, schools and community groups. In these
cases it is important to recognise that specialist organisations know their
audiences extremely well and are often best placed to tailor a public
engagement activity. Scientists and researchers are often reluctant to allow
individuals and organisations, with little or no prior knowledge of the science,
to plan or deliver the public engagement activity.
In light of this issue the second part of the session asked:
How can we help scientists let go of
their science and allow experts in the audience to run an outreach or public
So what are the top tips from Sci Comm South West delegates?
Identify any concerns the scientists may have early
on in the project
Clearly define the role of the scientists in the
Make sure priorities are understood between the scientist
and audience expert groups
Co-develop the project, with the experts in
science planning with the experts in audience
Make sure everyone understands why they are
collaborating and where the various expertise lies
Provide training to enable transition to take
place smoothly between the experts in science and the experts in audience
Develop longer term relationships between the
scientist and audience experts.
Alongside these recommendations, all delegate groups
recognised the importance of trust between scientists and audience experts, and
that the best way to achieve this was though collaboration and building
The Sci Comm South West Conference 2019 attracted over 100 practitioners and researchers based across the south-west (very loosely defined!). The success of the conference and the energy in the room proved that there is a huge appetite for a ‘devolution’ of the London-centric science communication network. After all, so much happens outside of the M25!
Delegates were given the opportunity to explore what a network of science communicators in the south west of the UK might look like in a session led by Angela Cassidy, chair of the UK-wide Science in Public Research Network.
questions were posed: what is the benefit of a regional south-west network? How
do you bound ‘the region’ (someone suggested North Wales as a part of the
south-west) and ‘science communication’? What is the preferred format? Who will
take the lead?
with discussing the value of creating a professional network. Everyone in the
room understood the importance of shifting the attention (and bidding
capability) from London, but how do you define a region? How far can people
travel? What places do they identify with? How to deal with unequal dynamics
between cities and countryside?
we deliberated the purpose of the network. In the most pragmatic sense, there
is a great benefit to being ‘bid ready’ – having a space to discuss ideas and
form teams before the calls are being
announced. However, would running a purely funding-oriented network compromise
its potential to create truly innovative ideas?
about an hour mapping the relevant events, organisations and places. With the
wide geographical spread, broad understanding of ‘science’ and multiple
thematic networks-within-a network, what is the real value of a south-west
network? While we haven’t reached a conclusion, two ideas we flagged up were: