Stand Up for Science

standupforscience  A number of Societies and Organizations, together with a few universities helped Voice of Young Science (VOYS) and Sense About Science sponsor the “Standing Up for Science Media Workshop” today, April 8 2016. Among the sponsors was my old acquaintance, the Biochemical Society and so it happened I had an occasional notification on mail a few weeks back. I was in the need of some new material for the blog, But busy as one is during the last months of an education, I still hesitated to go. Another workshop? As if I hadn’t got enough excuses to avoid writing on my thesis already. Then after some days decision anxiety, I put in the application. After all there are worse ways to waste one’s time. At the very least, it would give me the opportunity to clear my brain among fellow scientists. I also recently got involved as a mentor to two engaging end very inquisitive students from the
British Science Association journalism competition, frequently picking my brain over mail. But sometimes I felt that their questions and my answers were not always on the same course. I could not help thinking I could use some help in how to better explain my research to a journalist. So I went. If nothing else, there would be a free lunch…

It turned out to be a day way above expectations.

The event took place at Manchester University and attracted young scientists from both UK and the rest of Europe. The workshop itself consisted of a combination of workshop and panelist discussion with both scientists, experienced in media communication, and with science journalists.

Personally for me as a young scientist, I found the straight forward advice from the scientists to be the most useful take-home of the day. (After the free lunch of course!) The overall message is really quite simple:

  1. Don’t be afraid of media or public contact. Any publicity is good publicity and the general public has a short memory for your failures – even if you don’t.
  2. Be prepared to be harassed. If in a hostile environment, prepare your message in advance, focus on that and say only what you came there to say.
  3. Answer questions truthfully and to the best of your ability, but only if you want to. Learn to deflect ignorant/unwanted/irrelevant/provocative questions. You are not obliged to answer anything!
  4. Remember – you are the expert!

A full list of the advice compiled by Chris Peters (Sense about science) can be found at the bottom of this page, and also check out these tips in The Guardian. All good and sound advice, not only for communicating science .

The need to communicate science efficiently is certainly not a new issue. Popular Science journalism plays a large part in communicating science to a wider audience and indirectly plays a large part in promoting the interest in STEM (Science, Technology, engineering and Math) subjects. Just a few days ago,  The Wellcome Trust launched the second phase in their project to investigate the effects in Informal Science Learning, Science Learning+.

Let’s hope they are aware of projects like VOYS and Sense About Science, whose staff had the excellent habit of keeping the participants updated both before and after the workshop, filling my mail box with a bunch of useful links to projects, both their own and others, and tips of how to get involved.

See this page for some pictures, this page for some more pictures and a short summary of the day. Sense About Science Media Workshops are open to all postgraduates, are free to attend and are a recurring event since 2011. Do you want to attend of find out more – Click here!

 Speak about science in the media cheat sheet

–        Pick the message you want to get across and don’t be afraid to repeat yourself

–        Keep it brief & simple

–        Have your notes handy

–        Know when to say “I don’t know”

–        Avoid over-extrapolating too far beyond what the data say (in a paper).

–        Talk to your press office

–        Ask politely for recognition of your institute/team etc

–        Ensure the facts are conveyed (e.g. evolution) even if they’re obvious to you

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