Event Reflection

Recap: Science Communication Career Panel

Panelists answering questions about science communication careers. Photo: Hannah Frye.

Sitting on the Science Communication Career Panel were four women with different paths to similar endings in the field of science communication. They shared with us the journeys they took, their struggles, and finding their happy place.

  • Rosie Dutt is an Assistant Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Science Policy & Governance. Rosie is a Ph.D. student in WashU’s Imaging Science program. Previously, Rosie served as the Science Editor for Felix, the student-run newspaper for the Imperial College of London in the UK.
  • Shahla Farzan is a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. Shahla has her Ph.D. in Ecology from University of California – Davis. Before her current position at St. Louis Public Radio, she was an intern at Capital Public Radio in Sacramento and was a reporter for KBBI Public Radio in Homer, Alaska.
  • Deborah Frank is a scientific editor for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Deborah obtained her Ph.D. from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington. She spent five years as a post doc then five more as a research scientist. During that time, she realized she preferred hearing more science stories than just her own, and she found her position as a scientific editor.
  • Emma Young is a producer at “The Story Collider” at St. Louis Public Radio. Story Collider is a science storytelling group which holds local events and has podcasts for scientists to share their work with the general public. Emma is a Ph.D. student at University of Missouri – Saint Louis (soon to defend), where she’ll move to Washington DC to begin work as an executive fellow through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship Program.

Q: What do you need to be a good science communicator?

A: Think like a scientist! You don’t need to be in the field to understand good science.

Q: How do you hone your science communication skills?

A: Find people who will tell you your pet is ugly. You don’t want yes-people, you want someone who will point out flaws. That’s the only way to improve.

A: Find someone who doesn’t know your work/field at all and see if they can follow your story. If not, back to the drawing board.

A: Seeing bad talks and reading bad papers, identifying what you don’t like, and how you can edit it in your own work.

A: Check out good science twitter accounts. If someone can do it in less than 280 characters, then they are doing a great job.

Q: What are some of the major issues during science talks?

A: The ear can’t process what the eye can, and if an reader gets lost in a paper they can just go back – no way to do that in a talk.

A: Keep thoughts simple and declarative. Stick to thoughts, ideas, and concepts. Don’t forget analogies!

Q: What is a benefit of better science communication?

A: You definitely want the general public on board. If you have backing, then policy change is much easier to implement.

A: Allows for scientists from many different fields to come together and join forces on a single issue.

Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?

A: Deadlines. They are hard and you don’t have a lot of wiggle room. If you’re a perfectionist, you may find it difficult to let a story go to press before you think it’s “done”.

A: Getting people to believe that what you’re doing is important.

Q: What are “science to the general public” best practices?

A: Scope is vastly important. Cover material at a different pace than you would with scientists. Walk through every part of your data (x and y axes, how to read the data points, etc).

A: You won’t hold someone’s attention for very long (inverted pyramid), so start with the catch/hook of your talk!

A: Be a person! You’re not just a science robot.

Q: What are your favorite pieces of advice to connect with an audience?

A: Shut off the Powerpoint and chalk-talk it. This sounds scary, but you’re the expert. And if you don’t know the answer, say that! It makes you more of a relatable human.

A: Ask the organizer who the audience will be made up of. That will help you frame your work.

A: Have in mind the thing you want the audience to take away at the end.

Q: What would you say to someone interested in science communication?

A: Go for it! Even if you don’t have a ton of experience – your organization is there to help you.

A: Stop apologizing and use your skills – they’re your superpowers.

The panelists also shared some great opportunities and resources for students that want to hone their communication skills and are interested in science communication careers:

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