Hannah Black (University of Glasgow) recently attended a media workshop run by Sense about Science, a charity the Biochemical Society supports. She writes about her experience in this guest post.
Communication and research impact are key areas that our universities are encouraging academics and students to have an increased awareness of and be more involved in. With this in mind I – along with around 40 other early career researchers from across all the sciences and both academic and industry based – recently had the opportunity to attend a media workshop. Run by the charity Sense about Science at the University of Manchester, the workshop was part of the charity’s Voice of Young Science programme. For those yet to encounter the organisation, they encourage early career researchers to become active in science communication, largely through ‘myth-busting and evidence-hunting campaigns’. The aim of the workshop was to help to equip early career scientists with the tools to engage with the media and to stand up for science where we see it being misrepresented.
For me, the workshop was a great experience. I learned lots and considered issues with communicating science I had not thought about before. One of the main things I took from the day was to prepare well before sharing your findings with the public. It was pointed out that it can be daunting sitting in front of a microphone or speaking in public (an environment that is alien to those of use used to being in a lab), so make notes and know what point you want to get across, whilst avoiding slipping into using jargon. Through a group discussion with journalists it also became apparent that the media and scientists face very different pressures when putting together a story – mainly time and target audience. Whilst research papers include vast amounts of detail and very carefully considered conclusions, media stories need to be snappy and often numerous pieces are prepared per-day, by any one journalist. It is therefore important for us to think about what we want our ‘top line’ or take home message to be when approaching the media with a story.
I came away from the day with confidence; believing I was much more prepared to approach the media. It was great to get the chance to discuss different approaches to public engagement and find out what others thought was good and bad about how science is reported. Admittedly, whenever I have conversations about science reporting it is often to grumble about where I’ve seen it done badly. However, the feeling of the day was very positive. We all agreed that cooperation is the key. Journalists (for the most part) aren’t trying to give science a bad name and we have a common goal – to tell interesting and cutting edge scientific stories. After all, the majority of our work is funded by public money and so we arguably have a duty to give back and explain the research that we do. That is not to say all reporting is done well and we were advised to contact journalists when we spot misrepresentations so they can be cleared up.
It was also great to be around so many early career scientists who are actively aiming to improve their communication skills. I have wanted to play a more active role in communicating science but have felt a little overwhelmed and not known where to start. From this workshop I’ve learned it’s not just me, most of us have the same concerns and through networks like Voice of Young Science we can get support and communicate science creatively and effectively – you don’t have to go it alone.