Sarah: A few days ago I had the privilege of talking to a mixed audience of artists and scientists. The event was a workshop co-organised by the RiAUS and Access2Arts; my job was to speak on the challenges of communicating science and — in particular — transitioning from working in the research world to the much more varied space of freelance writing.
What I came to think about in preparing my slides (shown above) was that all scientists are indeed science communicators – the thing that changes from one career pathway to the next is the audience.
If, for example, as a scientist you work in an Immunology laboratory and conduct immunology research and talk at immunology conferences, then you have the luxury of knowing that your audience is reasonably up to scratch on the basic background of your field, and probably has a level of interest in what you are working on. Your skills as a communicator lie in presenting the why? and how? of the research you performed, and placing the results within the context of the specialist field. You might also offer up what you plan to do next. No over-interpretation, no grandstanding, no claims to have solved the world’s problems, please! And certainly no placement of the people involved at the centre of proceedings.
Presenting science to a broader audience is communication with a focus not on the content or procedures, but instead on the people, the stories and why it even matters in a world full of other news. Furthermore, in this space you cannot necessarily assume any level of science knowledge or understanding of what the scientific process involves. Choice of subject matter is critical, language must be different and you need to find your audiences (not quite as simple as arriving to a pre-arranged crowd at a conference facility!).
The best part about the workshop was meeting the audience members and hearing their perspectives on the similarities between art and science — one thing we all agreed on was that both need to be a part of everybody’s education.