I registered for a course in science communication this quarter to develop the skills required for effective communication. Over the past several years, it has become increasingly clear to me that communication is not a well-polished skill of most scientists; nor is effective communication commonplace in academic circles. As a graduate student, I suffer through many poorly prepared and delivered research presentations. I often have trouble understanding the scientific content of these seminars. This should not be the case. So my goal in taking the science communication class was clear — learn how to present my own research simply and with meaning.
Almost immediately, I learned that the greater science community suffers from a more important problem. Scientists do a poor job engaging the public in discussions of what they do, why they do it and why it is important. Tom Baldwin, who teaches the science-communication course, stressed early on why we should want to do this: It affects our careers! Basic-research funding often is a function of public trust and interest in science. And just as important, the inherent value of scientific discovery is reduced greatly when the information is poorly disseminated.
In this class, my peers and I have been able to discuss the process of advocating for science with several important class guests. One of these guests, Congressman Mark Takano, related his own experience of addressing issues of vital importance, like climate change, through, of all things, social media. His visit opened my eyes to the importance of personal branding when advocating for an issue. I know I will benefit professionally and personally by continuing beyond this course to develop the skills required for effective communication with broad, nontechnical audiences. I also plan to integrate public-policy training into my graduate studies.
Cole Symanski is pursuing a Ph.D. in entomology.