This post is an excerpt taken from my upcoming online training resource: Science Communication Best Practices. It is based on work I completed in a MITACS supported Canadian Science Policy Fellowship with Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Not My Job: Why Scientists Should Also be Communicators
As a scientist, you may feel as though you have your hands full conducting your science, and that it is other peoples’ jobs to communicate about it. After all, your department, university or lab already has communication personnel, so why can’t they do it?
We’ve heard this comment before, and even though professional communicators possess a lot of knowledge about communication, there are very good reasons why every scientist should learn to communicate about their work. For example, studies have shown that people are less likely to trust information they receive about climate science if that information is shared by politicians or professional communicators, however, people will be more likely to trust the same information if it is shared by scientists themselves.
This blog post by Scientific American gives some compelling reasons why scientists should talk directly with the public, rather than going through intermediaries. It highlights the ways that the passion that scientists have for their work can inspire others, and gives resources for those people interested in becoming better science communicators. Furthermore, most scientists, including government scientists, are in roles that are mandated to serve the public. Public service means communicating your findings to others in ways that are accessible to everyone.
Nobody understands your topic better than you do. You have spent years devoted to every nuance of your area of study. This means that a professional communicator can not do your topic justice the way you can. If they get questions for additional details, they may not be able to provide the best answer. On the other hand, you are able to provide responses to many possible questions because you know your topic so well. By taking the time to communicate your science directly, you are ensuring that people get access to the best information possible, because it comes from you.
For the past 18 months, I have been part of a research team that looks at the effects of online harassment for researchers and scholars who need to be on social media for the purposes of their work.
This project relates to my general research program of understanding how information that is in the public interest can be spread online, and what the barriers are to the spread of information in this context.
Working on the question of online harassment has given me the opportunity to work with a fantastic team of super smart and caring people. We’ve interviewed scholars and researchers, launched a large scale survey, and produced papers, conference presentations, op-eds and YouTube explainer videos. Now we’re very excited to launch a website intended to showcase our research on this project to date, and also serve as a resource for scholars and researchers who use online tools to promote themselves or their work.
According to recent research at the Social Media Lab in Toronto, Canada, Canadians are somewhat comfortable with academic researchers accessing their social media data. 56% of Canadians indicate that they are ok with their data being used for academic research purposes. In contrast, only 34% of Canadians feel comfortable with marketers accessing their social media data, but this discomfort is unfortunately at odds with the way social media companies make money, meaning every day Canadians are exposing themselves to the groups which they don’t really (when asked) want to access their data.
Over two years, we took a deliberate approach grounded in best practices in social media strategy. We attempted to build a network of interested followers friends, we engaged in reciprocity, sharing the posts produced by others, and we deliberately used engaging visuals, narratives, and accessible language in our posting. Furthermore, we ensured that we were posting to social media platforms on a regular schedule, and posting according to the times that were most appropriate for each platform. Finally, we tailored our content to suit different platforms. Longer posts and videos for facebook, short bite-sized content and retweets with images on Twitter, Strong images and short videos on Instagram, and longer videos with animations on YouTube. Every approach we followed was well known in the social media marketing world, but interestingly was not broadly used in science or sustainability communication. Instead, these communication domains tend to rely primarily on a more just the facts style communication with an academic presentation and tone.
Every day we read headlines about the pending new industrial revolution. Robots will replace most blue collar workers, and soon AI threatens many stable white collar jobs in fields such as accounting, law, or even teaching. While this revolution still has of yet to come to pass, and while AI still requires further development before it is ready to replace human knowledge workers, it is becoming evident that the workforce is at least changing, and thus we must also adapt, to thrive in the coming economic environment. In a world where information is available at the touch of a smartphone button, specific knowledge or skills are becoming less relevant, and instead we all need a range of traits, or behaviors that will allow us to work with new technologies and each other while the world changes around us. Soft skills are becoming more important than ever. But drilling down, specific soft skills will be much more valuable than others in an increasingly digitized and technologized economy. In this post, I’ll discuss 4 important soft skills that will help people to survive, and even thrive in the new (and future economy) no matter what other specific knowledge is required. They are: adaptability, networking, resilience, and lifelong learning. I’ll address each of these in turn, along with some advice on how one might build these skills. Continue reading “How to Survive in the New (Future) Economy”→
If you find your calling, everything will fall into place. You will receive a “sense of energy” or “flow”. Your inner voice will speak its “truth” and you will always feel like you have made the right choice. If you “align your personality with your purpose then no one can touch you“. Sound familiar? These might, because I’ve pulled them from popular life advice articles. These claims sound right to us, they sound (much like, it’s claimed our calling does) true. But I believe that I see evidence every day in the classroom that these claims and ones like them do us a grave disservice when it comes to our own personal development, growth and learning.
Why are these beliefs troublesome? They feel right, and everyone wants to find their calling in life. By simplifying purpose though, I think they overlook important facts about how difficult true growth is, and how meaningful the experience of difficulty can be for growth. Though not explicit, the unspoken subtext of this and similar advice is this: If you find your true calling, if your purpose is aligned with your true self, then the steps you take in the process of achieving that calling will be smooth and without struggle. And this is just plain wrong. On the contrary – most meaningful growth requires tremendous struggle. Learning is uncomfortable.
I am a social media researcher, lecturer, and consultant. Invariably whenever I speak with someone about social media, the conversation turns from the theoretical and abstract (best practices for getting your posts noticed; or the effect of social media on democratic participation in society) to the mundane and personal. When this happens, we usually start talking about what social media accounts we use ourselves, or, innocently enough, someone will ask me to connect with them on their social media accounts – first among them, of course, being the eponymous Facebook. When this conversation occurs, I attempt to casually mention that I no longer have a Facebook account, and it is there that my friends, colleagues, students, peers in the industry look at me as if I have suddenly grown a second head.
“Whaaaaaaat? You’re a social media expert (their words, not mine) and you are not on Facebook?”
“How can you not be on Facebook? You STUDY social media”
The music industry has been feeling the curse of digital communication technologies as a result of music streaming services such as Spotify (or even YouTube, which is a popular way of accessing music, with or without video). Streaming services pay very little – fractions of pennies, in fact, back to the musician when songs are played. And this year, the closure of HMV has shown us that there is no longer a market for physical recorded music. In fact, even the purchase of individual songs on iTunes has become less relevant as a result of streaming. In my private sector consulting work, I often coach independent musicians about how they might survive, and even thrive in a world where they cannot make money from their original product, and I think we can draw inspiration from this in the most unlikely of places: Tough Mudder – a fitness brand that is optimized for the digital age.