Not My Job: Why Scientists Should Also Be Communicators

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.

Flame Challenge 3
“Flame Challenge 3” by KGA Team 6th Grade is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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.

Not My Job: Why Scientists Should Also Be Communicators

AI security hits a Canadian University: Proceed with Caution

I usually only post to this blog once per week, but a news story caught my eye today since it concerns my sector (higher education), my country (Canada) and my passion (technology critique).

Mount Royal University: Image from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/mru-ai-security-1.5136407

Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta is going to be the first organization in Canada to install an AI system for the purposes of security. This system consists of a network of cameras and a machine learning algorithm that spends the first few weeks learning what “normal” movement looks like on campus, then uses that baseline to detect if there might be a security issue. Deviations from normal in this case, signal a potential “threat” or at least an event worth looking into. As described by the Vice-President, Securities management in a recent CBC article:

“when that pattern breaks, what it does, that screen comes to life and it shows the people in the security office where the pattern is now different and then it’s up to a human being to decide what to do about it,”

Continue reading “AI security hits a Canadian University: Proceed with Caution”

AI security hits a Canadian University: Proceed with Caution

Diversity in Canadian Science: Not yet there

I have spent the bulk of my week at a fantastic academic and policy related conference that brings together scientists and leaders from a wide variety of fields. What’s really been great about this experience is it’s commitment to engaging with a variety of disciplines. We’re not just seeing health scientists, researchers from STEM fields, or social scientists and humanities scholars, but truly a variety of perspectives from across the research spectrum. Another strength of this conference, which I realize now has not been part of my general conference experience is I’ve noticed a real effort to balance gender representation on the panels. Most of the panels I have attended have either had equal numbers of men and women present, or had greater numbers of women and men, reflecting their attendee balance, which identifies as about 60% women.

A sheet of paper with different colored lines and the text "Diversity makes everything more interesting"
“Bill Bernbach diversity scholarship posters” by Juan Carlos Pagan, Brian Gartside is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Continue reading “Diversity in Canadian Science: Not yet there”

Diversity in Canadian Science: Not yet there

What can sustainability communicators learn from social media marketers?

Recently, Ann Dale, Jamie Clifton-Ross and I wrote an article for the Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing. In it, we detailed a case study about Canada Research Connections (@CRCResearch) and how we applied social media marketing concepts, specifically content curation strategies, to more broadly engage a broad audience with academic research on sustainability.

An image showing arrows between two word bubbles and the phrase social media marketing
“Social Media Marketing” by Jerry Nihen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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.

Continue reading “What can sustainability communicators learn from social media marketers?”

What can sustainability communicators learn from social media marketers?

Social Media and Information in a Post Cambridge Analytica World

I was fortunate enough to attend two great International academic conferences in the last two weeks. The first, The International Conference on Social Media and Society, took place at the Copenhagen Business School, and the second, the IEEE Professional Communications Conference, took place at the University of Toronto. The first conference was entirely about research having to do with social media, and included a panel about how social media research must change now that platforms are cutting access to their API’s in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The second conference was, broadly speaking, about technical communication, but included a plenary about how the ways we communicate can either facilitate accuracy, truth and information access, or undermine all of these things. The IEEE Professional Communications Conference also included panels centred around using social media to teach and research communication. Now, after both of these conferences, I have a few reflections of my own on social media, data gathering, research and access to information in a post Cambridge Analytica world.

A sidewalk spray painted in red with the words "facebook in death"
“Facebook” by Frank Hebbert. CC-BY-2.0. Available on Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/Sq4x8
  1. Post truth issues such as “alternative facts”, polarization, and propaganda cannot simply be countered with more information. It is clear that people are not swayed by data. Providing additional arguments to back up your claims will likely be countered with additional false information from the other side. The information bounty of online spaces facilitates this. So if we can’t counter mistruths or propaganda with more information what can we do?
  2. HOW you tell your story is very important in this context. This means that if you really want people to have access to truthful information, you have an obligation to present that information in a way that is accessible, including using plain language and easy-to-understand images, and telling a compelling story whenever possible. Humans tend to respond to narratives better than they respond to  straight repetition of facts, so science communicators and researchers need to think about how we can remain faithful to the facts while also telling a compelling story.
  3. Research therefore, and necessarily must focus on people – what do they want? What resonates with them? How do they access information? What do they believe to be true, and how does this influence how they engage with one another and with the information environment? Since access to API’s is becoming much more difficult in the wake of Cambridge Analytica, we will be challenged to come up with new methods for understanding what people do online, but this is also a wake up call for researchers, as we were becoming quite complacent scraping twitter for the low hanging fruit of our research, without having to ask critical questions about the limitations of API scraping.

Continue reading “Social Media and Information in a Post Cambridge Analytica World”

Social Media and Information in a Post Cambridge Analytica World

How to Survive in the New (Future) Economy

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”

How to Survive in the New (Future) Economy

Learning is Uncomfortable, or Why Self Help is Misleading

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.

A picture of hot air balloons over a desert with inspiring words written on it
Balloons by foam. Available from Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/oqvMzp

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.

Continue reading “Learning is Uncomfortable, or Why Self Help is Misleading”

Learning is Uncomfortable, or Why Self Help is Misleading

Just Because I Grade You, Doesn’t Mean I’m Judging Your Intelligence

Just in time for the term to end, and grading to begin at many institutions, I wanted to write about how I, and almost all other instructors or professors I know, view the grading process. I think it’s important as a student to approach assignments with this view in mind, as it will help you to let go of some of the feelings or road blocks that may be currently holding you back.

A stamp on plywood stating "Grade B" in large block letters
Grade B: Upper Queen Street, Ruined House. By wonderferret. Available on Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/33XsFf

Just because I grade your work, doesn’t mean I judge your intelligence, or your abilities, or your worth as a human being or contribution as an individual. That’s not what grading assignments is about at all. At least, not to me. Continue reading “Just Because I Grade You, Doesn’t Mean I’m Judging Your Intelligence”

Just Because I Grade You, Doesn’t Mean I’m Judging Your Intelligence

Hello World: On Writing and Scholarship in Public

Writing longhand “Writing Longhand” by R. Crap Mariner on Flikr

As with any new WordPress blog, the first post you see when you load it up for the first time is the ubiquitous “Hello World” post. I’m thinking of leaving that post on my blog as I write this. Not to indicate a lack of familiarity with how to edit a blog, or to demonstrate a lack of professionalism, or a sort of ambivalence to blogging, but rather, because that phrase sums up an insecurity that I think we all have regarding public writing and public scholarship in particular.

Continue reading “Hello World: On Writing and Scholarship in Public”

Hello World: On Writing and Scholarship in Public