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.
Coral reefs are among the most beautiful and complex ecosystems in the world. However, most people will never experience moving through one because unless you are in the right location and have specialized training and equipment, it is physically impossible to visit a coral reef.
So how can most people relate to something they cannot directly ecperience themselves? How do we work to develop an awareness of the beauty and need to protect coral reefs around the world? Or to put it another way, how do we make something like that accessible to a larger number of people?
In recognition of the Canadian winter and the polar vortex, today I’m going to use the concept of wind chill to discuss science communication.
Recently, a 2016 article by Vox has been popping up in my social media feeds. TItled Wind chill is a terrible, misleading metric, it discusses how, over the years, a wind chill index has been replaced by the concept of a temperature equivalent, and it argues that this temperature equivalent obscures as much about the weather conditions as it reveals. The article goes on to suggest that we do away with wind chill altogether, and instead adopt more accurate metrics of the temperature, such as the Universal Temperature Climate Index.
In a recent Vancouver Sun Op-Ed, SFU President, Andrew Petter makes the compelling argument that universities are vital contributors to their communities, writing, “Canada’s public universities, colleges and institutes have an obligation, as well as an opportunity, to harness the instruments at our disposal to the greatest extent possible to benefit the communities we serve”. I, and many of my colleagues at institutions of higher education across Canada, could not agree more with this sentiment. The university of the future will absolutely have a strong role to play in creating the kind of communities that we all want to live in, and also in fostering the kinds of citizens who want to actively contribute to those communities for the good of all. I agree with Petter, and as an Ashoka U change leader and the program head of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies at Royal Roads, I have seen this work firsthand. As a result of my work at a university that, like SFU, is pushing the boundaries of education, I can see that providing social support within community means changing the ways we deliver education, so that our raison d’etre in higher education is centered around the good of the communities we serve.
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”→
Last week I mentioned that I would write a post discussing the gaps I see in current descriptions of digital literacy, particularly as it’s described in the popular press, and why a more holistic or even interdisciplinary understanding of digital literacy is needed. Well I’m back this week to continue that discussion. We must move beyond the idea that digital literacy is about teaching people how to create a website or learn to code. We need to recognize that a skills based approach to digital literacy will only serve to exacerbate certain social and democratic challenges inherent in digital communication, and we must instead consider digital literacy as something that stretches far beyond equipping students for jobs that may or may not exist in the ever-fickle digital economy. The best example, I think ,of why this is the case is the current problem of “fake news”.