Tag Archives: Science communication

Some self-celebration: submitting talks

I’m pretty stoked.

I’m due, soon, to give a talk at a climate conference about the data that I’m collecting for my Masters thesis. I know I won’t be finished my thesis by the time I go, but I know I’ll have some insights to share with people in the communication and policy stream.

And just today, another abstract in! A science communicators’ conference, looking for insights into our communication, our audiences, our methods, … So I hope to present something new about factors that indicate someone will be (or is likely) a trusted communicator.

And an important part of submitting abstracts is having the self-belief and confidence to actually present if one is accepted. So I’m celebrating having put another one in. I figure, if they want to hear what I have to say, that’s good enough reason for me to tell them!

Hurrah. The conference I’m speaking at soon is Greenhouse, a climate science conference; and I’ve submitted for the Australian Science Communicators conference in early 2014.

Finding your life’s purpose in 5 minutes

Finding your life’s purpose, Adam Leipzig tells us this 10-minute TEDx talk, only takes 5 minutes and 5 questions.

Well, less than 5 minutes if you already know those answers, I guess.

Before getting into the questions, I preface them with some confusion. Admittedly, at the end of the video, I wondered if others really found it so easy to pin down. Or if it changed them so radically.

Also, I didn’t take note of the internet wisdom never read the comments, which is usually rock-solid advice, but this time turned out to back up my own questions.

Anyhow: what’s your purpose in life?

Riddle me this: Who you are. What you do. Who you do it for. What those people want/need from you. What they get out of it (how they’re changed after).

It can be as simple as one sentence (and like the best communication plans I think, similarly, shorter is better).

Wisdom or folly, profound or puerile, the answers that jumped straight to my head in the talk were: I am SciCraftSarah and I edit and write. My work is for everyday people who might benefit in life from understanding more about science. They end up more empowered in their lives.

I realise, typing it out, that it’s a very ‘deficit model’ type of science communication, which I would usually steer well clear of for a multitude of reasons (next post!). Perhaps it’s a resistant, immature idea of mine, or it is just flat-out idealism about how science can help people?

However, it’s meaningless to be too harsh on myself yet. There are critics of the criticism of the deficit model – and there’s certainly much benefit in information about science when you don’t know it and want to know.

Can you answer your life’s purpose in those 5 questions? What answer do you come up with? Does your idealism get in the way of answering, or practicing it?

Planning communication: what’s so exciting about it?

How boring and positively UNspontaneous. How staid. Planning communication! Instead of being off-the-cuff and free, and truthful. Right?

Wrong.

But how is planning communication exciting? Firstly, valuable context: at work, we’re getting ready to do a communication planning workshop for an organisation that works in a tricky space.

To outside appearances, it’s a pretty simple process. We get some info from them, run a workshop with people, then come back with a plan.

Wrong!

We do a whole lot of work in the meantime to make the workshop work. We research before working with the organisation, do more research after, do a plethora of interviews and thinking and analysing beforehand.

In some ways, I would argue that the communication plan, the shining ‘holy grail’ of the process, isn’t even the final product. I think the shared understanding that comes from people in the organisation sitting around and thrashing out all the issues is the ‘shiniest’ benefit of the process.

The other thing is, the whole process appeals to my perfectionist, comprehensive nature. See, we get to go over so much material, gather each item’s small gems, interview everyone and make sure all the issues are covered off, then analyse it and dump it (carefully) onto a proverbial table at the workshop.

Before having done this process, I would never have guessed one could get so darn much out of talking. But each issue and possible solutions are sifted through, and the most important parts are picked up. And if it’s done well, most people are pretty happy with the result. And everyone goes forward on the same page.

Now, my boss would say that that’s not the end, and that a communication plan lives and breathes on, but that’s for another day…

Can we make every science story interesting?

I worked with a colleague to teach students about the 3 Minute Thesis today – condensing a PhD into an engaging, exciting, simple 3-minute explanation. There were some tough topics – all were interesting when we got into them, certainly – but it got me thinking about whether every topic can be simplified, can be engaging. My initial gut reaction is that yes, anything can. An inner cynic then scrunches its nose up and whines, ‘Really?’

It’s often a case of finding that one story, that one spark that really grabs someone. Perhaps it’s the right example, the right zoom-in to a problem, or a zoom-out. Even finding, despite a complex topic, some humour.

I can see the incredibly interesting topics peeking out from underneath ‘solid’ language and a pattern of how we’re taught to speak academically. There are so many quirky and fascinating stories to be told about research and the passion of the people looking at that work. We’re lucky to spend this time with the students, bringing those stories out and helping them find their confidence to tell them.

Synapses sparking

Over the last months, I can feel myself learning. Perhaps it’s the placement I’m in, and the reflective document I’ll create for that (even unbidden; I want to examine progress).

Perhaps it’s that I’m so immersed in my [future] field – like being on a choir camp or the like. Perhaps it’s that I’m so busy, so professional expansion is a natural reaction to that.

Whatever it is – I can feel the changes in my brain. Unfortunately, they aren’t as widespread nor as automatic as I’d wish for; nevertheless they are there.

Vague? Why, yes. So what am I learning?

  • A deeper level of professional conduct
  • More etiquette skills
  • Actual collaboration methods
  • Editing experience
  • A slightly more critical eye for information
  • Audio and (self-taught) video editing            (and getting down to what I think are the most important skills)
  • To write more succinctly
  • To write every day, and not to imbue writing with such a sense of ‘specialness’ that it’s an ordeal or ritual to sit down and do so
  • To balance tasks of writing, organisation, planning, and editing
  • That I, without doubt, and unbeknownst, love the Oxford comma (oh dear!)
  • Media skills – talking to scientists and journalists, from both sides of the fence
  • Writing in different genres (articles, media releases, profiles, education materials)
  • Presentation skills and PowerPoint do’s and don’ts
  • Not to be precious about editing and tearing up of my (see, even that is wrong) – a – piece of writing
  • Deeply examining edits on writing and using constructive criticism
  • To dive in, even if I’m frightened about a situation
  • Networking contacts

This is SO exciting. I don’t want this period of learning to recede – I don’t want the tide to go out. I want to keep the fullness of my brain bursting with a spark from something I’ve happened upon.

I want to come home and rave to TheBoy about everything fascinating. I can see that he’s learning about science communication, too, from my (very friendly) rants and overflows of speech.

Oddly enough, I think most insights come totally organically, too. Like I haven’t had to think about them – my subconscious must be burning up – like they just appear, pre-formed, in my head. And I think, ‘Well, yes, that’s right.’

I feel like a kid who’s just discovered paint, or the stars.