Retrospective by Jennifer Purrenhage, series co-editor and Communication and Engagement Section secretary
Bethann Garramon Merkle’s recent #MySciComm 2017 Year in Review highlighted takeaways from our 2017 contributors on building human connections through scicomm.
As I looked back on the 2017 #MySciComm contributions, an additional set of themes emerged from our contributors. They offered advice and encouragement for those of us looking to either up our communication and engagement game or transition from an existing career path or position into a scicomm position.
1. Start Now.
You might imagine countless reasons for waiting, or perceived obstacles to getting started in scicomm. But our 2017 #MySciComm contributors reminded us of the importance of starting now and starting where you are.
Katie Burke warned that she often gives the advice ‘Start Writing,’ but that people rarely act on it. Katie linked to online resources that can help scicommers pitch their writing to media outlets that she says are ‘hungry for content.’ Katie Burke and Kristina Young both encouraged us to ‘make the time’ to create content because there will never be a perfect time. And they suggested that it likely won’t take as long as we worry it will. Will Chen and I (Jennifer Purrenhage) urged aspiring scicommers to stop aspiring and just start being science communicators. Will suggested creating an example of your particular kind of scicomm and then testing it with family, friends, or even an online community. I reminded readers that there are opportunities to practice and do scicomm in our existing positions — we don’t necessarily need to be somewhere or someone else to get started (and, in fact, we may have already started without realizing it!). Finally, Virginia Schutte offered a different, and valuable, perspective on ‘getting started’ when she discussed what it can be like to get on the job market for a scicomm position before you feel ready.
2. Get Training.
Good news! For those of us who are still resisting the ‘Start Now’ advice, perhaps we can justify waiting until we get some training. Our 2017 #MySciComm contributors were huge proponents of training, and they provided general advice and links to specific resources.
Look back at the posts from Shane Hanlon, Megan Litwhiler, Annaliese Hettinger, and Ariana Sutton-Grier for links to some of their favorite scicomm resources and training opportunities, including a few that most everyone ranked at the top of their lists: COMPASS, AGU, and AAAS. Rose Hendricks’ description of her experience with ComSciCon might be particularly interesting for our graduate-student readers. Kristina Young’s post about communication through radio includes suggestions for radio-specific workshops and internships, and Lucy Frisch reminded us that we are not born storytellers and can benefit from specific training in this area too. Bethann Merkle recommended improving our visual communication skills–drawing, graphic design, photography, graphs/figures, and conference posters–through training and practice, and she shared some of her favorite resources for enhancing visual communication skills. Josh Silberg and Greg Nickerson reminded us to take stock of the skills and training we’ve already acquired that might also serve us well in scicomm. And Megan Litwhiler and Ariana Sutton-Grier suggested that formal trainings aren’t the only way to improve our scicomm skills. Megan noted how much we can learn from colleagues at conferences and by visiting museums, and Ariana implored us to read everything we can about scicomm. One the scicomm books that Ariana mentioned will be featured in our new Lit Review Series, which we hope will help you triage your own scicomm reading list!
3. Find Your Role.
Something we can already see, after one year of #MySciComm contributions, is the diversity of roles that people can and do play in science communication and engagement. Our 2017 contributors demonstrated this simply by sharing their stories. Many advised us to find our unique role by: looking for the gaps and filling them with our personal strengths and interests (e.g., Kika Tuff, Annaliese Hettinger, Priya Shukla), acknowledging the communication and engagement skills we have been acquiring and honing all along (e.g., Josh Silberg, Sarah Chevalier Prather, Jennifer Purrenhage), and identifying our own style and individual contributions to diverse teams (e.g., Diogo Verissimo, Skylar Bayer, Virginia Schutte).
Our 2017 #MySciComm contributors reminded us to be patient, persistent, and brave.
They also discussed the concerns that some of us may have when transitioning from doing science to communicating science. We were reminded that doing scicomm is not mutually exclusive with doing science and teaching science. Choosing to do communication and engagement work does not mean that we are abandoning our training as scientists.