Karen Chiu of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Division of Nutritional Sciences is the author of this post.
It may be easy for scientists to talk to other scientists about their research, especially when they work in the same field as you, but it is a challenge to communicate science to nonscientists since there is no baseline knowledge. Some people may have taken a biology course in high school/college, while others may not have ever taken a biology course before. Since we cannot make assumptions about what nonscientists know, it is essential to communicate in a way that is simple and to the point without being condescending.
During the Education-Career Development Session “Tips for Improving Scientific Communication with a General Audience” at the SOT 58th Annual Meeting and ToxExpo, speakers Katy May, North Carolina State University; Judith Zelikoff, New York University School of Medicine; Antony Williams, US Environmental Protection Agency; and Laura Helmuth, Washington Post, addressed why science communication is essential and how to communicate science, and provided numerous tips on science communication through various platforms, whether that be through social media or interpersonal interactions.
I enjoyed listening to real-life examples and learning tips for improving communication with a general audience for many reasons, but one of them is because I care about educating nonscientists in my community (including my family and friends) about nutritional toxicology and how that impacts their health. I am sure you get asked this question a lot: What do you study? I get asked this question a lot from my family and friends. “I study the impact and mechanism of diisononyl phthalate exposure on the ovary using CD-1 mice as experimental models.” My family and friends always forget what I am studying because I am not communicating in a way that makes sense to them. Instead, I should say something along the lines of “I study how a plastic softener like diisononyl phthalate impacts the ovaries of mice.” Because they are my family, I have been given many opportunities to redeem myself and explain what I do in graduate school. But for others within my community, I may only get one opportunity to educate nonscientists about nutritional toxicology, so I need to make it count.
It is important to develop this skill in communicating science to the public. If you missed this session and are interested in learning a bit about what was covered during this Education-Career Development Session, Dr. Antony Williams made his PowerPoint presentation, titled “Using free social media online tools to communicate scientific activities, distribute data and enhance scientific articles post-publication,” available online.
This blog was prepared by an SOT Reporter. SOT Reporters are SOT members who volunteer to write about sessions and events they attend during the SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo. If you are interested in participating in the SOT Reporter program in the future, please email Giuliana Macaluso.