Look who’s talking: the importance of communicating your science

Issued: 12 December 2017

Christine Williams

Christine Williams, A/Queensland Chief Scientist

For those people who have met me, you know I enjoy telling stories, sharing insights, discussing pros and cons, highlighting successes and at times, even making fun of myself in public.

As someone working in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) I think science communication really is a must for so many reasons.

I am lucky. As the Acting Queensland Chief Scientist I meet people from all sorts of backgrounds — from the very scientific to school children just starting on their STEM journey.

I have the pleasure of communicating to other people about science — all of the time! Communication and especially science communication is a real passion of mine and here’s why I think it’s important:

Getting the message out

My feeling is that we really need people to understand not only what we do in science but also the difference that science can make to our lives. It is not as simple as just telling them what we do.

Our research showed that three quarters of Queenslanders are interested in science but less than half feel there isn’t enough science news and information in the media or online.

We need to make STEM topics appealing and relatable. We know that science is transforming our lives but the ins and outs of what makes up a molecule or a gene, or how a star is created, the forces of wind, or the processes used to make a robotic arm move — can be much too technical for many people.

Think of your mum or your neighbour. As scientists, we need to talk in a language that people understand.

First off, ditch the jargon, otherwise there’s the potential to intimidate, confuse or even make our listeners turn off.

Why talk about OCA2 and HERC2 genes when you could just talk about your research into blue eyes?

Do you know what Rhinella marina is? The ugly animals known as cane toads. What I’m saying is, keep it simple!

Throughout my career, I have met some wonderful people doing some wonderful research but they’re forgetting about making their science results meaningful/understandable for their mates.

If you’re working in STEM, I encourage you to get out of the lab and tell others about the amazing work you’re doing in a way that’s engaging for the audience.

Inspiring change

Think about the world’s biggest challenges — overpopulation, disease, pollution — to name just a few. As scientists we are looking for solutions and we all have a role to play in getting organisations, governments and individuals to help with the good fight.

By clearly communicating what science is doing to overcome these issues — or indeed what particular actions we need to take — we can educate others and promote the necessary changes for improvement.

As human beings, we’re all invested in the future. It’s important that the general population is aware and understands the ‘science behind the everyday’ so we can make informed decisions — whether that’s at the shops or when we’re at work or at home.

Of course, if you need more funding to expand your work, remember, no one is going to give you money if they don’t ‘get’ what you’re doing and what difference your research will make.

Getting personal with science

Going hand in hand with science communication is encouraging more people to take a practical interest in science.

Whether that’s getting people to visit your lab, participating in or organising science-related events or even asking people to participate in your research — it’s essential for us to create a population with a greater understanding of the wonders of science.

It’s widely known that STEM skills will be needed for jobs of the future so we need our youngest Queenslanders to have a love for science and to develop the right skills too. Not just for their own individual career aspirations but so that they’re savvy citizens.

If you’re a scientist or someone working in STEM I encourage you to think of all the ways in which you can share your work with others. And of course, think of how best you can communicate your message.

Think big by all means. We won’t all have documentaries made on the ABC about our scientific endeavours, but why don’t you start with visiting a local school to talk about your work?

Here’s some of our scientists engaging with Queenslanders:

If you’d like to share your science story via a blog like this or on Queensland Science Facebook contact info@chiefscientist.qld.gov.au.