Inspired by my own endeavours in science communication and an informal talk I gave to my department, I started to think about offering a course. There isn’t anything like that for PhD students so I went through a few easy hoops and got approval to give a short course on science communication. We finished up the meetings last week and I thought it might be useful to collect and share all the information in one place. Keep on reading if you’re interested in running your own version of such a course or if you are looking for information on topics in science communication.
I structured the 5-days so that we met in the mornings for a couple of hours. Here is when I presented different topics. I didn’t use any powerpoints slides but showed either links or my own sites as examples. We also spent a lot of time discussing different topics and practicing communication. The afternoons were reserved for working on exercises, reading through information and other self-directed activities. As I suspected, the PhD students didn’t really need help from me here. Many went back to their research and did these course activities in the evenings. That was fine with me; I mainly wanted them to explore the techniques.
I decided not to focus on a single text, although there are some good ones out there. Instead I pulled together links to articles on various topics using a private google+ community. In general, I thought g+ worked pretty well. There were only 17 of us so it was a manageable number to post or comment on articles. You can organize posts into topics, which is helpful. You are a bit limited in how things are organized on the page and at least one member found the layout distracting. I think I would use this format again for a small class because of the flexibility to link directly to useful sites as well as provide context and comments on those links. There weren’t extensive discussions happening on-line for this course, but I think the platform has the potential to be good for that.
The topics we touched on were broad, and we went into greater detail in some than in others.
Twitter: this was one of the first things I got everyone to do. When I started with twitter, I was hesitant. I worried about whether there would be negative impacts on my career due to my on-line presence. I didn’t really understand twitter and thought it might be a bit silly. I was completely naïve to how many academics there were on twitter, how it would become a part of my daily activity and just how useful it could be. Slowly I got into it. But I guess I thought my attitudes were due to being a bit out-of-touch (email was just starting to be a thing when I was beginning my undergraduate). So I was surprised at how reluctant some of the PhDs were about twitter and having an on-line presence. Growing up in the internet age has definitely lead some to be wary of everything they put on-line. That can be good to some degree but can block being involved with useful tools like twitter. I’m sure not all will continue but for the course, all students needed to set up an account and start tweeting. To facilitate twitter use I found a number of useful links:
For a general guide, this is comprehensive: http://mashable.com/guidebook/twitter/
and tweetdeck is a handy way to manage twitter so I included this how to guide: http://www.wikihow.com/Use-TweetDeck
When setting up an account, here’s some thought’s on what to put in your profile:
Resources more geared toward scientists:
The next set of links are focused around social media for academics more generally but of course also touch on twitter quite a bit:
Blogging: Of course we discussed blogging in the course and one of their assignments was to write a blog post on a topic of their choosing. I set up a private wordpress site for this and again for such small numbers, this worked well to keep blog posts and comments private. I decided early on that I wanted to take the pressure off of being involved in these activities by allowing pseudonyms for twitter and keeping everything private. I would definitely maintain this aspect of the course because I think it is a person decision how to present yourself on-line.
There is a lot of information out there on blogging but I pulled a few relevant to academic and science blogs:
linking blogging and science writing: http://jou.sagepub.com/content/12/7/903.short
some research on the effects of blogging on citations: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/asi.23037/abstract
Research webpages: I also thought that one useful product for the students to take away from this course would be a research page that reflects them (not just on their advisor’s page, for example). Having these pages can be useful for when people start searching for postdocs and can evolve into your own lab page as your career develops. This course reminded me that I should really resurrect the one I built ages ago… There were some surprises for me from the course here as well. I figured many students wouldn’t want to put their sites live right away (they could use private wordpress sites for this too) but I wasn’t expected that one was not allowed to have such a website because of the sensitive nature of their research. It is something I may consider if I run the course again. It might not be such an immediately useful exercise if it is unusual to have such sites in your field but I still think for the majority it is a really good tool to have.
The basic how to (also useful for blogs): http://websitesetup.org/
Advice directed towards academic websites: http://assett.colorado.edu/learn/tutorials/create-your-website/
We also discussed other types of websites such as googlescholar (if you publish anything, set this up!!), researchgate and others.
side benefits to the scholar profile: http://jabberwocky.weecology.org/2012/08/24/using-google-scholar-to-keep-up-with-the-literature/
ways to manage your googlescholar page: http://retractionwatch.com/2014/11/17/fake-citations-plague-some-google-scholar-profiles/
Researchgate by Terry: http://smallpondscience.com/2015/07/27/im-going-to-stop-ignoring-researchgate/
Elevator pitches: We discussed the pluses and minuses of crafting a pitch or not. But whatever your position, you need to say something when someone asks you what you do. So I also had the participants practicing talking to each other and explaining what they do. An elevator pitch can tie back to what you write on a webpage or twitter bio.
Some counter thoughts: http://smallpondscience.com/2013/02/20/the-elevator-pitch-more-harm-than-good/
Media: We only touched on communication with the traditional media but I wanted to provide resources on the topic. Part of why I didn’t stress this topic too much was because of the range of experience of the students. I think these links are more important to think about when you’ve published and since some hadn’t I didn’t want to use a press release as an exercise.
Outreach: We also touched on other forms of outreach but mainly we had a visit on activities here at the University.
I had a great time teaching the course and would definitely do it again. I am so grateful so those who came and participated. It was so fun and I learned a lot. One thing that doesn’t show up directly in the links but we focused on a lot in the course was the why and who of science communication. We talked about what audience we’re trying to reach and how that might influence the message and how we do it. Definitely an important point to consider!
Finally I want to mention and thank the organizers of the SciFund (@SciFund) outreach course I took a few years ago that I loosely modeled the course off of. They’re running a new session if you are interested: http://scifundchallenge.org/blog/2015/09/25/free-outreach-training-class-for-scientists-is-back/
Do you have any go to sources for science communication? Share below!