Academics who spend years or decades mastering a narrow subject spend most of their time talking about that subject with other experts. It’s not hard to find examples of academic writing that was designed to communicate efficiently with other experts, but which seems impenetrable to the average person. But communicating complex information to non-experts is a challenge. Here’s an article from a biochemistry Ph.D. student who left academe to become a full-time communicator.
From explaining the effectiveness of social distancing for preventing the spread of COVID-19 to communicating earthquake preparedness plans to the public, scicomm efforts are vital for helping turn research into action. Yet despite scicomm’s importance, it remains a hugely overlooked, underdeveloped and unknown area in academia. Academics are trained to communicate with other academics, and jargon-filled research papers prevent broad audiences from engaging with and understanding impactful scientific discoveries.
When universities devote resources to scicomm, they are often limited to professional development opportunities that train scientists how to communicate their own research only. Yet I know from firsthand experience how much time and effort are needed to become an effective science communicator. My scicomm journey was entirely self-taught, with the plan to leave academia and pursue a career as a science communicator.
Expecting full-time academics who are already overwhelmed with responsibilities to teach, mentor, conduct research and manage university administrative tasks to magically become scicomm wizards after a single training may not be realistic. While universities should offer more training opportunities for faculty and graduate students, we also need designated science communicators who can bridge the gap between academics and the public. –Inside Higher Ed