Scientific research is frequently cited in political and public discourse. But, too often, reporters, politicians and other leaders incorrectly interpret scientific findings and operate on false information. Many researchers have limited science communication training and lack experience sharing their findings with a broader audience. Without effective communication, misconceptions become even more likely to occur.
"In PhD training, you do a lot of highly academic writing," says Amanda Freise, a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at UCLA. "You are writing mostly for your peers, and it's packed with jargon. Anyone outside your field, not to mention non-scientists, has a hard time understanding what you mean. There's a lack of training on how to write for a broader audience."
Helping scientists communicate
SciCommHub is an online community designed to help students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty explore science communication fields and find resources to help them disseminate their research to a wider audience.
As Amanda began thinking about careers, she realized that bench research wasn't what she wanted to pursue. However, it was difficult to find information on alternative career paths and science communication training.
"I enjoyed teaching and talking about science," she says. "The initial idea for SciCommHub was to share alternative career options for PhDs."
As Amanda and Laura worked on SciCommHub, the site blossomed, and it now includes additional resources for scientists to help them learn how to communicate the key findings of their research. In the past year, SciCommHub members have formed a UCLA campus group and held workshops open to anyone in scientific fields. The workshops focused on teaching participants how to remove jargon from their writing, write at an appropriate level for their audience, and use storytelling to connect their research with their audience on an emotional level. The most popular workshop was Improv for Scientists.
"We hope that, as scientists writing about science, we can provide more informed analysis of studies as they come out and dispel some misconceptions in media headlines," Amanda explains.
Giving science writers a forum
To help share research and give scientists an opportunity to practice their writing skills, the group also publishes The Signal to Noise Magazine.
"The magazine serves as an educational and training platform for any scientist who wants to improve their writing," Amanda says. "It features articles about a range of topics for a general audience."
Writers can come from any field of science, from geology to medicine, and are paired with an editor to help them craft articles with wide appeal.
In the short time the group has been operating, Amanda says they have seen a great response from students and the broader university. The campus group is open to anyone at UCLA, and anyone with a science background is encouraged to submit articles for the magazine.
"Everyone benefits when science is well-communicated," she says. "And scientists benefit when the importance and meaning of their work is being shared with the public."