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The impact of good science communication, and how organisations can support

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Librarians
By: Saskia Hoving, Mon Oct 30 2023
Saskia H

Author: Saskia Hoving

Most researchers know that communication is a key part of any research career. But few feel confident in communicating their research to different audiences. As a result, they could be missing out on opportunities to disseminate their research findings and raise their profile within and beyond their field. In this blog, we delve into why it's crucial to communicate science effectively and how to assist researchers in sharing engaging stories about their work.

The need for good science communication

Researchers recognise that making research understandable, engaging, relatable and impactful – especially to non-scientific audiences – is one of the most important tasks they need to carry out, otherwise no one will see or understand the impact of their work. In fact, 90% of researchers and 86% of research managers who participated in a Nature Masterclasses survey believe that communication is a key skill for a successful research career.

But it’s not only researchers themselves who stand to benefit from good science communication. Science will always find its way into popular culture, and – if done well – can engage and educate the public, and motivate and inspire budding researchers of the future. Indeed, in the early 1990s when the X-Files first aired, there was a notable increase in the number of women starting careers in STEM professions – heralded as “the Scully Effect”.

Yet, despite recognising the need to communicate about their work, 81% of researchers surveyed by Nature Masterclasses told us that conveying complex science to non-science audiences is an area they struggle with.

Sharing impact beyond the lab

In a recent panel discussion on different types of research impact, Ikuko Oba, ý’s Commercial Director for Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia and Oceania, shared that although 94% of surveyed researchers in Japan agreed on the importance of communicating their research to the community; 21% had not done this within the last three years, and 12% had never communicated their research.

One of the difficulties with communicating research is that specialist topics and traditional metrics are not always meaningful or relevant to people outside the academic community. One mechanism that can help with this is storytelling. When researchers tell the real-life story of their research and its impact for humankind, it becomes more tangible and meaningful to any audience.

Powerful science stories

People have communicated by storytelling for millions of years, but all too often, researchers can be caught up in the technical detail of their research and forget about the ‘who’. ‘why’ and ‘what’ of their work and how it fits into the real world.

The ý Storytellers programme aims to help researchers tell the human story of their work by allowing them to talk about their real-life experiences and share a side of themselves that they don’t typically show the public.

  • For example, Florian Humpenöder, a Senior Researcher at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, shared how an infographic on a magazine cover he read during the Christmas holiday led him to expand his computer modelling to new areas of climate change mitigation.
  • Josefine Proll, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Physics at Eindhoven University of Technology, described how studying nuclear fusion is like being a detective trying to solve the world’s energy crisis, and Azucena Moran, research associate of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies explained how the parallels between journalism and academic research brought her into a research career she never knew she wanted.

There are more examples in our top 10 research stories of 2022 blog that could serve as storytelling inspiration for your researchers. What all these stories have in common is a strong narrative and a message that draws people in. So how can you help your researchers find their narrative?

How to prepare your researchers

There are a number of things institutions can do to help researchers in communicating their science:

  1. Help them refine their message A common theme we heard in the Nature Masterclass survey was that researchers found it challenging to pin down the most important overarching voice or message in their science communications. Nature Masterclasses has several resources to help: 
    1. This introduces the concept of creating a narrative and how it can help identify and communicate the message researchers want to convey. 
    2. Nature Masterclasses’ teaches skills to help researchers build and refine their own story for a wide range of purposes, from grant writing to networking. 
    3. reminds us why engaging presentation is important for standing out at conferences. 
    4. covers practical hints to set researchers up for success with conference presentations.
  2. Provide proper training Science communication is a skill that can be learned. Whether it’s writing blog posts or articles, sharing their findings on social media, presenting to a live audience, or being interviewed for the media. Prepare your researchers with the new Nature Masterclasses On-demand course: This course teaches researchers how to communicate their research effectively and confidently to a variety of audiences.
  3. Incentivise science communication As we have seen, science communication is a specialist skill and often requires a lot of knowledge and time. However, career progression for researchers often uses more traditional metrics such as number of publications, downloads, and citations. To encourage researchers to engage in science communication, institutions and organisations should find ways to give value to the communication efforts that researchers make.

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Saskia H

Author: Saskia Hoving

In the Dordrecht office, Marketing Manager Saskia Hoving produces The Link Newsletter for research communities. Focusing on the evolving role of libraries regarding SDGs, Open Science, and researcher support, she explores academia's intersection with societal progress. With a lifelong passion for sports and recent exploration into "Women’s inclusion in today’s science", Saskia brings dynamic insights to her work.