Written by Laetitia Meyrueix
Science communication is a broad umbrella term that includes science writing, science outreach, and even science policy. Science communication is an aspect of science that is often pushed aside in favor of focusing on other aspects of the scientific process. However, with this increasingly connected world and with the advent of social media, it is important that scientists become part of the public conversation on science. Ensuring that scientists are directly involved in science communication ensures that science is communicated correctly. Too often, we see the media sensationalize or take out of context certain statements made by the scientific community which can ultimately lead to incorrect scientific news. For example, USA Today incorrectly reported recent research about how spending time in space would affect astronauts’ DNA. The news story stated that traveling to space can change 7% of peoples’ DNA. However, the original study found changes in gene expression, not in DNA. This is a perfect example of how essential it is for scientists to be involved in the communication of their science. This example also calls scientists to reflect on how we can improve science communication.
Here at NUTS, we focus on the science writing aspect of the science communication story, with our members writing about their research, current debates in science, and many more topics for a general audience. However, we encourage any and all scientists to practice science communication in multiple ways. A great way to become involved in science communication is through science outreach. A recent article on science outreach found that students developed more favorable attitudes towards science and technology after participating in a science communication event.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, we are fortunate enough to have many opportunities in which scientists can get involved with science outreach.
NC DNA Day
NC DNA Day is an annual event where scientists visit over 100 schools statewide. This is a low-commitment opportunity that gives you the chance to talk about science! Additionally, you have the option of preparing your own presentation for the class or using one of the presentations that NC DNA Day has prepared, giving you the option to be creative or to practice outreach with less of a time commitment.
If you are interested in practicing science outreach on a more regular basis, NC DNA Day has expanded recently with DNA Day Connect. With this new program, you can become a scientist ambassador and interact with students throughout the year via interactive video sessions. They also have a blog and are looking for writers!
Feel free to contact the DNA Day Connect Team if you are interested. One of our writers (Samantha Stadmiller) is on this awesome team:
Amanda Raimer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kale Hartmann: email@example.com
Anna Chiarella: firstname.lastname@example.org
Samantha Stadmiller: email@example.com
Shadow a Scientist
Want to show off your science? Be a part of Shadow a Scientist!
Shadow a Scientist is working to create an accessible program that promotes science and learning. This group plans to bring in high school students in groups of 2-3 to visit a UNC lab for half a day and shadow a scientist. The orientation meeting for the first visit is tentatively planned for January 2019!
Contact Patrick Brandt (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in more information.
NC Science Festival and IMPACT
The NC Science Festival provides opportunities for scientists to visit classrooms, show their research at an expo, speak at a science cafe and more. This program is run from UNC’s Morehead Planetarium & Science Center.
If you are interested specifically in visiting classrooms as part of the NC Science Festival, this is part of the Novozymes SciMatch program that the Morehead Planetarium runs. This is very similar in concept to NC DNA Day but is focused on middle school classrooms.
An additional program that the Morehead Planetarium runs is the IMPACTS program. This is a prestigious and competitive program that provides scientists and STEM professionals with training in science communication. They recruit every year at the beginning of the academic year, with training occurring in the Fall semester and the Spring semester dedicated to practicing out in the community. Check out their application!
Cooking Matters with No Kid Hungry NC
This is an opportunity specifically geared for nutrition education. The No Kid Hungry NC is an initiative from the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. No Kid Hungry NC partners with Inter-Faith Food Shuttle to offer the Cooking Matters program which is a cooking-based nutrition education program for kids in 3rd-5th grade. This program seeks to teach kids how to shop smarter, use nutrition information and cook delicious, affordable meals. Contact Jessica Soldavini (Jessica6@live.unc.edu) if you are interested!
North Carolina Natural Science Museum Internships
The North Carolina Science Museum has internships available to students both during the academic year and during the summer. These internships range in topic and experience with many focusing on public outreach and others in science communication which includes digital media, marketing, and graphic design. Interested in learning more? Email Cindy Bogan (email@example.com).
Skype a Scientist
Skype a Scientist is a great way to do some outreach, particularly if you don’t want to ever have to leave your desk/lab! This program matches scientists with classrooms and gives students the opportunity for a Q&A with a REAL scientist (yes, that’s you). Skype a Scientist works with classrooms all over the world.
Science outreach is beneficial to both scientists and the public. For scientists, it provides the opportunity to practice good scientific communication skills, interact with the public, and learn creative new ways to communicate complex ideas. For the public, this gives them the opportunity to have a more intimate view into the world of science, speak directly with a scientist, and hopefully learn something new and important!
Peer-reviewed by Kaylee Helfrich