As a scientist, it’s a very satisfying feeling to publish research that solves a complex problem. But your job no longer ends there. To really ensure your work has relevance, you need to be able to communicate about your science to a broader audience. When journalists pay attention, then the public can become aware of it and then, potentially, policymakers and other decision-makers will take notice, making it more likely that your work can have a real impact.
Scientists who embrace public communication, and who know what they want to communicate, to whom, how and when, can become leaders in their fields. And others will take notice of this leadership. As a result, being a good communicator can help you ensure your research gets noticed and has an impact, can support the next round of scientific development in your field, and can grant your career a boost through professional recognition.
Below are seven steps you can take to ensure outreach and communication for your work:
- Commit to communicate. As you embark on any research, commit at the beginning to communicating about the results when your work is complete. You could already thinking about the potential impact of your work and why the public might care about the results, who might be most interested, and how it can make a difference. Embracing this critical role from the beginning will help prepare you when you have completed your work and are ready to begin communicating.
- Commit to your research. Always remember why you are doing your research, why it is so important to you, and why others should care as well. Presumably, you are taking on this complex project to solve a problem that you care about—keeping this goal in mind will help you have confidence in speaking about your work and generating the passion necessary to get others to believe as well.
- Expect and embrace criticism. Criticism of your work will not end with the completion of the peer review process, unfortunately. Genuine, thoughtful criticism can actually be valuable to you, both in allowing you to help others’ understand your work and helping you to see what the next phase of your research should be. By embracing this input and engaging with your critics, you can potentially create a new network of collaborators and colleagues who can act as sounding boards moving forward, leading to new discoveries.
- Be prepared. Good communication requires preparation, practice, and passion. Preparation is just that—knowing what you want to say and to whom you will be saying it. Knowing your audience is key in this step so that you can tailor your message appropriately. Practice allows your presentation to flow smoothly and effortlessly. Practice also helps keep your nerves under control. Passion is infectious and is critical in engaging your audience.
- Present solutions, not problems. When a journalist contacts you about an issue and wants your expert opinion, they want to learn about the solution from an expert—you. You need to be able to state definitively what you have learned and the implications of that information. Focusing on solutions can make the science accessible and actionable.
- Take advantage of opportunities. It almost goes without saying, that you should take advantage of opportunities to communicate your science when they present themselves. When a journalist calls you, be ready to chat; if you receive and invitation to speak, accept. One way to always be ready is to have a series of talking points, an op-ed, or even a short, accessible article about your work ready to go at any time.
- Build a network. Scientists need to think beyond their immediate colleagues and build relationships outside of their world, including with journalists, policy advocates, local and state officials, and others who may care about the science. In this way, these individuals can also become champions of your work, helping to build a chorus of voices speaking for your research.
These are just a few quick tips to get you started. There are many, many more, and we can dive into some of the details on individual steps in future posts.