Everyone has a different approach to their PhD: there are people who come in to do the PhD, and go home, and there are the ones who get involved in societies, outreach and science communication. Each to their own. But for me- being able to get involved in outreach and science communication is one of the things I truly love.
Why should you get involved in Science communication and Outreach?
Science Communication and outreach is really important- in the era of the facebook expert, it is more crucial than ever to be actively involved with the general public.
Over the years science has been pretty closed off from the public- not to mention science isn’t always communicated well. A lot of bad science has entered the news, and conflicting information being released from scientists (such as Sugar vs Fat and health) has led many of the public to lose faith. In addition, scientists can come across as aloof, and out of touch with the general public- talking in jargon, and with overcomplicated concepts. It is not a surprise that so many people are suspicious of science companies, and scientists in general, or simply no longer believe in the research coming out.
This is where science communication and outreach comes in.
Effective science communication can be great- It not only allows scientists to talk to people outside their area about their work, but it also encourages discussion to take place. For example, many plant scientists now work closely with farmers- with organisations such as Agritech East holding events for scientists to talk to farmers about their research, showing the sort of experiments we do, and the data we are getting out. But one of the best things to come out of these events are the discussions: Farmers can voice concerns they have about the research, ask questions about parts which they don’t understand, tell us problems they are currently having on the Farm which we could look at. This kind of discussion between scientists and the community is crucial.
Not only does this help us to get our research out to in the general public, but it also helps us learn about what the public think about our research-which is equally as important. This 2 way dialogue between the public and scientists is crucial.
As a PhD student I have had so many opportunities to take part in science communication and outreach events: from pint of science as both a publicity officer, and a speaker, to talking to year 10 girls about science and my current work at the Women of the Future conference.
But science communication isn’t just about talking to the public. Good science communication is key to giving good presentations, and being able to talk effectively about your work to other scientists- it may help when talking to a funding body in the future, or going on to you new career. Talking about your science in a more straight forward manner makes you really think about your work, what you are doing, why you are doing it- all useful skills for the future.
Many PhDs feel like they need to spend all day everyday in the lab or in the write up room working on their thesis- and it can be hard to put an hour or two of your day aside to present a poster to colleagues, or to man a stall at an event for the public- but it is worth it in more ways than one.
Yes, a PhD is about research- but there is more to it than that- it is about expanding your knowledge and skills in all areas, not just in the lab setting.