I recently attended a Science Communication Workshop hosted by the Western Institute for Earth and Space Exploration and facilitated Dr. Parshati Patel, the Institute’s Outreach and Communications Specialist. The workshop was a required training module in order to become a Western Space Ambassador. This role entails representing the Institute at conferences and events, helping out with local workshops, and creating social media content to engage the public in space.
The workshop was attended by high school, undergraduate, and graduate students – I think it was effective to have this wide range in background and perspective. I definitely learned many new things from the content but also the other participants.
One of the main concepts we worked on was developing a message and learning how to address in different ways. We practiced creating an elevator pitch and sharing that within small groups (which included high school and graduate students). This was a different experience to others I’ve had recently (in graduate seminar courses) when sharing elevator pitches which has been directed towards graduate students. It really made me think about my word choices and the message I wanted to convey. One of the challenges I experienced during this exercise was making my results/potential benefits of my research relatable to my audience: ’emphasize how your research relates to people’s everyday lives, even if the practical implications are far in the future.’ The relating aspect is difficult in general, but making your message relatable to the specific audience is a greater challenge!
Another strategy we learned about is the ‘Message Box’ which is designed to help breakdown the message with the use of some guiding questions shown in the image below. One of my main takeaways from this exercise was the defining your audience very specifically and avoiding using ‘general public’. It is useful to identify an approximate age range and also geographic location. For instance, during the group exercise we wanted to address noise pollution to Gr.7-8 students in London. This specification helped us form meaning and relatable examples such as referring to the Sifton Bog (which is close to a main road and could be disrupting the wildlife that resides in the bog). A challenge we had with this was framing the problems/solutions/examples that the specific audience would care about, especially for a topic that was chosen arbitrarily.
Another strategy we briefly talked about was the ‘The Up-Goer Five Text Editor.’ The premise is to explain a hard idea using only the ten hundred most used words. Believe me, this is not easy! It definitely puts into perspective how much jargon we tend to use when talking about science or even STEM, in general. I tried forming a message about my research and did not make it far. Here’s the best I could do for describing an impact crater: ‘ A round formed by rocks (from space) hitting the ground.’ But I think I’m going to keep working on it! I encourage you to give this a try: https://splasho.com/upgoer5/.
I learned many new strategies for communicating messages to different audiences and will be working towards applying some in my role as the Communications and Promotions Committee co-chair on the Science Rendezvous @WesternU team! More updates on that later!