I was recently invited to join an event called WissKomm (https://peter-purgathofer.squarespace.com/wisskomm/) in Vienna, a hackathon where students develop their own ways to communicate science. My job there was basically to co-mentor the students and support and guide them in the realisation of their projects. All participants could decide on a scientific paper to present. Basically they were allowed to choose whatever medium and technique they wanted for their presentation with only one restriction: It should not be boring 😉
To sum the day up: It was great fun! I was astonished how enthusiastic, creative and skilled the students were and how easy mentoring them was.
Using other communication media than the conventional methods (poster, presentation) seems to come natural to them. Social media were a big topic, and indeed these allow science to go viral from time to time.
It came to my mind that maybe the next generation of scientists takes more care about science communication and uses all the available tools to do so. It really seems to be a generation thing: Students nowadays grow up with social media tools in a completely different way than I did, and I was delighted to see that they actually come up with creative ways to use those tools for their purpose (apart from posting selfies 😉 ). In a very short time frame they developed new concepts to explain complex scientific topics in a simple way.
I believe, however, that there was an additional aspect that helped the students: They had to work on topics outside of their scientific field. This allowed them a more distanced perspective on the research. What might sound trivial – but came natural to them – is actually crucial for established scientists:
- Take a step back and try to view your field of expertise from an outside perspective. What can you presume as common knowledge? What needs to be explained in detail?
- Pretend to be your own audience. Would you understand yourself?
- Put yourself in the shoes of the person listening or reading about your science. Would you be thrilled about the outcome?
- Make use of available tools (even though singing your poster at a conference might not always be adequate). Here we can learn from the younger generation!
Sometimes even the most skilled scientists need to be reminded of such simple things.