How Science Communication Can Boost Your Research
We know that communicating science with other scientists or non-scientists is super important. Everyone has the right to know about science: it can directly impact their lives or inspire them. Plus, more often than not, research is funded through their taxes. If you don’t share your scientific findings, you might as well not do science at all.
But science communication doesn’t just help others. It can also help you!
Yes, effective science communication can help you with your own research. Just by sharing your findings, your projects are more likely to flourish.
I speak from experience here. I used to be a scientist too but took the leap into the science communication world. This was the time when I started to look at my own research with completely different eyes. By sharing some of my experience, I hope that other scientists can begin to see how science communication can level up their own research projects.
Looking at your research from a different angle
As scientists, we often work on our research projects for many years. Over time, the answer to the question “Why am I doing my research” can become a bit blurred. We tend to forget the big picture while focussing on the tiny details of projects or experiments.
Fortunately, science communication requires us to think about our own motivation since it is the key message we want to bring across to our audience. One common goal of science communication is to convince our audience that our research is meaningful.
I had to answer that question anew for myself when I started writing my science blog. I thought hard to rediscover my own, hopefully valuable, answer to the question, “Why is my research important?” For many scientists, research aims to improve the lives of people. Or, our work could be applied to different health or technology sectors. Whatever the overarching goal is, science communication can remind us of it or make it clearer for us.
For me, being more aware of these goals fueled my motivation to do better research. You may find the same thing - that in working to get your key message straight when talking about your research, you will renew your passion for it.
Finding new research ideas from your audience’s questions
When explaining your research project to someone, one of the signs that you’re doing a good job is that you get questions - hopefully, challenging ones. These questions can be worth a lot.
Someone’s question might give you ideas about research problems you haven’t thought about yourself. Note, these people are probably not the only ones asking such questions. Editors of scientific journals, stakeholders or funding agencies might also be curious about these things.
Listen to your audience and jot down their questions, queries or feedback they offer about your research project. And don’t forget, potential research questions could even come from your kid.
Drawing inspirations from other fields
Sometimes, the best science communication work isn’t only about your own research. Maybe you’re presenting, writing, blogging or podcasting about other people’s scientific findings.
While this can be the most challenging part of science communication, it’s also a gift. It’s giving you a chance to learn about other fields and their processes. Maybe you’ll find similarities to your own research. Or maybe someone tackled a similar question to yours or solved a comparable scientific problem in a way you haven’t even thought about.
This could lead to novel and interesting hypotheses for your own project that might be worth pursuing. It could also help you find future collaborators from other disciplines - that’s important in and of itself as funders increasingly are looking for intersectional research.
Finding collaborators and lab members
Science communication does not only mean that you talk about your research to non-scientists. You can also reach other scientists with your science communication project.
These other scientists might get inspired by your research or your experimental technique. Maybe they would want to collaborate with you since they are working on something similar. Or - even better - they might want to work with you simply because they find your project fascinating.
But don’t forget, to find potential collaborators or lab members, you’ll have to share your research loudly and proudly!
Convincing the paying public and other stakeholders
Many research grants are publicly funded through taxes. And I am convinced that people paying for research have the right to know what they are spending their money on.
However, communicating science to the public should be more than an obligation. Instead, perhaps you can see it as an opportunity to sell them on the value of your work and how it may someday result in knowledge or technology that improves their lives.
By encouraging them to explore science and its potential impact on them, their families, and their communities, you may help them see why this work matters. They may even begin to see or deepen their understanding of how they can play a role in science and research.
Talking about your scientific findings may build support - not just for your work specifically but for the global research enterprise and for science in general.
Learning new skills
Lastly, when I started my science communication project, I became the boss of that project. Consequently, I had to manage it on my own and I took the chance to level up my project management skills. I certainly got better at organising my experiments, lab tasks and (most importantly!) time.
When I later started to collaborate with other science communicators, I also thought about what kind of team member or project leader I wanted to be. And I applied this to how I treated lab colleagues or students that I supervised. Needless to say, a nicer lab environment improves everyone’s mood and motivation.
I found that working in science communication helped me improve my soft skills and benefitted my research and my life. I hope that you find it to be equally rewarding and useful!
Science communication projects for better research
When I started my own science communication project, I did not think about all the advantages that I would gain from it. Sure, sharing science with the world is important and it opened a new career for me. But a lot of the things that I learned from science communication also helped me with my own research.
I am convinced that disseminating your scientific findings with other scientists and non-scientists can improve your research. It is just a matter of being open to it and getting started!