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Examining Access to the Rich Resources of Science Communication Fellowship Programs

Science communication training organizations are popping up all over the place.

Of these efforts, fellowship programs provide arguably the most intensive and impactful science communication training experiences available. Fellowship programs are becoming increasingly key to science communication practice, helping scientists across disciplines enhance their public engagement acumen and opportunities to engage.

However, not much was known about the landscape of these science communication fellowship programs or how accessible and inclusive they are. So, our research group interviewed science communication fellowship directors to find out more. This comic explains some of our key findings.

You can read the full article “Science communication fellowship programs as gatekeepers” by Bennett, Dudo, and Besley in Volume 31, Issue 7 of Public Understanding of Science.

While academic pathways for scientists are relatively linear ...


Science communication pathways for scientists can be more ... vague


Science communication training programs have popped up all over to support scientists in gaining skills and confidence.


One type - science communication fellowships - offers intensive, hands-on experiences.


These programs insert scientists into powerful science communication organizations


But less is known about what value these programs provide scientists, or how accessible, diverse, and inclusive these programs are.


Therefore, our research team interviewed science communication fellowship staff to get their perspectives.


Our research questions were: What types of resources (capital) do science communication fellowships provide to fellows? What rules and norms might shape access to these programs?


When analyzing the interview data, we looked at them through three lenses. Infrastructure: the extent to which people can access institutions and resources. Literacy: the ability to take advantage of resources contained within an organization once admitted. Community acceptance: the extent practitioners critically reflect upon and redevelop programs to include more people.


We found that science communication fellowships contain tons of benefits for their participants. Cultural capital: what you have and what you know - skills, confidence, norms, prestige. Social capital: who you know - mentorship, networks.


However, we also found that fellowship programs weren't always accessible in terms of infrastructure, literacy, and community acceptance


Many required participants to move to a different city, for a period of time, pause their research projects, and take low pay (infrastructure).


Or needed participants to have previous experiences in science communication or strong English-language skills (literacy)


And many programs did not conduct evaluation of their programs (Community acceptance)


Our research suggests that science communication programs provide a "foot in the door" for scientists wanting to get into science communication


However, there are still barriers that limit access and inclusion to these programs.


The good news is these programs are agile. Program directors have the power to make these programs more inclusive and accessible.


And, it's not one organization's responsibility to be all things to all people. In a healthy science communication ecosystem, we want a diversity of programs, not copies of one another.


Inclusive science communication frameworks are of help here. Intentionality: culturally relevant programming, recruit/support marginalized groups in leadership roles. Reflexivity: co-created program evaluation, critical reflection on program access. Reciprocity: build relationships between programs, between research and practice, and with local communities.


Let's take steps to incorporate these frameworks into our programs.

Nic Bennett

Nic Bennett

Nic Bennett researches inclusion and belonging in science communication as a doctoral candidate in the Science & Technology Communication Lab of The University of Texas at Austin. Their work lies at the intersection of science communication, applied theatre, and social justice. They use arts-based, participatory action research, and mixed methods to engage early-career scientists on issues of inclusion and belonging. Alongside scientists, artists, activists, and community members, they investigate how science communication spaces might become healing, liberatory spaces for all.

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