Can We Foster It?
Back when I was at the University of Colorado and doing my graduate work, I suggested that young science grad students take a course in writing or some other form of outreach — mostly to foster their skills in communicating science. That was well over a decade ago and in a time when such things were radical ideas. To put it mildly (and perhaps not surprisingly), the idea went nowhere.
So fast forward to today, and an age of advanced science outreach and you’d think maybe that grad students have been encouraged to DO outreach? Are young post-docs encouraged to do so? Not so much. Oh, sure there are some who get hooked on outreach and CAN write well and CAN do animations that explain their work. And, I have heard of some programs at a few places that encourage grad students to take some training in writing, etc. But, from a community standpoint, such outreach isn’t the reason these folks go to school and so such courses aren’t widespread. And, it isn’t encouraged by the older generation of scientists and researchers who hold tenure decisions, etc. over these young folks. Which is unfortunate. If ever we were in an era needing MORE people to explain science who are also DOING science, this is it.
Not that I want to put myself out of work — far from it. My expertise IS in communicating science, particularly in astronomy and space sciences (and related disciplines). I have academic background in my specialty areas, and I did my graduate work in problems of science communication.
These days I am a science communicator writing documentary scripts, articles, exhibits, and other outreach materials. I work WITH scientists to help them communicate. And, to do my job, I rely on scientists who can communicate their science. And, if they can’t, then all I’m left with are press releases and institutional puff pieces. THAT’s why I want to see more young scientists at least take a course or two to help them communicate their research to people like me. Sure, it’s a selfish reason — it helps me do MY job better, but it also brings scientists into the realm of communication — of being part of the conversation about science.
At the ASP meeting this past week I heard a statement from a panelist about how young scientists at an institution this person works with are encouraged NOT to get too involved in outreach too early in their careers — because they should concentrate on the science and the grant-getting and paper-writing, etc. Apparently it’s better to do outreach when one is an older scientist, more set in one’s career. I suppose this makes some kind of sense, but it also made me kind of sad — those are the folks who perhaps are the most enthusiastic part of their careers and this is a really good time to involve them in outreach. So, now I wonder how we can get them into outreach AND make it rewarding while at the same time making sure their research is sustained?
Anybody have any thoughts about this out in the hive mind?