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BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

How to Get Involved in Science Communication as a Graduate Student

Authors: Negeen Halabian and Vanessa Parise

Why science communication is important for graduate students?

As graduate students living through a pandemic, we have seen first-hand the effects of ineffective science communication. The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that science has an enormous impact on our daily lives. From mask mandates to vaccine distribution, scientific research has played a critical role in guiding public health policies. Despite this, there has been a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding the pandemic. Responsible and ethical communication is an essential aspect of effective engagement, and social media platforms are becoming increasingly popular for science communication, however they come with both benefits and risks. Maintaining scientific integrity and ethical conduct is of utmost importance while engaging in social media use. We must remember that we are representing a larger body of scientists and we can play a significant role in shaping public opinion, educating the public, guiding policies, and interacting with academics from diverse fields.

While we recognize the importance of science communication, engaging in it can be a daunting task. In the following sections, we will explore how to effectively communicate your research and the strategies available to you at McMaster University to make your research more accessible to the public.

What does effective science communication look like?

The first step to effective science communication is understanding the different types of communication available to you, and to choose an accessible and appropriate medium that is well-suited for your target audience and communication goals. Deciding on your target audience goes hand-in-hand with your communication goals. Below, you will find the three major types of audiences, and the most suitable means of communication within that target audience:

  1. Academics/professional WITHIN/OUTSIDE your field of study: When communicating with individuals that have knowledge of the information within your field of study, it is best to present information in either a written or oral format. This includes systematic/scoping reviews, journal articles presenting novel research, or conference presentations.
  2. Academics/professionals OUTSIDE of your field of study: When communicating with individuals that are not knowledgeable about your field, but are accustomed to the academic sphere, it is best to choose communication methods that are both informative and visual in nature. An example of this would be an informative webinar where interactive visuals accompany your presentation.
  3. Common layperson: The most important thing to remember when communicating with the common layperson is to keep your information eye-catching, exciting, and engaging. The most common ways to communicate are through infographics, social media posts, or podcasts. 

What are some resources/ways to get involved?

Now that you're equipped with how to communicate your research, the next step is to get involved! There are options available both within and outside of McMaster. Below you can find information on some of the resources and opportunities available to you. 

At McMaster University

    1. GradFlix (Only open to thesis-based M.Sc. and Ph.D. students): Gradflix is a competition in which you are to creatively display your research in layman’s terms in a 60-second video. It challenges its participants to think of a fun and imaginative way to communicate complicated terms that a non-academic individual can understand.
    2. Graduate Student Services at the library: The library is not just for books and a quiet study space. The libraries at McMaster offer one-on-one consultation services by appointment only as well as free and accessible workshops regarding a variety of common concepts in research communication.
  1. Coursera: Coursera is an online learning platform with a variety of self-paced online courses. There are a plethora of courses available (for free!) to the public to learn more about science communication and test your skills.

  2. YouTube and Podcasts: YouTube and science information podcasts provide amazing examples of both the good and the bad of science communication. Immersing yourself in the world of science communication can help you find the skills you need to effectively communicate your research.

 As graduate students, it is crucial to recognize the significance of effectively engaging in science communication with our colleagues and the public. We have a responsibility to promote science communication literacy among academics and utilize the available resources and opportunities to bridge the gap between science and the public. By taking action, we can combat misinformation and empower the public, ultimately contributing to the betterment of society.