What is science communication? What does a science communicator do?
Science communication is a channel for dialogue between the scientific community and the public. Science communication is what presents evidence-based knowledge and important scientific findings to all levels of society – from individuals to policymakers. The aim is to inform better decision-making – whether it is individuals deciding how much exercise they need, or a government deciding on public health priorities. Think about it: if there are great discoveries being made in the lab on,for example, healthy ageing, or eating the right things, shouldn’t this be communicated effectively to the public?
Science communication is a growing and expanding field.
Most organisations involved in scientific research prioritise communicating their research portfolio to a variety of audiences. Often this is essential for raising awareness of their research and to raise funds. Charities in particular now have bigger communications teams than ever before. Universities too have busy media offices communicating with the press due to greater public interest in accurate science news. Professional bodies and learned societies are also very keen on communicating the work of their members. We at The Physiological Society frequently share new and interesting research from our publications, with journalists. We are also very active on social media platforms. Science communication and public engagement are often requirements of bodies involved in research, such as universities and research institutes, to demonstrate how public money is being spent on scientific research. In fact, it is one of the identified purposes of the Research Excellence Framework. The Physiological Society actively supports its Members in their public engagement activities.
Examples of roles in science communication
Science communicators make complex scientific topics accessible to the layperson. Research in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) often overlaps so you may sometimes see the role advertised as STEM communicators.
The responsibilities of science communication roles vary and depend on the organisation you are working for. Below are some examples.
- Science journalist – Most national newspapers and magazines have dedicated science journalists.
- Communications Officer / Press Officer – University press offices are responsible for promoting the exciting and newsworthy research being carried out by their academics. They may also be known as Media Officers.
- Digital Content Officer – Communications teams of science-related organisations have dedicated staff to manage digital content including website and social media management.
- Public Engagement Coordinators – Universities, charities, learned societies and even museums organise public events on scientific topics. Public engagement coordinators organise the public engagement activities, and bring scientists and the public together in fun and interesting ways.
- Medical Writers – Healthcare consulting companies assess clinical evidence and develop communications materials intended for healthcare professionals and other stakeholders. Medical Writers work in public affairs, marketing, event management and medical affairs management.
How do I get involved in science communication?
There is no set pathway to science communication – many people enter the field after discovering a passion for communicating with the public. Some start soon after their first degree, others after their PhDs or even later. It certainly helps to have the research project management experience you gain during your PhD and Postdoc positions.
- MSc Science Communications – Some universities now offer the postgraduate degree course. You can look at individual university sites to find out more.
- Science Media Studentships – Many research institutes have dedicated schemes and studentships in communication roles. These are very competitive and often only open to PhD level scientists.
- Internships – Any science focussed organisation engaged with the media is likely to have work experience opportunities, whether through an established internship programme or temporary roles. These are a great way to kick start your career. Internships may be advertised on specific mailing lists, link to which you will find below.