Sarah Myhre and Tessa Hill, two scientists who study the ocean and climate, published an interesting and, at times, challenging conversation on Medium yesterday that touched on an overlooked aspect of professional development in science communication.
As Hill puts it:
What is missing in many of these discussions and documents is how engaging in science communication will impact the scientists themselves. How will scientists walk the line between relaying scientific information and expressing personal views? How will researchers weigh the impact on their career — both positive & negative — that arise from speaking publicly about their work? How can universities and research institutes provide support to scientists who chose to spend time engaging and communicating?
Myhre agrees, noting:
We have almost no conversation within our community about how science communication and media exposure might impact individual scientists. I think this is where much of the moral quandaries exist.
They go on to discuss the hard work scientists have to do examining their own values and, indeed, their ultimate goals, when it comes to communicating to the public, policymakers and media. They also critically examine the practical trade offs scientists have to make when they prioritize communications work.
These are questions every scientist who does research of public import has had to grapple with, but it’s clear that a new generation of scientists is making a significant argument that Myhre articulates succinctly and powerfully:
Our institutions are responsible for evolving along with us.
Absolutely. The communications landscape has radically shifted since I earned my degree in the field. It will continue to do so under our feet and fingertips. Scientific societies, universities and training programs have to embrace constantly shifting communications best practices and effectively convey them to scientists.
But let’s not let these concerns hold us back, Myhre and Hill argue. All these changes mean we also have room to experiment, to figure out new things and to do so knowing that science has so much tell us about our world and about ourselves. Myhre and Hill conclude with a hopeful message suitable for framing and desktop backgrounds:
Be brave: there has never been a more important time to be a well-spoken member of the scientific community.
In fact, I found their message so inspiring, I went ahead and made a desktop background out of it. You can download it by clicking on the image below.
(It’s 1600 x 1200 and the base layer image is from NASA — naturally! — and was taken by Apollo astronaut William Anders.)
You can follow Myhre and Hill on Twitter. Their conversation is well worth a full read; it also includes a discussion of routine sexism in media coverage focused on female scientists that will ring true for many readers, too. Myhre also has another excellent Medium piece in which she guides readers through her process for carefully developing main messages around her research.
Aaron Huertas is a science communicator and public relations professional who lives in Washington, DC.