This is a response to a comment on LinkedIn from Prof. Alexander Gerber on my video interview for the EMBL careers blog. Please go read his comment first. Otherwise my response here might not make much sense.
Thank you for your long comment, Alexander. We are both proponents of the professionalisation of science communication. In fact, the mission of my employer, the National Institute for Science Communication (NaWik) is to help scientists to communicate better and all our activities have the aim to increase and foster their communication competences.
The professionalisation of science communication also includes nurturing its academic discipline and translating the findings of the science of science communication into practice. Very relevant for me, there is even the science of science communication training. This recently published book has contributions from both theory and practice.
In my opinion, professionalising science communication also means implementing an incentive-and-reward system for communicating scientist of all disciplines. It means establishing evaluation criteria for engagement activities by funders and employers. The professionalisation of science communication also includes support services, such as the science media centre.
Alexander, the YouTube interview you are basing your comment on, is essentially the uncut version of an interview I gave for a blogpost on career alternatives for the EMBL careers blog. The EMBL is a world-leading research institute specialising in basic research in the life sciences, funded by public funds from more than 20 member states. More than 800 staff work at their headquarters in Heidelberg, probably the same number of scientists are employed at their five outstations.
The blogpost was essentially targeted to late stage PhD students and postdocs at EMBL who would like to get an overview of career alternatives beyond academic research. Working in science communication is perceived as one such alternative, and my interview was one example for someone who – as an EMBL alum – has made this move.
My personal experience with blogging for a dozen years now, the many discussions with friends and colleagues who actively communicate science – and often perform research at the same time; the feedback from the participants of almost 100 days of communication training for scientists over the past five years, as well as numerous examples and statements in books and blogs and in the scientific literature (see here for a recent one) confirm my points:
- Online media and the rise of science engagement events have made it very easy for scientists to start communicating science to a wider audience.
- In addition to external reasons (to give back to society, to educate) and personal reasons (because my funder asks me to do so, to advance my career, to get feedback from others), scientists often report to simply enjoy communicating.
- Someone with a PhD in molecular biology does explicitly not need to graduate from a structured science communication degree programme before she can start to engage with audiences beyond her peers.
- The professionalisation of our field increases with more scientists with different backgrounds entering. (Please send me a link to this study listing the 600 degree programs, once published. I am happy to pass it on when asked for career advice.)
- And yes, someone with a cell biology background and an interest in science communication can often explain better her research topic in particular and her field in general, than someone who enjoyed formal education in science communication and now needs to start understanding how cells work.
Alexander, I believe your comment was an attempt to promote evidence-based science communication and to criticise amateurish engagement attempts by scientists without an academic background in your field (for their own protection). What your comment instead does, is to promote an elitist view of science communication, handing the prerogative to communicate science to a select few.
Scientists of all disciplines are part of society and damn well should engage with friends, family, their communities and beyond, be it online or offline. Science literacy is low. We need voices of reason and engaged experts. Because the climate change deniers, fake news sellers, alternative medicine quacks and sugar pill believers will certainly not be deterred by your professional standards.