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08/07/2020 - Helping Scientists Communicate, Together

By Brooke Smith

illustration of speech bubbles and science iconsThe recently launched SciComm Trainers Network links professionals in this growing field.

They’re experts at asking fascinating questions and designing tests to answer them, but scientists don’t always know the best way to share their discoveries and engage with people about their work. That’s where science communication trainings come in. They help scientists share their research, passions and personal stories in relevant and powerful ways. 

Once considered a luxury, communication trainings are becoming a vital professional development tool for scientists. They improve scientists’ leadership skills, hone their ability to work across disciplinary boundaries, and even help with things like delivering that critical job talk. As scientists - especially early-career scientists - are looking to engage more with the broader public, be ambassadors for science, work more effectively within academia, and advance in a competitive job market, communications trainings are become an essential part of a scientists’ training. 

More and more communication training programs have come on the scene in the last decade. Some of these are based at universities to serve their campus, others are based at universities but serve research enterprises beyond their campus, some are independent non-profits, some private consultants, and many are at scientific societies to serve their members. This explosion of communication trainings programs has often meant individual programs are created independently. While this breeds important innovation and creativity, and we applaud the momentum, it can also lead to reinventing the wheel (and sadly at times, maybe reinventing a flat tire) and misses opportunities for shared learning and exchange of developing practices. 

Given this, we’re proud to be a partner in helping launch and support the SciComm Trainers Network – a new professional network for those who do, study and are otherwise involved in science communication training. This launch builds on years of community building and understanding opportunities and challenges for scientists and communication trainers. In 2017, The Kavli Foundation and the Rita Allen Foundation supported leading science communication scholars Dr. John Besley of Michigan State University and Dr. Anthony Dudo from the University of Texas, Austin, to interview science communication trainers to understand their collective opportunities and challenges. Their research showed the growing appetite for trainer’s services, especially from early-career scientists and students. 

Their work also uncovered a number of questions and challenges for the communication training community including. How can we make social science research about effective communication accessible so it is readily incorporated into training practice? How do we measure efficacy and impact of trainings (especially when resources are limited)? How do we make trainings inclusive and support a diverse group of trainers and participants? 

group photo of the Science Communication Trainers meeting, formalizing a new professional networkScience Communication Trainers meet, formalizing a new professional network.

When we convened about 30 communication trainers to discuss these findings and their training experiences (notably, this was the first time people who do science communication trainings met in the same room, intentionally, together), there was an overwhelming desire to work collectively. Laura Lindenfeld, director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science, and Amanda Stanley, director of COMPASS, raised their hand and worked to lead further community building of their peers. In late 2019, during a summit of about 50 trainers (hosted by partners and network co-funder, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative), the group agreed it was time to formalize their community. And now, the Science Communication Trainer Network has now officially launched

This network has important and ambitious goals. They are looking to professionalize the field of science communication training, create a shared identity, diversify who does trainings and who benefits from trainings, increase inclusivity, share promising practices, strengthen their capacity, explore how to move their efforts virtually, link social science research with their craft, and grow more resources for the field. 

At The Kavli Foundation, our mission is to advance science for the benefit of humanity. Our Public Engagement with Science Program is a critical part of realizing this mission. A core strategy of our program is to build capacity and provide support for the field of public engagement professionals, and support scientists in their communications efforts.  We recognize that science is a human endeavor, and sits within our society. We believe that scientists play a critical role in sharing their stories, knowledge, insights, research and passion directly with the public. We also recognize that for scientists to do this well, they must partner with professionals (like communication trainers) who can empower scientists in their storytelling and connection with audiences and help them navigate their communication journey. If the Scicomm Trainer Network is successful (and knowing this community of entrepreneurs, driven by a passion for their work and their love of science – they will be!) more scientists will have access to opportunities to be supported and empowered to engage with the wider world. At a time when so many scientists want to be sharing and listening more, and at a time when the world is looking to science for hope and progress, we can’t wait to see what this network will do.

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