Standing up for science: The nuts and bolts

This post is the final part of a three-part series reporting on a media workshop I attended at the end of June.  The workshop was organised by Voice of Young Science (VOYS), and aimed to help early career researchers effectively engage with the media about science and research.

In this post, I report on the final panel of the day: Standing up for science – the nuts and bolts.  This panel featured Luke Walton (@Luke_Walton), international press officer at the University of Warwick; Leah Fitzsimmons (@barbs86uk), postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Birmingham; and Chris Peters (@senseaboutsci), scientific affairs manager at Sense about Science.  The panellists opened by giving some introductory advice and practical guidance about how early career researchers can get their voices heard in the media.

Panel 3b
Panellists offer practical guidance to early career researchers looking to engage with the media (Photo credit: Sense about Science)

Luke began by saying that academics should ‘start from the end’ when they are thinking about engaging with the media – that is, turn an academic paper on its head and focus on the conclusions first.  He said that the press office at your university will manage the process of writing a press release, but that nothing will be sent out without the researcher’s final approval.  He said that if something is about to be published, that is a good time to get in touch with your university’s press office, but equally, you can also approach them about being on a list of experts that can be called upon to comment on the latest news.

Leah then went on to say that many researchers (particularly early career researchers) might think “Who am I to comment on this?”, but advised that if you have expertise in an area and your training gives you enough insight to comment, then you are qualified to comment, even if your research isn’t necessarily on that exact topic.  Luke also noted later on that, when talking about your research, you know more than most other people in the world – stick to what you know, and stick to the facts.

Chris then went on to introduce the Ask for Evidence campaign.  He said that AfE exists to support you in asking for evidence on claims that you see in the media, advertising, and public policy, and that you can see on the website what kinds of things other people have asked about.

Audience 3
Photo credit: Sense about Science

The conversation then turned to how researchers can become involved in science outreach.  Leah said that Twitter is a brilliant vehicle for outreach, and also for finding outreach opportunities.  She said that once you start doing outreach and science engagement, it gathers momentum; whilst you might think you don’t have the time to engage in outreach, once you start making the time you will see the benefits and continue to make time for it.  She said that funding bodies, charities, and learned societies all run outreach events, and members of the audience also noted that there are often local events that are geared around science outreach.

stand up for scienceThe panel then talked about how, with almost anything, you can find a news hook, and Luke advised that the press officer at your university can work with you to find that. Leah noted that, as a researcher, you can get desensitised to the wonder of your research – but there’s a reason why you chose that research area and you’re the best person to identify what’s exciting about it.   She went on to say that it’s an investment in yourself to be able to talk about your research; it’s part of your professional development.  You usually get 4-5 days a year for continuing professional development as part of your PhD – media training is an excellent use of this.  Luke noted that often it’s the ECR who is the one that’s really keen to get engaged with the media – and that that’s more valuable than someone with 30 years of tenure who doesn’t want to engage.  As Ana pointed out, you are experts, even if you haven’t been experts for half a century!

The panellists finished by summing up their advice for researchers:

Chris:

  • Ask for evidence – and hold to account those who are making these claims
  • Put your name forward as someone who can help with making sense of evidence

Luke:

  • Contact your Press Officer
  • Read New Scientist!

Leah:

  • Do something – anything – to stand up for science; we have a responsibility.
  • Science outreach and engagement strengthens your CV
  • Somebody out there inspired you to do what you’re doing – be that person for someone else

This post is the final part of a three-part series.  Part One focuses on a discussion with three researchers who have experience of engaging with the media and the public and Part Two focuses on a discussion with journalists about what they are looking for from researchers.  There is also a separate post listing some fantastic resources that have been provided by Sense about Science and the workshop’s panellists.

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