Friday Action Item: Have a science conversation with a non-scientist

In the wake of the recent U.S. election, we’ve started these “Friday Action Item” posts with ideas about specific things you can do to support science — from calling Congress to helping crowd-fund a cool new research project. Got a suggestion for a future Action Item? E-mail and tell us all about it!

This time of year many of us take time off to visit friends and family but that doesn’t mean our work as scientists should stop. Now more than ever, we must be advocates for science through effective communication, outreach, and engagement with the general public. Unfortunately, when we spend most of our time caught up in the nitty gritty details of a complicated analysis or sophisticated theory, it can be difficult to switch gears and talk with a “non-scientist”* about why our work, and science in general, is broadly important (and super cool!). Below are a few resources that will help you engage your sister/father/aunt/in-law/neighbor/uber driver/person sitting next to you on the plane/etc in a productive, accessible conversation about science.

9 Tips For Communicating Science To People Who Are Not Scientists

  • Don’t use jargon, get to the point, and “flip the script” as in the figure above.

Science Communication as a Moral Imperative

  • “[Your job] really isn’t to land big grants for your university, crank out obscure academic publications by the dozens, and amass a long list of peer citations. As scientists, your real job should be to make great discoveries and share them with the world.”

Effective Communication, Better Science

  • “Know your audience. Who are they? You always need to know who you are trying to reach, as it affects everything else you do.”

*I put the term ‘non-scientist’ in quotes because I would argue that everyone is a scientist in some way, shape, or form!

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About Melissa DeBiasse

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience. As an evolutionary ecologist I am interested in the processes that generate biodiversity in marine ecosystems. My research uses experimental methods and genomic and phenotypic data to test how marine invertebrate species respond to biotic and abiotic stressors over ecological and evolutionary timescales.
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