Science blogging, illustration, and journalism each had their moments at a Science Communications Seminar hosted by the Behavioral Neuroscience Seminar team on Friday, July 8.
The event was led by neuroscience graduate student Alyssa Ash as part of a professional development series. The seminar introduced researchers to a variety of ways to use science communication to their advantage.
In the first speech, associate professor in psychology Dr. Jason Snyder shared his experiences as a pioneer in his field and an active blogger. According to Snyder, blogging provides an “informal way to share opinion[s]“ with more personality than a typical academic record.
Snyder’s blog not only demonstrates the effective use of a blog for sharing new research, but also highlights the academic value of sharing resources. A picture collage on his blog easily summarizes a complex research question, providing a quick visual summary of data from multiple reliable sources. An unofficial bibliography compiled by Snyder on his blog is another useful resource that has even been formally cited in an academic paper.
Platforms like FigShare offer students and researchers a way to communicate their work to a wider academic audience, according to Snyder. He recommended this resource to students as a reliable platform to cite on CVs and another opportunity for citations in academic journals.
The “aesthetic” side of scientific communication was emphasized in the second speech of the seminar, where scientific illustrator and communication coordinator for the department of zoology Dr. Sylvia Heredia. For Heredia, images are an essential tool in communicating “wonderful” ideas.
“Science is becoming more and more complex. That I, in order to understand, have to see it,” she said.
Heredia’s illustrations bring to life the science he aims to convey. From lab logos to visual abstracts, Heredia’s contributions to the zoology department demonstrate the effective use of images to explain technical methods, processes, and research questions.
Heredia’s successful career in scientific illustration – after a doctorate in ecology and plant sciences and a certificate from a Scientific Illustration Program – offers STEM art students a way to bring their passions together.
Final speaker Vanessa Hrvatin, science communication specialist and former communications coordinator for the Djavad Mowafaghian Center for Brain Health, touched on the tortuous journey to finding your chosen career path.
After earning a Bachelor of Science with Honors from Queen’s University, Hrvatin knew she liked journal clubs and liked talking about science, but didn’t like spending long hours in the lab. This led her to an impressive career in science journalism, with her portfolio including publications in Maclean’s, The National Post and The Globe and Mail.
Hrvatin’s best advice for budding science communicators centered on two things: eliminating jargon and using analogies. Recounting her own experiences, Hrvatin showed how a complicated and lengthy explanation by a researcher can be efficiently summarized in a simple analogy.
“Good science communication takes time, but it’s worth the investment,” Hrvatin said. For interested students, she recommended pitching story ideas to media, networking and practicing writing skills in their spare time. Students with lab connections can even gain useful communication experience by taking responsibility for their lab’s social media and website.
To close the workshop, Ash highlighted ways for neuroscience enthusiasts to get involved in science communication. The Brainiac blog, Neuropsyched, Neuroscience Through the Ages, and Brain Bytes are all run by students in the neuroscience program.
For researchers and students, the workshop highlighted science communication as a means of sharing a passion for science beyond the traditional academic setting.
“I wanted to share all my thoughts, and a newsletter every four years wasn’t going to cut it,” Snyder said. “We all want to share the things we love.”