From Bench to Blog
From the bench to blog: 3 things to consider
Some scientists thrive within the sterile confines of a laboratory. Others, despite having formal laboratory training, prefer to talk more about science than to actually perform it. If you identify more with the latter, here are some things to consider before delving into the more casual world of science communication:
Simplify, simplify, simplify
Strange as it may seem, a lot of basic science definitions are considered jargon by the general public. Yes, even seemingly ubiquitous terms such as gene and atom. In our daily interactions with other colleagues, we carelessly throw around such words (plus even more complicated ones, like electrophoresis) and unwittingly continue to speak the same way outside the laboratory.
In doing so, we alienate the very people we are supposed to help. We need to resist the temptation to show off by using highly technical terms. When speaking to non-scientists, always be mindful of the words you use and take care to define each specialized word before explaining more about the topic. Better yet, substitute jargon with more common alternatives. For example, instead of saying autoclaved, use sterilized instead, and so on.
We’re used to writing lengthy manuscripts for publication due to the sheer amount of data and details required. This linguistic luxury, however, cannot be applied when writing popular science articles or blog posts. With Microsoft estimating the current average human attention span at eight seconds, it’s becoming increasingly important to learn how to effectively distill scientific information in a compelling manner.
When writing for the public, we need to put ourselves in their shoes and force ourselves to discern which points they would actually appreciate. Always stop and think – would they really appreciate this wordy discourse on the merits of a certain technique over the other? Maybe your fellow researchers would, but not the general public. We could all take a cue from James Watson and Francis Crick, who were able to elegantly summarize their momentous discovery of the structure of DNA in a single page in Nature.
Take time to review
Similar to how doctors specialize in medicine, research interests also tend to become more specialized throughout a scientist’s career. Over time, we become accustomed to only discussing these highly specific and seemingly obscure topics to the point of neglecting the basics of our field. Despite being a fresh graduate of molecular biology, I myself am guilty of this. I was once left speechless when I had to define oxidation and reduction for a group of young children during a science demonstration. While I definitely knew how these reactions fit into various biological processes, I struggled to explain the simple act of transferring electrons. Embarrassing, right?
No matter how accomplished you are, it’s important to reacquaint yourselves with the basics every once in a while to avoid such incidents. After all, these often overlooked basics are what usually interests the general public – and are also what likely drew you to the field in the first place. Taking the time to review these concepts would not only help you communicate your research better, but could also have the added bonus of letting you rediscover your love for your field.
Ultimately, the goal of science communication is to make science more accessible. We communicate so that the public can have a greater understanding of why we do what we do. We communicate to inspire more people to join the exciting world of scientific research (and hopefully have more peoplepower in the labs – kidding!). As the old adage goes, the more the merrier. This certainly holds true in the world of science.