Teaching Social Media and Science Communication again

Earlier this week I had an opportunity to give a talk not on general science communication but with a zoom on social media and science communication. A field I truly feel at home in, am confident talking about and find super interesting.

The talk was in Danish and given to young researchers attending a Media course for researchers organized by the Danish newspaper Information (Informations Medieskole).

With only 45 minutes at hand I prepared a presentation of about 25 minutes, which seemed so little when there is so much to say and so many examples to share. It was a fine balance to find out whether to give a general introduction (including: what is social media?) or to give a more practical “this is how you get started” presentation. I chose to go for the first solution with a strict programme:

  1. What is social media? (5 min)
  2. How and for what can it be used? (5 min)
  3. Examples (10 min)
  4. Advantages, strengths, risks, limitations (10 min)
  5. Questions/discussion

As expected questions related to “how do I get started” popped up and so to say interrupted the flow a bit, but I guess that this, especially in new fields, is a common challenge and can really only be solved by allowing for more time or perhaps even a whole separate course on how to dive into social media as a researcher. If I was to do the later, I think I would have tried to build it around myself, and show how I got on board and started out from absolutely scratch. I could perhaps even have included a slide on my way to social media into my slides on this occasion. Perhaps I’ll do that next time.

Focusing on blogs, Facebook and Twitter

All in all the presentation went well. I decided to focus on three kinds of social media for science communication: the blog, Facebook and Twitter. Had I had more time I’d definitely included some examples of wikis too (I briefly mentioned it), but time constraints means cutting of and focusing.

blogs

As blog example I chose Rosie Redfield’s blog Rrresearch, which may be considered the executive example of a science blog and the impact it can have. It is a good case to discuss some of the advantages of science blogging including its speed compared to traditional journals, post-publication peer-review, transparency in research, getting feedback during the research process, responding to criticism as it occurs, allow for reflection and focus of thoughts and increased visibility and self-promotion. But it of course also raises questions such as validity, personal bias, time demanding, rushed and unreflected comments, violation of research ethics or institutional policies, risk of scooping etc.

twitter caseFacebook

For Facebook I took the I Fucking love Science page as an example of popularizing science and research in general, and The Center for Healthy Aging at University of Copenhagen’s Facebook page as a way of drawing attention to own research, attempting to initiate discussion and living up to donor wishes. And for Twitter I chose the Microbiology Twitter Journal Club (#microtwjc) and the tweeting done by conservator at Medical Museion in Copenhagen, Nanna Gerdes (@NaGerdes) on her work processes.

Discussion, points I tried to make and those that I thought of later

pictureAs I was ‘warned’ the students were a bunch of people with questions so the presentation of was interrupted by questions, which is great but of course also means that some questions would have been easier to answer later and makes keeping time a slippery task. Coming home after teaching I scribbled down some thoughts. Some especially targeted those students who are by definition skeptical and already think that they spend way too many hours in front of a computer screen. In bullet point format I thought I’d share some of these reflections with you.

  • A point I fear I didn’t make clear enough during my presentation: Social media are an excellent tool for communication with other researcher. Researchers on the other side of the planet, researchers in boarding fields. This has nothing to do with your communication department or with popularizing your research. This has something to do with your life as a researcher, your academic network, and your research process. It’d be a shame to miss out on an opportunity.
  • So far (at least), being on social media for research purposes is not a duty for researchers. It’s an offer, a possibility. If you actively chose to invest time in using them you have a chance of taking advantage of some their functions, which may benefit both yourself and your research. However, it does not come by itself. Social media is a give-and-take media, where you have to contribute/be active in order to benefit. It’s a matter of prioritization. (The same evening after teaching I went to visit my 92 very active grandmother who, if she wanted to, would have no problem using a computer or a mobile phone, however she has chosen not to. The same goes for using social media – it’s a choice.
  • There are pitfalls to using social media and you must use common sense as you do in any other kind of research related communication, discussions, methods, procedures etc!
  • You have to learn how to write a scientific article in order to be published in peer-reviewed journals. You have to learn how to use a smart phone to enjoy its benefits. The same applies to social media. It requires investment of time to get familiar and confident with it. That’s just how it is. But the more you use it the better you get at it. And don’t hesitate to ask people around you for advice. Just like you may ask for recommendations on what app to download to your phone when you go on vacation, ask your colleagues who they follow on Twitter, which blog they follow etc. People are willing to help.
  • On social media the person in charge is YOU. You set your own rules for how you use it, for how often you want to blog, check you twitter feed, respond to comments etc. If you don’t like the way communication people (at your university, in the press etc.) communicate your research do it yourself and supplement their work in a way you’d like to.

I enjoyed very much getting to talk about social media for research purposes, and just realized how much there is to say (making 25 minutes + 20 minutes discussion way too short time). It triggered me to revisit my own Twitter feed (which I have been neglecting lately) and to get blogging again. All in all great side effects.

Literature distributed in advance

In advance the students had been given three texts to read:


Teaching Marie Curie PhD students

I might worry a bit excessively before and be afraid that I won’t be able to give an interesting talk or teach students anything, but then while I’m doing it and afterwards I realize that I really enjoy it. Teaching.

Its been a year now since the public health masters course in Public Health Science Communication at University of Copenhagen took off. Since it finished in December 2012 I have only taught science communication a few times. Last week I got a new dosage of interaction with students to discuss the communication of science.

MariecurieactionsI was invited to give an introduction to science communication to a group of 14 PhD students under the Marie Curie Actions Initial Training Networks (ITN)The students all had a background in biology (or similar) and were just into the second year of their PhD. Most of them (if not all) were deep into lab science and were working at the smallest possible scale of the human cell and genetic materials. In my experience lab scientists often represents one of the most challenging group of researchers when it comes to arguing for why the should communicate science. Not because they don’t recognize it as necessary and useful, but primarily because they find it almost impossible to explain what it is they do. Overall these students were not much different.

Focus on you!

Why botherI had three hours at hand on what was equal to a Friday afternoon for the 14 students who after two weeks of presentations, social events and classes where looking forward to returning to their labs and weekends. Combined with the premises that this was an introduction to science communication I decided to try to make the class as fun and as interactive as possible and centered around the students themselves. My four main headlines around which the class was structured were therefore:

  • Why is it relevant to communicate your research?
  • Who would be interested in hearing about what you do?
  • How can you benefit from communicating your research?
  • Are there any tricks to making science communication easier for you?

We did a lot of common brain storming of why one should communicate science, who is involved in science communication and where it takes place. The students were actually pretty good at this at a general level, but when it came down to their own research it seemed like they ran into the barrier that their research field is just so difficult to explain… I hope that at the end of the session the students had gotten some new perspectives on how you can approach communication of your research. For example that research is not just about the facts, theories, hypotheses and results but just as much about curiosity, frustrations, hope, processes, challenges, dreams and collaboration. All things that can be easier to explain than the genetic description of what determines the structure of a receptor protein on a cell involved in the development of fat cells. Or at least easier for the outsider to relate to.

Practical writing tips

abstraction ladderI chose also to allocate some time to some practical communication (mostly writing) tips. Little things that can make writing a little easier, which I learned in School of Journalism. I tried to include some fun examples with little YouTube clips (e.g. The Great Sperm Race as an example of the power of comparison) and sound clips (e.g. Radiolab’s podcasts and experimenting with sounds). And then of course I tried to open their eyes to social media as something that is not only useful in their private life but could play a role in their research and research communication! When I mentioned the word ‘blog’, I saw many rolling eyes, but arguing that even peer viewed journals like Nature uses blogs seemed to legitimize the blog just a tiny bit.

All in all it was great being back in my teaching mode and I hope that the students got something out of it too. I look forward to my next teaching job which is in Copenhagen at Informations medieskole, where I’ll talking to Danish researchers about social media’s role in research and science communication. More on that to follow.


What does Britain’s Science Media Centre (SMC) think of social media for science communication?

smcMost people working with science communication will probably have heard about Britain’s Science Media Centre (SMC) and perhaps also about its front woman Fiona Fox. In case you’ve never heard of it or can’t really remember what it is about the scientific journal ‘Nature’ recently published a news feature on SMC and Fiona Fox which gives a good overview of the centre, its concept and the critic it faces.

Science Media Centre (SMC) is an independent press office that works to get scientific voices into media coverage and policy debates. By doing so the aim is to improve the accuracy with which science is presented to the public. The Centre works with:

  • journalists by providing them with information about science and its related disciplines; and putting them in contact with relevant scientists
  • scientists, engineers and other experts by supporting them in engaging with the media and by creating more opportunities for them to get their voices.
  • Press officers by supporting them when they are working on complex science, health and environment stories.

In addition, the SMC provides expert advice and evidence on issues relating to science in the media.

I won’t repeat the background or work of SMC further on this blog but instead refer to the Nature article or their Science Media Centre website. 

Social media and SMC?

Reading the Nature article with the interview with Fiona Fox and looking at SMC’s website it strikes me how reflections on the use of social media for science communication seems completely absent. It is not mentioned once in the article and on the website they link to their own Twitter account and Fiona Fox’s blog, but other than that there is no reference to social media as a tool or as medium for science communication.

Even in their Top tips for media work to help scientists to work with the media social media is not mentioned with a word, despite the fact that social media provides an excellent opportunity for scientists to communicate their research. Neither is it mentioned in their 10 best practice guidelines for reporting science & health stories. Of course these two guidelines are meant to be a tool on how to prepare for meeting the scientist/journalist and interpret correctly what information they are looking for or sit with, but none the less social media is only growing in influence also among scientists, so advice on checking out if the researcher is blogging about his or her field or using other social media could be worth including. As could advice to scientists on using social media to communicate themselves and use this communication channel as a resource to guide journalists too.

In the Nature article, Fiona Fox says that the part of her job in which she takes the most pride, is convincing once-timid scientists to join the SMC database and speak out. “A real triumph for us is getting a scientist who has worked for 30 years on a really controversial issue and has never spoken to the media,” she says. I wonder if she also encourages them to take communication into their own hands and start communicating through social media as well or if she mainly thinks of them talking to journalists who then do the communication or sign up on the SMC scientist roster….. All in all, I guess I’m quite unclear about what SMC and Fiona Fox thinks of social media for science communication.


Trends in making a career in German science communication

Internships, coincidences, childbearing and passion for communicating seems to be key themes in making a career in science communication in Germany. At least those are some of the conclusions I made when attending Science Communication Career Day at Heidelberg University last week.

scicomcareerdayThe Career Day was all in all a good experience. Logistically well organised and with an interesting bunch of speakers. There was even ‘fancy new media’ involved. A hashtag (#scicomcareerday) had been assigned and it was enthusiastically noted when 20 tweets had been reached and later on 50 tweets! Being beginners in using this it worked remarkably well.

The day was organised with a first session focused on Press and Corporate Communication. The presenters were in general at the level of Head of Communication etc. They all came from a scientific background (predominately in biology and with a ph.d.) but had moved into communication. 5 of 6 speakers were women, and in presenting their road from science to communication they all mentioned “and then I had children…” as one of the reasons for leaving their academic field and getting into science communication, which granted more flexibility. Although many did say that they found communicating to be fun and through internships had found a passion for exactly communicating, I was surprised to find that none of the speakers of the session seemed to have a passion for their scientific area, and that it wasn’t a desire to communicate their knowledge which was of interest to them. My impression was, putting it a bit roughly, that their science background had basically just proved to be an advantage in getting jobs in communication… Perhaps one of the reason I got this impression was that the presenters where at Head of Communication level, and thus had gone on to much more than science communication and also (or primarily) worked crisis communication, corporate communication etc.

The second session made up for the tendency of working with communication in general and not specifically science communication. Especially inspiring were three communication officers from EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory) who with enthusiasm talked about the joy of communicating science. Again, it was clear that internships seems to be the thing in Germany if you want to get into science communication. When asked by the participants (who were primarily ph.d. students at University of Heidelberg) if they should go for getting an internship or take an extra degree in communication or journalism the response was either that it didn’t matter or that they should definitely go for the internships! Not being so well acquainted with how things work in Germany, to me it seemed at bit surprising that this was their main recommendation. I guess however it could be translated into: get practical experience! and that internships is one way of getting this.

All in all, it was a good day and it was fun to get into some German Science Communication. The round table lunch idea, where you could have lunch with a speaker was a good idea and worked okay. Being a career day the objective was of course to inspire to and show how you can also take your science career into a communication direction. This meant that at least the round table I participated in became very focused on the internship discussion and concrete questions about how these internships work.

For me personally, corporate communication took up a little bit too much of the day and I wonder if the participants, being mainly ph.d. students, wouldn’t have found it interesting also to hear about how getting into science communication doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye to your scientific career and how science communication can help your scientific career – but perhaps that could be a whole theme for another career day…

In asking around for science communication networks in Germany it was my impression that there is not formal network and few of the presenters had knowledge about formal science communication training programmes at university (see below), but were much more practice based. As in many other places the science communication community seemed much more to be a personal network thing. Many of the presenters had either worked or done internships with DKFZ (German Cancer Research Center), who was also one of the main organisers of the day, and knew each other from there.

Three study programmes in Science Communication in Germany were mentioned. The all seem to be in German, but none the less I thought I’d share them here on this blog:

Science Communication M.A. (Wissenschaftskommunikation) at Hochschule Bremen – University of Applied Sciences

Science Journalism B.A and M.A. (Wissenschaftjournalismus) at the Technical University of Dortmund

Science Journalism B.A. (Wissenschaftjournalismus) at Darmstadt University


Creating a niche of public health science communication

When you sit in your own little world working on your things, it can be hard to assess how all the different loose ends relate to each other and whether there is any direction and overall frame for what you do. But then an external observer (in this case a journalist) comes along, interviews you for 45 minutes, based on which he picks 7 quotes and writes a short article. And Voila! All of the sudden it sounds like you are super focused, which you probably are, it’s just see hard to see for yourself.

This is what happened to me recently. I agreed to act as a ‘case’ for a journalist writing an article about the opportunities in Denmark to get government support for taking additional education. When I chose to do a one-year degree in Journalism, I was so lucky to be approved for SVU (the State’s Adult Education Support) which meant a monthly allowance during my studies equal to 80% of unemployment support.

The article was published this week in the magazine of the The Association of Danish Lawyers and Economists (and lots of other academics, including people with degrees in Public Health Sciences). Its in Danish, which may prevent lots of my readers to read it, but none the less: below is the article (you can also read it on page 26-27 in DJØFbladet).

DJOEF

What was pleasant for me to read was that the journalist, based on our talk actually assessed that I had created a niche for myself:

“Today, Nina has created a niche for herself where she mixes the methodologies from both of her tool boxes [public health sciences and journalism & communication, edit], when she communicates in her field or teaches at the Faculty of Health [at University of Copenhagen]”.

A field of Public Health Sciences and communication, or Public Health Science Communication. The sound of it feels right to me, and I guess its time to embrace and articulate the niche more to myself and in my introduction of myself to others. I guess it also shows that I wasn’t completely off, when I some time back chose the to name this blog Public Health Science Communication 2.0.


Public health science communication – an 8th goal for public health training in the 21st century

European journal of public healthIn the latest issue of the European Journal of Public Health, a wish list for what public health training should look like in the 21st century is giving by Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: Seven goals for public health training in the 21st century

Having a bachelor and masters degree in public health sciences from University of Copenhagen, I know for a fact that at least in a Danish context public health science communication has not been part of the curriculum for public health students in the later part of the 20th or the first part of the 21st century. None the less, when I saw the headline of Martin McKee’s article, I was hoping that science communication would be an ambition for modern public health training.

Martin McKee article2

Unfortunately, I was to be a bit disappointed. The article starts out well, stating the need to “prepare people to engage actively in a complex and changing world in ways that improve the health of the population”. So how do you prepare people to engage actively in ways that improves their health? Well, in my world that will require that you as a public health professional and public health scholar can actually communicate what you are doing, what your theories are and what findings come out of your hard work. And that you can engage into conversation and discussion with the public and subgroups of the public (e.g. policy makers, researchers in other fields). In short, that you can communicate public health sciences.

Public health science communication is not mentioned directly as one of the 7 goals. In short that goals Martin McKee lists are:

  1. Stimulate curiosity
  2. Encourage social entrepreneurs who are willing to take the initiative
  3. Make epidemiological connections and understand the biological mechanisms behind
  4. Convey the big picture, expanding Koch’s postulates or Bradford Hill’s criteria of causality with mathematical models to provide evidence of links
  5. Make public health students literate about what (and who) they are up against
  6. Engage with key decision makers at all levels and be confident to speak up.
  7. Ground human rights into public health approaches

For all seven goals, science communication plays a key role, but is only partly mentioned under goal 6, articulating the need for public health people to be confident to speak up and share their knowledge. The only other time communication is touched upon is as an encouragement for public health professionals to not just stay updated on public health news but go beyond the scientific literature:

More than ever, the public health professional needs to read the Economist, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.”

No suggestion is however broad forward about also contributing and communicating public health through these channels. Shouldn’t public health people aim to let their voice, knowledge and opinions be heard outside the ‘traditional’ public health media?

Another element missing in Martin McKee’s list is the IT reality of the 21st century and how Web2.0 already have and is still changing public health research and practice. He mentions the need for public health people to acquire a great deal more self-confidence and points out how:

with a fast internet connection, most students could do a much better job of understanding the topics they [politicians and social commentators] addressed”.

But the potential for new ways of communicating and engaging with the public broad forward by social media and other technologies is not mentioned at all.

Make public health science communication the 8th goal

Communication is almost a precondition for all other 7 goals, which is why I would argue that it deserves to be a goal in itself. Public health students should be given competences in communicating what they do, why they do it and taught how communication can benefit not only the people they are trying to help but also their own work (which then again will come to the benefit of the public). Public health is, as Martin McKee opens the article, not just a collection of different disciplines or the goals it seeks to attain. It is much more. Exactly this ‘much more’ however requires communication. Public health science cannot (meaningfully) exist in its own little universe. It only comes to life when it steps out of the public health sphere and meets the rest of the world. This, however, requires that we as public health people are dressed to meet the world and to communicate with it. Let’s make public health science communication skills the 8th goal of public health training in the 21st century.

The article by Martin McKee is unfortunately hidden behind a pay wall, but you can read an extract here: Seven goals for public health training in the 21st century.


2013, Science Communication, Public Health, Bonn

Some new years bring with them just a change of numbers – other new years bring bigger changes. 2013 seems to be of the later categories. At least if you consider moving to a different country a change. Starting from later this January, I will exchange my Copenhagen address for an address in Bonn, Germany. I guess you could claim that I’ll start a new life as a Bonn-girl.

To those who are unfamiliar with German geography

To those who are unfamiliar with German geography

I have on previous occasions moved abroad to take on new jobs (in China, Switzerland and Japan) but this time no fixed job awaits me. Rather, I have the opportunity to explore different options, try out my freelance skills and at the same time live with the person dearest to my heart.

I must admit that I know very little about Bonn. Both in general but also when it comes to the activities in science communication and in public health. Actually, I know very little about the status of science communication in Germany in general. However, since I plan to stay in the field of Public Health Science Communication, which I find to be both super interesting and a an important topic for public health, I truly can say that look forward to exploring it.

Apart from finding out what goes on in Science Communication in Germany, I still plan to have my feet planted into Danish Public Health Science Communication – as well as into global Public Health Science Communication. One of the wonders of social media (and the internet in general) is that it really doesn’t matter where you are – you are free to  work and stay connected with the entire world.

So far I haven’t got a clear-cut plan for my Bonn life, but lots of ideas, already a few assignments and a long list of opportunities. Bonn is a UN-city with a bunch of UN agencies present, so it is likely that I can engage with them. Especially due to the fact that I have experiences working with them already. The United Nations University is located in Bonn and several German Universities are close by (Bonn University, University of Cologne to mention a few) as well as a number of international NGOs and other organisations are based in Bonn. If they are not already working on science communication and social media then there is certainly a lot of new ground to made there!

Should any reader of this blog know of relevant people to in Germany to engage with,  Institutions working on science communication and social media, University courses related to science communication etc. please don’t hold back. I’d love to hear about it.

I promise to keep you all on posted on my doings in Public Health Science Communication in Bonn and in the rest of the world. So far assignments with the Department of Public Health, Medical Museion, and the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at University Copenhagen will take up my time as will communication assignments with the European Regional Office of the World Health Organisation (WHO). I would also love to explore opportunities for continuing teaching Public Health Science Communication. Perhaps the course Public Health Science Communication which I taught last year at University of Copenhagen can be adapted to other universities….

Anyhow, with this first blog post of 2013 I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year where ever you are based. Bonn adventures awaits and I look forward to you being a part of them. If not in any other ways, then by following my scribbles here on this blog.

2013-free-wallpaper-06