Exploring science communication in… Heidelberg, Germany

When I moved to Bonn, Germany six months ago it was with great ambitions of exploring the German (Public Health) science communication community. Somehow time flew by and different job opportunities, unexpected travels, practicalities and even sickness kept me from getting started on my exploring.

But last week, into my inbox dropped an email with an update from one of the LinkedIn groups I follow (it’s called Science Communication). The headline was Career Day in Heidelberg: Science Communication and Journalism. After orienting myself on a map and finding Heidelberg to be only two hours train ride from Bonn, I decided to sign up for the day.

heidelbergposterThe Career day is organised by Heidelberg University Graduate School (HBIGS) and German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ). It’s a one-day event organised as a seminar with presentations and panel discussions and then an opportunity to have a round table lunch with one of the speakers for a more informal chat. I have signed up for lunch with Dr. Monika Mölders, who is working for the medical company Roche.

As I understand it, the presenters are mainly scientists whom have gone on to become professional communicators. Some work at Press and Public Relations Offices others work with Corporate Communication at companies and others are science journalists.

Practically all the names on programme are new to me, so I look forward to meeting them and hopefully get into the German Science Communication community. Coming to science communication from a public health perspective it is also great to see that there is a good representation of people from health related organisations (perhaps not so surprising now that one of organisers is the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ)).

Should you want to join, but is not at as easy distance to Heidelberg as I happen to be then they give you the option of “receiving information without attending”. Am not sure what that means, but if you go to the registration page you can check this option at the bottom of the page and see what happens.


Systematic review: Social media for health communication

JMIRBack to the real world after two weeks in amazing Japan, I found in my Twitter profile a link to a recently published article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. It didn’t take more than reading the title to know that this article could be interesting – at least for someone like me:

“A New Dimension of Health Care: Systematic Review of the Uses, Benefits, and Limitations of Social Media for Health Communication”

Based on 98 original research studies the authors have set out to review published literature on social media for health communication in order to identify the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication among the general public, patients, and health professionals. Secondly, they aim to identify current gaps in the literature and provide recommendations for future health communication research.

The paper gives a comprehensive overview of the topic and the reference section is a great resource list.

If you’re not up for reading the paper in its entirety, three of the tables gives a great summary of the findings. Follow the link to the paper above or check out the tables at the end of this post.

What about science communication?

One thing that strikes me is that if you take a look at table 3, which lists the different uses of social media for health communication, the use of social media for communicating science and research in health is not on it. Neither when it comes to research communication between health professionals nor communicating health related research to the public is mentioned. An interesting and slightly surprising find I would say. Granted, it could to some extend figure under the categories ‘Providing health information’, ‘Proving answers to medical questions’ and ‘Facilitate dialogue between patients and health professionals’, but none the less it is not a category in it self. Whether this is because it has not be the focus of any research studies, or doesn’t take place at all is hard to tell. I believe (and hope) however, that it is the later.

None the less, the article underscores the growing role and importance of social media in health and in health communication, and shows that it cannot and should not be ignored.

Table 3 – Uses of social media for health communication 

Table 3 - JMIR

Table 4 – Benefits of using social media for health communication –

Table 4 - JMIR

Table 5 – Limitations of social media for health communicationTable 5 - JMIR


Experiences with teaching Public Health Science Communication

On my list of things to do writing a blog post about my experiences with teaching Public Health Science Communication to graduate students at the University of Copenhagen has been high-up for a while. However, moving to Bonn, Germany and other minor things have somehow managed to overrule the writing of this post. But its time – also to avoid the experiences being stored too far back in my mind to be brought forward.

So how did it go? Did the students find it useful? What went well? Would I repeat a course like this again? And if so, what would I do differently? There are lots of questions to answer, so I thought I’d go through them one by one.

How did it go?

Overall, I think it went quite well. At least all students passed and it wasn’t criticized apart by the students. I’d even like to think that the students learned something new and useful. And just as important: I learned a lot! Both about science communication in relation to public health and about teaching public health science communication.

Did the students find the course useful?

It is very often difficult to get a clear impression of whether students found a course useful or not, and the fact that only few students filled in the online evaluation questionnaire and that only about half of the class attended the last module, where we did a short oral evaluation of the course, makes it even more difficult. However, based on the students who did participate in the evaluation I think it would be alright to conclude that the students on the whole were happy with the course. From the online evaluation most of them indicated that the study objectives of the course were met (and I assume they to some extend joined the course on the basis of these), and they rated their overall study-relevant benefit as ‘very good’ or ‘good’. I was also very happy to see that a most of the students who filled in the online evaluation found the course very relevant to their general Public Health education.

From the oral evaluation the comments were also in general positive. The students expressed that it had in many ways been a very different course, with much less hardcore theory than many of their other graduate courses. Some also mentioned that the fact that the centre of attention to a much higher degree than in other courses had been on themselves as individuals and researchers, had been interesting but at the same time a challenge. They expressed that they were more used to focus on the objective of Public Health, which is usually the public and not so much on their own role in this. I found this interesting, and recalling my own time as a Public Health student it is true that it was rarely about ourselves and our current and future roles in public health (one could talk about our subjective role), but much more about all the other players in public health, of course including the public itself.

examAnother thing I found interesting, was that when asked about the syllabus, the students in general seemed happy with the selected literature, except many of them expressed that they found the blog posts too chatty and recommend them taken out in future courses. I myself had put a lot of thought into allowing different kinds of literature. In part to illustrate that science communication is not just about text books and peer-reviewed journals. I guess they as university student have by now just been a little brainwashed to prefer good old scholarly texts over the more ‘chatty’ and personal writing styles…

What went well?

videnskab.dkMedical museionIn my own opinion, many things went well. The balance between having myself as the main lecturer and having great guest lectures (thank you to them!) was good (I taught about half of the modules). It also worked well and was a good change to get out of the class room and go on field trips. One to Videnskab.dk, a Danish popular science news website, and to Medical Museion.

I’m happy also that I chose to make a compendium rather than assigning a textbook. Partly due to the fact that there isn’t yet a book out there on Public Health Science Communication, but also because it was good to be able to through different kinds of texts to illustrate the many forms of science communication.

Another things I found was successful was trying to use as many real life examples. Ranging from case studies (although it would have been nice to have more), to YouTube clips, podcasts, blogs etc.

Despite some worrying comments from some of the participants prior to finishing the exam, I also think that the task of writing an introductory chapter on Public Health Science Communication worked well. Some students expressed that they found that an exam more focused on actually trying to communicate a specific public health challenge would have been more appropriate and useful instead of what they regarded being an assignment to refer theory of science communication. I (of course) tend to disagree. Writing an introductory chapter on Public Health Science Communication is also an example of communicating a scientific field – it just happened to be a field (and a way of thinking) that was new to them.

What would I do differently? 

It is funny what time does. Looking back at the course now, with some months having passed, I have a hard time recalling all the things I would have changed. Because at one point I thought there were many. However, some do come to mind:

I think I would have tried to include more real life examples of science communication – both good and bad examples, and perhaps have challenged the students to analyse both and suggest why they worked and why the didn’t.

Despite having the primary focus on the communicator (the public health professional) rather than looking at the receiver, I think I would in a future course try to incorporate a little more on how publics benefits from public health science communication, and perhaps try to allocate some more time to going through how one can become better at understanding and writing to a specific target group. This will present a different challenge, because the course is not a writing course.

Actually, I found the that finding a balance between being a course on principles, trends and theories in science communication and a writing, hands-on course quite difficult. I am sure that in a repetition of the course, this would again be a difficult balance to get right.

It’s always difficult to get students to discuss, but in a future course I’d try to make room for more discussion and student involvement. My own take-home message from teaching this course, is that I should keep in mind, that science communication is not an exact science and that I, despite being the teacher, does not have all the answers…

Would I repeat a course like this again?

Yes, I think I would. For many reasons. One, I thought it was fun and inspiring to teach. Second, I was confirmed in my belief that introducing public health students to the importance of science communication is very much relevant – if not essential. And finally, I learned a lot from the process and I would love to see how a version 2.0 of the course would go about.

Did I forget to mention something important in the post? Probably – but I promise to add them (or do an additional post) if and when things come to mind. I also welcome my students to share their views and correct me if I’m wrong, and I would be happy to answer questions from anyone interested in hearing more of my experiences with teaching Public Health Science Communication.

Public health science communication


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



Online Science Communication the French way

Science communication and the internet is becoming a topic all over the world. Also France are tuning in on it. A conference next week at the Pasteur Institute brings people together to discuss how science communicated via the internet can help bring science to a wider public.

The conference which is entitled ‘Communiquer la science via internet’ takes place on the 25 September and you can read the programme here.

The conference aims to promote reflection and dialogue between science producers and citizens to improve science communication.

The conference is number three in a series of conferences focusing on communicating science. The initiative for the conference comes from a number of research institutions (Andra, CEA, Genopole, Inserm, Institut Pasteur, IRD, Cemagref), IHEST (Institute des Hautes Etudes pour la Science et la Technologie) and Universcience,

The conference is aimed at producers of science, public communicators, program designers, animators sites, the media, and the Internet.

Thanks to Karine Blandel from Signsofscience.org for letting me know of the conference.