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Scicomm - why bother?

This month we have a special guest post from Daragh Bradshaw, Irish Research Council PhD student within the Centre for Social Issues Research and the Department of Psychology at UL. Here, Daragh shares some of his scicomm experiences over the last year or so.

In June I presented at Research Fest, a science communication (scicomm) event where PhD students showcase their work in a three minute presentation to an uninitiated audience. Four years of work in three minutes. while I prepared for the event, I was asked, ‘Why bother?’ Why bother take on all the extra effort of preparing the speech, dealing with the nerves, and travelling to an event that will yield no extra module credits, citations or publications. This was particularly relevant as I was intending on submitting my actual thesis in little over three months’ to an examination board. Speaking with the other participants I have heard many compelling answers, but here I will focus on just three of my own: Getting your work out there, developing your skill and confidence; and the simple enjoyment it all.

While getting your message out is a key task as a researcher it can be quite difficult. The publication process ensures only a select few papers ever get published and even if they do, most of the public will never get to see them. But this is wrong! Science should not be about the privileged few. The popularity of Brian Cox, Carl Sagan, TED hour, Future proof, illustrate how if presented in an accessible format people have an inherent thirst for knowledge. Sci-comm is about just this, getting your work out there in a digestible and interesting manner, and there are an ever increasing number of options available to do just that (Famelab, Researchfest, Pint of Science, Bright Club), The advantage of participating is that you not only access people who are interested in your area but also those who are not, or more accurately those don’t know they are interested yet.

Having a platform is one thing, delivering the message is another. Last year in the course of my own research, I was interviewed by a number of journalists from different radio stations and newspapers. It was the first time I have had to talk about my work to a journalist and frustratingly the subsequent headlines did not quite capture what I was trying to say. The difficulty I was having was condensing complex theory and years of work is difficult. It is a skill and with most skills it needs to be practiced. An added benefit of participating on Sci-comm events is that not only will you get the opportunity to hone your skills most events provide coaching on communication and delivery. You get to talk about your work in a context where your passion and enthusiasm as well as the potential of the research are rewarded. In doing so you develop your skill and confidence which will stand to you during your next conference talk, viva or even writing up an impact segment in your next grant application.

Daragh winning the Limerick Famelab heat with top place and the audience prize for his talk "Batman Returns: But should he?"

Finally, I have to say I enjoy it. I have participated in five Sci-Comm events in the past year and for all the added work and anxiety there is an undeniable thrill in the presentation. But more than that, you get to meet researchers from a wide variety of disciplines with fascinating insights into different worlds from parasites, to pulsars; iridescent butterflies powering the internet to fighting disease by modifying your DNA. Being surrounded by other early career researchers from different disciplines, I was struck by how similar our stories and difficulties were. We all were facing progression, supervision, data collection, publication pressures, and uncertain futures. There was an underlining sense of relief and camaraderie.

So when the contestants for this year’s ResearchFest were announced the first thing I noticed was how familiar the names were. I had already presented with almost half of them and was looking forward to presenting my work and developing my skill while meeting new and exciting people and their research along the way.

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