This article is also available on the Society of Chemical Industry blog.
One of the many commitments I have as part of my PhD training is the public engagement. This means that I have to attend some events and talk about my research or any science to everyone: babies, kids, teenagers, parents, grandparents, mums, dads, literally everyone. I have been always terrified about this as, I am not sure why, I have always thought that people wouldn’t understand or care. So, any time friends or relatives were asking what I was doing in the lab, I was never able to give a proper and comprehensive answer. Moving to England made everything even worse as I had to talk about my research in another language.
My idea of people not caring or understanding about my research was very wrong. In fact, if they ask what I was doing in the lab, it means that they are interested, want to know and are very happy to listen to. It is true that they might not get complicated scientific theories, equations, laws ecc.; but it is my problem to make science and my research accessible to everyone.
I have been receiving loads of training on how to communicate and entertain the general public with science and I want to give a few tips which might help in making the communication easier.
- BE SIMPLE AND AVOID USING TECHNICAL WORDS. Talking to the public is quite different than talking to a panel of academics. Most of the people you are engaging with might not have heard some things before. So, try to be as simple as possible, use loads of example, substitute difficult words with simple ones. For example, the sentence “I synthesised this molecule” can be easily rephrased as “I made some stuff/materials/compounds”. There is no need to be specific. Also, talk clearly and slowly and always ask if what you just said was clear enough for them to understand.
- RELATE YOUR RESEARCH TO EVERYDAY LIFE. Everything happening around us in science. Nature and all the natural events can be explained by physical, chemical, mathematical rules. Telling your story will be a lot easier if you make a comparison with everyday life events. For example, If someone complains about messy housemates, tell them that the state of disorder of the universe is constantly increased according to the second law of thermodynamics so their housemates are behaving naturally.
- ALWAYS MENTION WHY YOUR RESEARCH IS IMPORTANT. Science is progress, innovation and every new scientific discovery will be eventually beneficial for the word of science and the society. Don’t forget that what you are doing is the lab isn’t only important to you, it is important to everyone and other people, companies or the environment can benefit from your research. Make this clear and people will relate to you at once.
- COMMUNICATE YOUR ENTHUSIASM. When you talk about science or your research, be happy and joyful, smile and try to talk to as many people as possible. If people struggle to understand, make a drawing, use Lego, do whatever you can to help the communication. You won’t look stupid, instead, they will appreciate.
I want to share some pictures of some of the public engagement events I have been taking part to over the last two years.
Science in the Park 2016 and 2017
Open days 2016 and 2017
A level Masterclasses in Sustainable Chemistry 2017