EMCR Agony Aunt

Old style manual typewriter with blank paper inserted
EMCRs are encouraged to get in touch with their problems.

Q

Dear Agony Aunt,

I see all these other EMCRs in the media talking about science. Should I be doing this too? I’m a bit shy and awkward, and I don’t really know where to start. Is anyone even interested in what I do? It’s a pretty niche field…

Sincerely,

Dr Fameseeker

A

Dear Dr Fameseeker,

Firstly, if your research is worth doing it is surely worth telling people about. Communication and outreach help demystify STEM, promote your institute, educate non-scientists and help you get opportunities. That said, not everyone is comfortable in the spotlight, so not every scientist needs to communicate to a broad audience.

If you do want to give it a go, start small. Let your institution’s comms department know that you would like media training and are available to provide expert comment on your field to journalists. Then you can start interacting with the media and building relationships with journalists without having the burden of content creation.

Even if you do ‘blue sky research’ you can communicate with the public by explaining what ‘blue sky’ means and why it is important. If your work is very niche and you can’t find angles for outreach, you could try doing some science communication around your broader field.

When you are ready to produce your own content, go ahead and pitch. Put your effort into opportunities that are timely or topical. Don’t be scared of rejections; media can be fickle and it’s no reflection on you or the value of your research. If you start with written work, you have more time to consider your words and revise. And you will likely get help and feedback from an editor. Try pitching to places like The Conversation or your local newspaper. Written work can often lead to opportunities to do radio or TV interviews, because this is one of the places that broadcast producers source their content.

If you get asked to do radio or TV, never agree to record or go to air immediately. A clever trick is to ask a few questions about the content and format, then say you are in a meeting and ask them to call back. This buys you time to prepare. When you are being interviewed, just focus on talking to the host, don’t think about the masses of people listening or watching at home.

Whatever the media channel, stick to plain language. This might seem obvious but it’s not always easy to step away from the scientific language that you use every day. Watch how the best communicators do it, and practise on someone who doesn’t have a science background.

Getting out of your comfort zone is scary but it can be very rewarding. Have a look at our meeting report from Science Pathways in 2015 for more information—it was all about communication!

Yours truly,

EMCR Agony Aunt

© 2020 Australian Academy of Science

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