My first #AAASmtg: on Public Engagement

One of the big focus of the #AAASmtg was on Science Communication and Public Engagement. This is understandable and expected, due to the actual general distrust of science and when more than 70% of the population cannot name a single actual living scientist. How can they believe and trust something (or someone) that they cannot relate to?

But who are “they”? Who’s your audience? Saying just “the general public” is not enough, it is just too broad. Yes, you should speak in a language that is accessible to non-scientists, but you should also focus on your audience. You can reach people many ways – but in the end people listen to their peers, and we must be aware of this community engagement. That’s why it is important to think about the community engagement versus individual engagements! In order to do that, it is important to engage decision-makers. This requires a long-time engagement, partnership, and building trust. There are three different types of engagement: conventional (top down), thick (slow, better results, but hard to do), and thin (fast and easy). Thick and thin do complement each other – important to work on both!

Shut up and listen. Scientists are used to communicate their research through talks, in a monologue form. But communicating science should be a dialogue! You need to be able to communicate your research to laypeople and by the end answer the question “so what?”, giving details and directions. It is not that you have to abandon all your knowledge. (“Don’t be such a scientist” @sciencequiche). Don’t give up your expertise! After people understand you, they will value your expertise and there’s an increase of trust. Trust is the key word here, and this is a two-way street that can only be achieved if you stop just talking but start to listen as well!

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Most scientists agree that they should do Science outreach, and many believe they already do so. But data from a PEW RESEARCH study show that although scientists do engage with other citizens, they are less likely to talk to reporters, use social media, or write blogs. One of the main reasons is because all those engagements TAKE TIME, and time is precious in academia! But the big problem is that most scientists don’t see public engagements as something that can improve their career. Science outreach is not motivated by the institutions, and in many cases, discouraged. That’s why it is important to build a community on your institution, where science outreach is normal and accepted.

 

Scientists are trained to communicate their research in a technical level, but not to talk about its impacts to society. This is not an easy task, as our research usually is so specialized and requires a lot of background knowledge to be fully explained and understood. Currently, science journalism is the major mean through which the public acknowledges scientific discoveries. Scientists usually do not like that, as there is an eternal battle between objectivity vs subjectivity (and there is a lot more about this that I won’t cover in this blog post, but let’s say that this relationship… is complicated!). But not all scientists work with research that will make the NYTimes. Those are only a few percentage of us, and it is important to share not only the big eureka moments, but the small bricks of basic science that eventually will build the wall of knowledge!

Overall, scientists should do more public engagement. But besides being aware of this and communicating your science with people around you, one should learn how to communicate it. Also, public engagement is not something a scientist do just because you “should” do it. We are passionate about our science, our research – it can be fun to pass this to the public. And the more you interact, the more you learn to communicate your science in a broader (and more reachable) language.

PS: This is the third post of my series “My first #AAASmtg”. Here are the links to previous posts about expectations and personal impressions.
PS 2: Further reading: “Science Communication to the General Public: Why We Need to Teach Undergraduate and Graduate Students this Skill as Part of Their Formal Scientific Training

My first #AAASmtg: post-meeting personal impressions

Someone on Twitter described the AAASmtg to me as “overwhelming”. I’ve thought nothing could be more overwhelming than attending to the Society for Neuroscience meeting and dealing with 30k people! Well, it turns it can. It’s not the size of the conference or the amount of people. There is just SO. MUCH. GOING. ON.

There are so many talks happening at the same time, (and such interesting talks) that is tough to choose which one to attend. But once you finally decide which session you’re going, the talks were so rich that really sparks your interest. Besides, loved how the speakers (usually 2-3) would give their take on the subject in about 20 minutes, leaving a really long time for questions and open discussion.

I am still thinking. I am still digesting. I am still choosing which topics I want to cover here on my blog. Planning to write a blog series covering some of the topics discussed and my opinion about them. If you want to have a taste of all sessions I’ve attended, you can check the Storify I’ve created with my tweets and RT from the conference. But for now I am going to talk about my personal experience during the meeting, which was quite remarkable!

One of the first things I realized when I’ve got to the meeting was that your badge has your name and supposedly your institution’s name immediately under it. I left mine blank when I registered, simply because I’m not linked to any academic institution any more, and the name of my company wouldn’t matter less in this context. But of course I added my Twitter handle to my badge (keep wondering why the conference doesn’t add it already?!?)

After a couple of interactions, I wished my real name wasn’t on my badge. As I heard on a TED podcast today, “When we go online, we present a digital version of ourselves”. It turns that although I tend to be very truthful and honest on Twitter, my IRL and my Twitter persona live totally different lives, with totally different goals. The persona that attended to #AAASmtg was not the neuroscientist that turned into a sales person, but my digital version, the passionate scientist that loves to advocate and discuss Science. It felt liberating to introduce myself mainly by my Twitter handle, one because it is so much easier for people to say it than my real name, and also because I’ve heard many times “oh, I follow you on Twitter!” 🙂

But I needed a label. A short description for when I didn’t have enough time to tell my whole story. So I started telling people that I was a “SciComm enthusiastic”. It worked, and I like the sound of it. Not sure if it’s the right one for me, but it was the best I could find (I should have thought about this ahead of time…). I believe my Twitter voice, our DiversityJC, and our RecoveringAcademic podcast are all forms of SciComm. But not only! A big part of me loves to discuss and advocate for Science, in all aspects. How can we increase federal funding for research? How can we fight the publish or perish culture? How can we deal with the reproducibility crises that it’s going on?

In a way those (and many other) concerns were addressed during the #AAASmtg. But I feel that now is the time to think and digest all discussions and put them into action! Unfortunately most of them don’t depend only on ourselves. But acknowledging and discussing the problems and concerns is a big step into figuring out how to address them. Until I find a way where I can actively work towards this, I’ll use my voice. My words. My passion. Let’s keep trying to find where and how I can keep serving for the common good… of SCIENCE!

 

 

My first #AAASmtg: expectations (Spoiler: going to tweet the hell out of it!)

I’ve always wanted to go to the #AAASmtg, but when I was in academia there was never enough time or money to attend. Since I started using Twitter in 2013, my focus has changed a lot. At first I was a postdoc networking, looking for advice and tips to get a tenure track job. I finally moved out of academia in 2015 and after a brief limbo where I did not know exactly who I was on Twitter, I finally found myself a niche doing some sort of #SciOutreach with my tweets, #DiversityJC, and our #RecoveringAcademic podcast.

And I fell in love with it! I found my passion of Science again, and this time not by working at the bench, but sharing it, advocating for it, trying to make it bigger and better! I still dream that one day I can find a job in which I’ll actually going to be paid to do something along those lines. That’s one of the reasons that made me finally decide to go to the AAASmtg  this year. And even though I’ve never been to a AAASmtg before, I feel this year is going to be an special one – given all the political climate and frustrating changes we are going through. There is A LOT going on, and I’m super excited to finally be able to take part on it.

I’ve had a really hard time to make my schedule. The program is so rich, so good of talks that it is hard to make a decision which session to go. At some times, one have to choose between more than 10 different talks that happen simultaneously. I’ve managed to avoid too many conflicts, but I’ll probably have to decide which talk to attend on the fly. And I’m afraid to come back to the list of talks and have second thoughts about it. But I guess that’s some sort of #FirstWorldProblem, isn’t it?

So I am going to warn you, tweeps – I am planning to tweet a lot during this meeting. So feel free to mute me or the #AAASmtg hashtag. But if you’re interested in Science, I bet you won’t be disappointed to follow the conference remotely. I am sharing my attempted itinerary for the meeting, so if you are interested in a particular talk cited below, you can tune into Twitter and read about it. I like live-tweeting because afterwards one can always storify and keep the tweets as your conference notes. But let me know if you are interested into a particular talk or topic, it is always more fun to tweet with audience! And if you’re attending to the meeting, let’s try to meet – it’s always delightful to put faces to avatars!

PMS Program Listing Bookmarks (so far):

Thursday, Feb 16:
Who’s Your Audience? – 09:00
How to Connect Science with Policy across the Globe: Landscape Analysis – 10:30
Scientist Motivations, Support, and Challenges for Public Engagement – 11:00
The Online Scientist: Social Media and Public Engagement – 14:30
Book Signing with Hope Jahren, Author of “Lab Girl”Presented by AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize – 16:00
AAAS President’s Reception – 19:00
Friday, Feb 17:
Science Policy in Transition: What to Expect in 2017 and Beyond – 08:00
Friday Morning Coffee Break – 09:30
Bringing Scholarly Communication into the 21st Century – 10:00
Science Careers Job Fair – 11:00
How to Communicate Research Findings with Non-Scientific Audiences – 12:00
Jumpstarting Neurological Research Through Open Science – 13:30
Friday Afternoon Tea and Coffee Break – 14:30
The Role of Misinformation in Explaining Public Perceptions of Science – 15:00
New AAAS Member Reception: Science Champions – 16:00
Naomi Oreskes: The Scientist as Sentinel – 17:00
AAAS Awards Ceremony and Reception – 18:30
Neuroscience – 19:30
Saturday, Feb 18:
Fake News and Social Media: Impacts on Science Communication and Education – 08:00
Saturday Morning Coffee Break – 09:30
A Kaleidoscope of Public Policy Engagement – 10:30
U.S. Federal Budget for Research and Development – 12:00
Finding Solutions to Implicit Bias in STEM: Thinking Fast Makes Changing Slow – 13:00
Think Global, Act Local: Science Diplomacy, Communication, and Advocacy – 13:00
Saturday Afternoon Tea and Coffee Break – 14:30
Opening a New Ear to the Universe with Gravitational Waves – 15:00
The Neuroscience of Time and Memory – 15:00
Defending Science and Scientific Integrity in the Age of Trump – 16:00
May Berenbaum: Can Science Save the Honey Bees? – 17:00
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Reception – 18:30
Annals of Improbable Research – 20:00
Sunday, Feb 19:
How Ethical Science Supports Ethical Policy: Disciplinary Perspectives – 08:00
Sunday Morning Coffee Break – 09:30
Rigor and Reproducibility One Year Later: How Has the Biomedical Community Responded? – 10:00
Openness and Transparency: Contributing to the New World of Science Publishing – 12:00
Ensuring the Reproducibility of Scientific Findings: Where Does Psychology Stand? – 13:00
Sunday Afternoon Tea and Coffee Break – 14:30
Science Communication Strategies in Academic, Government, and Non-Profit Sectors – 15:00
Social Responsibility in Science From the Inside Out – 15:00
S. James Gates Jr.: Science and Evidence-Based Policymaking – 17:00
Public Engagement With Science Networking Reception – 18:30
Open Access to Scientific Research – 18:30

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