Tag Archives: erin

Getting Started in Science Communication

[Adapted from an email to a university researcher interested in getting more involved in public engagement/science communication. All links are UK-specific; if you have questions about other areas/countries please don’t hesitate to ask in comments and I’ll do my best to help!]


I’m glad to hear that you’re interested in getting more involved in public engagement, as I feel it’s a very valuable and worthwhile use of scientists’ time. In terms of how to get involved it’s a wide and varied arena – there’s plenty of different avenues depending on your interests. While there are actual Science Communication programmes/degrees out there it’s by no means necessary to devote years of your life to another programme when you could just  work on it in conjunction with what you’re already doing. Though some people come to science communication through an education background, that’s by no means the only way. Plenty of successful science communicators started off as researchers and relayed their knowledge and enthusiasm into public engagement (for example, all of my current colleagues here at Dundee Science Centre have a scientific background, not education).

If you’re interested in working with young people you will have the chance to get involved in lots of science communication activities through the STEM Ambassador programme – everything from school visits to festival volunteering, and each one will give you a bit more insight into what science communication is and how you can contribute to it. Sign up online to receive an invitation to a local induction near you!

If you’re interested in developing your public engagement skills I’d definitely suggest checking out British Interactive Group (BIG). They will be having a one-day conference about science communication in January that might be a great place to start off your involvement, but there’s plenty of other resources on the website as well. They have a mailing group that daily has interesting discussions on a variety of topics, as does PSI-COM; I’m subscribed to both and find them immensely entertaining and useful.

Checking out the various science festivals around the country will give you an idea of what people are doing, and maybe help you start thinking of how you can communicate what you’re passionate about to general audiences. Festivals have the benefit of having events aimed at a wide range of audiences, so you can experience a variety of engagement strategies in one place.

There are tons of great science centres across the UK, and again, it’s a good place to start if you want to see what the public are interested in and ways science communicators are delivering that information. I always make it a priority to visit the science centre when I’m in a new city; it’s always a good day out.

The British Science Association are a great resource, and you can get involved with your local branch to find out more about what they’re doing in your area.

It’s also worth checking if your university has a Public Engagement office (or similar) dedicated to supporting staff and students and engaging with the local community. Often times they work quite closely with all the folk listed above so they’re a good place to start if you’re just beginning.

These are of course just a few starting points and by no means an exhaustive list. There’s no ‘right’ way to go about getting involved in public engagement, and if you’ve ever explained your research at a party or helped someone with their schoolwork then guess what? You’re already well on your way!

How to describe the Higgs boson to a seven-year-old


Just a quick one – following on from announcements from CERN regarding the probable discovery of the Higgs boson particle we’ll be seeing plenty of attempts to explain exactly what it is in layperson’s terms. Maybe our very own Jessamyn will give it a try?

Introductions – Erin

Hello! My name is Erin and I’ll be taking on the topic of science communication from the viewpoint of public engagement with science – both in popular media and more widely in the fields of academia and research. As a lifelong geek and science enthusiast I have always been interested in augmenting my own knowledge through reading, watching and interacting with scientists, starting with Mr. Wizard’s televised experiments in the eighties and continuing into the digital age with blogs, podcasts and TED talks nowadays.

My own background is biology-based; though I enjoyed all science and maths in high school my true passion lay in learning about and exploring biological processes and I pursued an undergraduate degree in Biology with a specialization in Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution at UCLA. During that time I spent six months in a pharmaceutical research lab where I worked on antisense therapies, cultured a lot of cells and ultimately decided that lab research was not for me. While considering what to do next I took a job at a children’s science museum and the rest, as they say, was history. Over the next few years I worked at a variety of informal learning centres – mostly museums and zoos – educating the public about lions, tigers and dinosaurs as well as running events to encourage the public to connect to their local informal learning centres. After several years of this I broke a promise to myself and went back to school, receiving a Masters in Environmental and Sustainability Education at the University of Edinburgh. I also gained experience working in several UK-based informal learning centres and as of summer 2011 have found full-time employment working with a UK-wide charitable organization recruiting and training scientists to engage with schoolchildren in Scotland.

With this blog I’d like to explore the history of public engagement with science and how it has shaped developments, why it’s important and necessary to encourage the ‘average’ person to engage with/understand science, as well as looking at people who are currently doing it and whether they’re doing it well/badly.

Some of the additional things I’d like to talk about are responses to other blogs and articles, posts highlighting what I consider to be particularly good/worthwhile science education and some of the challenges facing scientists and researchers when trying to engage with the public. I’d also like to talk about the current uptake into science careers and the challenges facing employers and what can be done to address the issue of people going for ‘soft’ degrees instead, not judging those who do but recognizing the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths careers now and in the future.

I look forward to plenty of interesting discussions and debates and if, like me, you just can’t get enough science in your life I encourage you to check out our Links page for more blogs and sites worth a look.