The never-ending quest for knowledge and figuring out how to communicate

by Kendra H. Oliver, Ph.D.

Science communication is part of everyday life. Especially as scientists, you will be asked to give talks, write proposals, and papers. You will also be asked to communicate with a variety of audiences and engage them. To be a successful scientist means that you must learn how to communicate. Most specifically, it means that you must learn how to communicate. To be a successful scientist, you must be a successful communicator.

But communication is not limited to the sciences. As humans, we communicate with one another daily. We have all experienced ineffective communication. For example, when someone gives wrong directions or when people pass gossip like a bad game of telephone. What happens when you communicate poorly in the real world? What does it mean to communicate effectively?

In simple terms, effective communication is about getting the other person to understand what you are trying to tell them. To do this, you need to capture your audience’s attention, make sure they know the message, and, most likely, have your audience do something based on your message. The thing that you might want your audience to do could be as simple as remembering your message, applying it, or providing feedback. A message is not just information but also its correct interpretation within a context. A message has meaning. A message is to information what conclusions are to results.

If information is the answer to the question What?, then the message is the answer to the question, So what?.

So what is so special about science communication?

Science explores our world and gives us all a sense of wonder from what we find. The practice of science goes beyond individual experiments. It is a life of camaraderie for the pursuit of new knowledge. The process can be painstaking, but it is the pursuit of uncertainty that distinguishes science. Science is trying to understanding underpinnings while also knowing that it will be impossible ever to have a complete answer. Yet, science is helping to address many of the world’s leading problems, such as COVID19, climate change, and new energy sources.

These public health issues are essential for the public to understand to make informed policy decisions. However, without some understanding of the scientific process, it is hard to communicate, since science rarely, if ever, offers a definite answer. Science is needed to make an informed decision regarding these global concerns, but the pursuit of scientific knowledge is never satisfied. How do we communicate our understanding while also explaining that the quest for knowledge is never-ending?

This is the challenge facing science communication. Our goal of science communicators is to communicate scientific findings effectively while also demonstrating the insatiability of scientific pursuits. Perhaps the greatest quest is to build a science of curiosity and wonder in viewers while bringing them up-to-speed on scientific concepts.

Published by Kendra Oliver

I am an experienced scientist passionate about science communication, multi-disciplinary projects, and online learning and engagement approaches. It is critical that we find new strategies to communicate scientific finding and engage the public. Using online learning and visualization methods, I am exploring visual science communication to support online education and science marketing approaches. Although classically trained as a research scientist in pharmacology, I consider myself a science communication designer with skills ranging from project management, pedagogical approaches to online learning, video production, instructional design, and web design. With a foundation as a cross-disciplinary team member, I am interested in developing and utilizing these skills to produce science marketing, communication, and engagement strategies, particularly those at the intersection of art and science.

7 thoughts on “The never-ending quest for knowledge and figuring out how to communicate

  1. Kendra, thank you for sharing your blog post on scientific communication. I believe scientific communication may be one of the most unappreciated but most important parts of science. Essentially, effective communication is critical in having your audience understand your message and ultimately apply it, analyze it, and even question it. This being said, oftentimes I believe presenters convey their information via lengthy paragraphs with complex terminology. In my opinion, this represents the epitome of poor scientific communication because it intimidates the audience, and ultimately the scientific message will not be successfully conveyed.

    However, here is where I see a problem: when you breakdown information in a comprehensible and simpler manner you run the risk of insulting the intelligence of the audience. This concern, which was also discussed in the “Effective Communication” article you attached to the blog, seems very tricky to navigate. Oftentimes presenters will overwhelm the audience with complicated and foreign terminology and the audience, for the sake of their academic pride, will not admit that they do not understand. This being said, given that an audience is likely composed of students and researchers of different academic levels, how do you present your information in a way that student researchers can understand and a way that expert researchers don’t feel their intelligence is being insulted?

    -Alexandra Filipkowski (PAECER 2020)

    Like

  2. Kendra, thank you for sharing your blog post on scientific communication. I believe scientific communication may be one of the most unappreciated but most important parts of science. Essentially, effective communication is critical in having your audience understand your message and ultimately apply it, analyze it, and even question it. This being said, oftentimes I believe presenters convey their information via lengthy paragraphs with complex terminology. In my opinion, this represents the epitome of poor scientific communication because it intimidates the audience, and ultimately the scientific message will not be successfully conveyed.

    However, here is where I see a problem: when you breakdown information in a comprehensible and simpler manner you run the risk of insulting the intelligence of the audience. This concern, which was also discussed in the “Effective Communication” article you attached to the blog, seems very tricky to navigate. Oftentimes presenters will overwhelm the audience with complicated and foreign terminology and the audience, for the sake of their academic pride, will not admit that they do not understand. This being said, given that an audience is likely composed of students and researchers of different academic levels, how do you present your information in a way that student researchers can understand and a way that expert researchers don’t feel their intelligence is being insulted?
    -Alexandra Filipkowski (PAECER 2020)

    Like

  3. Kendra, thank you for sharing your blog post on scientific communication. I believe scientific communication may be one of the most unappreciated but most important parts of science. Essentially, effective communication is critical in having your audience understand your message and ultimately apply it, analyze it, and even question it. This being said, oftentimes I believe presenters convey their information via lengthy paragraphs with complex terminology. In my opinion, this represents the epitome of poor scientific communication because it intimidates the audience, and ultimately the scientific message will not be successfully conveyed.

    However, here is where I see a problem: when you breakdown information in a comprehensible and simpler manner you run the risk of insulting the intelligence of the audience. This concern, which was also discussed in the “Effective Communication” article you attached to the blog, seems very tricky to navigate. Oftentimes presenters will overwhelm the audience with complicated and foreign terminology and the audience, for the sake of their academic pride, will not admit that they do not understand. This being said, given that an audience is likely composed of students and researchers of different academic levels, how do you present your information in a way that student researchers can understand and a way that expert researchers don’t feel their intelligence is being insulted?

    -Alexandra Filipkowski (PAECER Summer 2020)

    Like

  4. I love how Dr. Oliver mentioned the importance of effective communication and that’s actually key to everything we do as humans. I’ve even had numerous experiences when I would have to explain hard science to the general public so it’s easier to understand. I believe that once a scientist can master the different aspects of communication such as capturing the audience’s attention, making sure they know the overall message, and having them do something based on that information then the sky is truly the limit. I also love how the tool of proper communication can be used to help solve the major public health problems we have today such as climate change, COVID-19, and infectious diseases. The key thing that was mentioned was that hard science is needed in order to find the solution to these major issues, so communicating hard science to the general public is crucial for progress. There are major key objectives that are needed to be addressed in order to see major progress in solving these major public health issues and informing the general public on important scientific findings.

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  5. I think Dr. Oliver made a great point in bringing up the fact that our quest for scientific knowledge is continuous. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with new developments and conflicts, it is impossible to declare one’s findings as “the final solution”. Although this fact may seem obvious for those who are avid researchers and scientists, it can definitely be worth mentioning to audiences who may not be too familiar with the process of scientific research.

    Additionally, I agree with the importance of being able to read the audience to determine how to present your information. A balance must be met between oversimplifying the content to the point where the message cannot be effectively conveyed and flooding it with confusing jargon. Tone and language determine how receptive the audience will be to your message, which is especially vital if our ultimate goal is to spread awareness about a particular issue/finding.

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  6. One of the most critical components of scientific research is communication. Without it, there is no way to convey novel ideas effectively. Not only is it important to convey your findings simply by stating facts, but it is also important to communicate effectively to the appropriate audiences. You must ask yourself questions about your audience. Are they experts in your field? Are they students merely entering the world of scientific research? You also have to consider the format. Is your audience going to be reading your article, or is your audience listening to your dissertation? The audience plays an important role because with every presentation, there is a purpose to your communication. That could be something as simple as sharing your novel findings, or something as complex as trying to get politicians to accept your proposal for sending a new rocket to space. Every aspect must be considered to determine the most effective approach to reach your audience and have your purpose fulfilled.

    Dr. Oliver mentions “Perhaps the greatest quest is to build a science of curiosity and wonder in viewers while bringing them up-to-speed on scientific concept”. Not only is it important to bring new knowledge to light through communication, but it is also important to engage the audience, including future generations of scientists. Last year, I did a poster presentation at a conference held at my university, and I was prepared to just talk to college students, professors, and scientists. What I did not expect was that I was going to have a 7-year-old approach my poster and ask me questions about it. How do you explain the structure and function of collagen IV in the glomerular basement membrane and the effects of abnormalities to a 7-year-old? Though this doesn’t happen often, and you probably won’t encounter a situation as drastic as mine, it is important to understand how to communicate one topic to a variety of audiences and be able to modify the way you communicate in a quick manner.

    Making a lasting effect on scientific research and the science community begins and ends with successful communication.

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