By Dr Kate McAllister, winner of the Society of Biology Science Communication Award 2014.
A lot has happened in the year since I emailed off my entry for the 2014 Science Communication Award. Since then, I have handed in a thesis, started a job in the industry, left industry and run back to the familiar arms of academia, moved cities, and graduated from a PhD. In a busy year full of lots of big ‘moments’, the Science Communication Award for me was one of the highlights.
Day in day out, there are headlines that confuse and conflict, especially in areas such as healthcare, and in many ways that was my motivation to get involved in public outreach. Perception of science has such a wide impact and it’s hard to overestimate the importance of communicating it wisely. That is not to say that engagement is a selfless task, in fact, quite the opposite.
During my time as a PhD student my communication work gave my poor overworked brain a bit of respite from the intense focus of my project. In setting up the Cambridge University Psychiatry news website, I got a grasp of the different and often brilliant work that was going on in my department. In teaching public courses on neuroscience and doing Naked Scientist radio shows and podcasts, I became a more succinct speaker, which was so important to my day to day research with people with communication difficulties.
Winning the award last year has had a lot of benefits. Aside from meeting some really inspiring people at the awards evening (plus the lovely cheque), a surprising bonus of receiving the award was a telephone call from a journalist a few days later. Could I be in a piece about science communications for the print edition of the journal, Nature, or ‘Nature Nature’ as I squawked back. (Much to my mortification a photo went alongside it, but still, Nature.) The award has also added a little sparkle to my CV and given me confidence to pursue other engagement activities.
I whole-heartedly believe that doing some science communication is beneficial to everyone, and I mean, everyone. You do not have to be a fantastic speaker or stage performer to be an effective science communicator; it can take many forms. Tweeting, blogging, interpretive dance… the list is endless.
The academic life of a researcher can often be myopic and isolated, especially during a PhD. Public engagement was not only good for my sanity, but it helped put my studies in a wider context, and more than anything, was a regular reminder of why research is so fantastically important.
It is really encouraging that the Society of Biology recognises this, and I would absolutely encourage other researchers to get involved. Who knows what doors it could open?
Find out more about Kate’s work on Twitter: @sciencekate1