By Morag Macpherson, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Computing Science and Maths

As an academic, communicating (often jargon-heavy) research to a lay audience is a difficult task. It can push us outside our comfort zone, and force us to look at the “bigger picture”: how does our research fit in to the world, and why is it important? It’s also made difficult by the fact that science in the media appears to be frequently misrepresented. However, whilst communicating with the public might seem daunting, with proper guidance and training, it can be successful and reap many rewards.

I am a postdoctoral mathematician interested in modelling disease in natural systems, like forests. Models can help answer questions about how we can manage forests better to reduce the impact of tree disease. I have always been interested in applying my research to the ‘real world’, but knowing how to communicate my results effectively to policy makers and the public has always been intimidating. Nevertheless, I figured it was time to learn how, and so I attended the Standing Up for Science Media workshop, run by Voice of Young Science.

The workshop was excellent, and I would thoroughly encourage anyone to attend that has questions on (1) interacting with journalists, (2) the types of articles/stories that journalists are interested in and (3) how to promote your research beyond publications. The day kicked off with a panel of academics talking about their experiences of interacting with the media (it was interesting to note that most of these experiences were positive!). After lunch, a panel of journalists explained how they approached potential news stories. Finally, the last session presented practical tips and guidance for how early career researchers can get their voices heard. There was also the opportunity to think about how what we had learnt related to us and our research by taking part in group work. Additionally, all sessions were interactive providing a great opportunity to ask questions. Some key take home messages for me were:

    • the why always matters: make sure you have one key (short) message, and be expected to answer “what are you doing differently” and “why should anyone care”;
    • identify a journalist who you feel would fit your research area (read their articles) not necessarily a specific media outlet;
    • make sure you are clear and transparent: journalists do not want to intentionally misrepresent your work;
    • journalists work to very tight timelines;
    • it’s okay to say no: don’t feel under pressure to answer questions which are outside your area of expertise; and:
    • get in touch with your university or institution’s communications team when you have any articles being released – and give them plenty of planning time (2 weeks).

Attending this workshop has encouraged me to interact with the public about my research, and has also given me the confidence to be involved in future Standing up for Science activities. So why not give it a go?

The University is one of the VoYs partner organisations, and details of the Researcher Development Programme can be found on the Researcher Developments webpage.