Science Communication in the Field

Last week I spent two days on a field trip with a geology class and a photography class. As part of a very unique assignment, the photography class was directed to photograph the geology class as they conducted field surveys of the subsurface geology. This week, the two classes will jointly be presenting their work in a photo gallery, open to the public. The classes’ projects should complement each other; the geology class will be presenting their research, while the photography class’s photos should help explain this research and portray it in an interesting and engaging way.

My role in this project is to help out with the science communication part. I’m also gathering some data for my own project, which will be posted soon. Mainly, though, I watched how the two classes interacted and I am supposed to tell them a bit about my own research to help them with their presentations. Turns out this is harder than I expected.

Communicating science communication is kind of like communicating science. It presents some of the same challenges. Because I have been studying this topic extensively, I have a certain level of background knowledge that others might not, and this leads me to approach the communication of science with certain assumptions. Most fundamentally, I assume that scientists generally have difficulty communicating science to non-scientists and non-scientists have a difficult time understanding it. Data shows that this is often the case, but I have to be sensitive to the fact that, when I am working directly with scientists and non-scientists, they might not think that communication is a challenge for them. And, in some cases, it might not be. I have to be careful not to assume too much about my audience when I begin giving advice on science communication. This is, ironically, the biggest piece of advice I have given to these classes: know your audience. I realize now that this is no easy task.

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