Communicating Science for PhD Students – Pilot Program

I recently participated in a pilot program in science communication at Monash University for PhD students. The course consisted of 5x 2 hour sessions and was run by Dr Graham Philips, of ABC TV’s science program Catalyst (ZOMG, famous person in da house!).

The 5 sessions were loosely broken up into 1 hour of lecture material, then 1 hour of tutorial/group work/practical activities. Topics covered over the 5 lessons were:

  1. Introduction to science communication and the types of news and media
  2. Broadcast and narrowcast – interview techniques, narration etc
  3. Writing with clarity and brevity – emphasis on traditional newspaper/magazine writing
  4. Media training – more interview techniques and tips
  5. Oral communication – 3 Minute Thesis, elevator pitches

Being a pilot program, there was definitely room for improvement. Graham was a good lecturer, but the overall emphasis was weighted far too heavily towards TV. Of all the media available for us to talk about and promote our research, TV is probably the least likely one for a PhD student to participate in. I also thought it was strange that the use of new and social media like blogging, Facebook, Twitter, podcasting etc. to get our science out and about wasn’t even mentioned. These are really accessible ways to start out in science communication, rather than landing yourself a story on Catalyst straight up.

Apparently once the course is introduced properly, it will be optional and I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, when there is any amount of group work, it is certainly beneficial when everyone is engaged and wants to be there, so in that way it might be better if the course was optional and only taken by those who were interested. Also, the assignment/project was not graded, so you really have to be self-motivated and interested enough in the topic to get the full amount out of the course. On the point of introducing any kind of coursework for PhDs, well, don’t even get me started – that is another topic for another day. On the other hand, those who most need the course would probably not volunteer to take it, and given the importance of science communication, maybe it should be compulsory for everyone. At Deakin University, all students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science must take a unit in Science Communication in their first year. This is great, and something that I think should ideally be introduced at undergraduate level.

Lastly, we were encouraged (although not required) to complete a project as part of the course. Graham suggested we write a media release about our own research, or if we were really feeling it, make a Catalyst-style video. Given my complete lack of experience in filming, editing and starring in videos, of course I chose this option. I’m yet to receive feedback about how (un)successful my efforts were, but I hope to hear back soon. I’ll post the video up in my next post. Stay tuned!

One Comment on “Communicating Science for PhD Students – Pilot Program”

  1. […] in which I show you the video project I made for the science communication course I mentioned in my previous post. It’s supposed to be a Catalyst-style video about my research, pitched at a general audience. I […]

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