Mika Launikari


Better Science Communication - Getting your message across effectively

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Getting your message across is a key to every researcher and scientist. Thus, effective communication skills are regarded as part of the professional competences that all science students and academic scholars should have today. For many scientists, though, this role as a science communicator may appear challenging as they may fear that their promotion and communication activities can erode their academic credibility and damage their professional seriousness.

Actually, it is the other way around! The more skillful a science communicator you are, the more your own research and academic work get visibility and recognition. Especially now as there seems to be an insatiable interest in evidence-based knowledge across societies, effective science communication becomes an essential means of conveying your message to diverse audiences. Putting forward in a clear and concise manner the outcomes of your research to funding bodies, policy and decision makers, general audience, school children and academic peers calls for a customized approach to satisfy the information needs of these different stakeholders.

Science communication is a necessary ingredient of every scientist’s daily work. It ranges, for example, from writing peer-reviewed articles to giving lectures to university students, from preparing project proposals to talking on the radio or television, from blogging to tweeting, from giving policy advice to exchanging views with other academics representing different disciplines. All this becomes easier, if you know how to communicate effectively and how to modify your message for different purposes.

So, what should scientists bear in mind when making an effort to popularize their academic work in writing to the general public? For explaining the results of their often very complex research or describing their own field of science, they could easily improve the effectiveness of their science communication by following these principles:

KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE – First identify your audience and then make sure you have a distinguished message instead of just providing information. Avoid approaching the subject with too many details and with too much jargon. Rather keep your message on a general level and focus on one specific perspective that the readers well can relate to in their everyday life.

KEEP IT SMART, BUT SERIOUS – As your duty is to guide a reader through an unfamiliar trail, simply tell the story in straightforward language. The more concrete you are, the better the impact will be. Use the appropriate style of writing. Keep it serious and punchy, if you have a breaking news story. With a blog text, take a different, more relaxed approach. It is your chance to be clever.

KEEP IT SELF-SUSTAINING – Define the goal you want to achieve with your science communication. Also make sure you have chosen the right channel/s and medium/media for the given purpose. In any case, whatever you intend to communicate should be a self-standing message which is easily recognized, received and understood by the audience. Well-designed visualizations, matching photos or on the Internet even videoclips attached to your text will help catch the readers’ attention.

MAKE IT SOCIALLY SHAREABLE – If you write for a traditional newspaper or a print magazine, check if your text will also be published online as to increase its dissemination potential and accessibility through social media. As long as you manage to incorporate the human voice and interest in your science communication, you can be almost sure that it starts spreading on its own.

Visualisation: Wordcloud from Cornell University website

Storytelling in the ancient and more modern times

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In the ancient Greek history there is a period called the Greek Dark Ages. These Dark Ages are the interval between the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization (ca. 1200 BCE) and the Greek Archaic Period (ca. 800 BCE). At that time people, who lived scattered across the Greek peninsula, were ruled by the Dorians. Unfortunately not too much is known about this period in the Greek history as the Dorians did not have a written language.

Thanks to storytelling, however, some bits and pieces from these Dark Ages have been kept alive until our times. What is generally known is that the Dorians were skillful warriors, fighters and conquerors, and that they had metal weapons. The Greek tribes of that time, who mostly relied on stone tools and weapons, were not able to defend themselves against the war power of the Dorians, but were easily taken over by their invading enemy with superior strength.

Back then during the Dorian rule, there were gifted storytellers travelling from town to town across the country. They always had some inspiring stories to share with people who came to listen to them and who then spread these fables further to their families, friends and acquaintances. This way oral lore transmitted cultural material and tradition in speech from one generation to another in a society without an established writing system.

Today’s speed of communication

From those days, the world of communications has largely changed. The role of the mass media in the contemporary society is difficult to overestimate. They together with the social media have become a considerable part of our everyday life. Informing people of pressing issues as well as forming and affecting public opinion can effectively be done by means of new digital technologies.

But is there a place left anymore for storytelling in this speedy, hectic and knotty world of today, where people are facing an increasing lack of time and having an ever-growing range of communication tools at their disposal? Overall, communication these days has become almost faster than light allowing instantaneous transfer of information across the planet, but will we this way be able to share tales, long and short, entertaining and didactic, with each other anymore?

Storytelling unites people

We do not want to spend time with messages that interrupt, but rather with ideas that engage us. Storytelling can do this as it is a powerful method of communicating. The true value of storytelling lies in its way of fostering learning and bonding across generations, cultures, professional fields and even academic disciplines. As well known, throughout the human history telling stories has been essential for the survival and development of all the civilizations, as well as for creating individuals a sense of belonging to a wider community.

This was the case as well in the ancient Greece, where many legends were born and told about clever people, who performed heroic and victorious deeds against common enemies. Such legends spiritually united those early Greeks and gave them a shared past, as well as morally helped them to rise against the Dorians. Although the Dorians were hated by the early Greeks, there was something valuable the Dorian invaders left to them. Indeed, the knowhow for making tools and weapons of metal. This way the Greeks were able to defend themselves and their city states, and finally beat the Dorians.

Photo: www.huijskensbickerton.com


Cultural competency – The difference between success and failure in today’s world of work

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Today we live in the times of diversity and work in a global economy. That makes many job seekers wonder what are the language skills and multicultural competences that employers look for when recruiting new staff members. Is there a secret combination of professional knowhow, experience and values that weighs heavily and is strongly valid in a multicultural working environment? Many people may be asking themselves, if they really are able to demonstrate such multicultural capacities that make employers salivate with excitement. Some do, some don’t!

Each business is different of course, which means that certain job-specific skills necessary to perform a particular job well within the given environment are usually sought by employers in the first place. The degree in which additional abilities are expected of job seekers varies a lot across individual organizations and fields of business and industry. These days there are certain transversal soft skills that are in high demand in the labour market and that can be easily applied to different contexts, such as multicultural competences.

Culturally competent staff

Job applicants, who are culturally competent, are a greatly appreciated talent in the increasingly globalizing business environment. They can communicate efficiently, interact smoothly and work productively in multicultural teams. Employers are not only looking for diverse employees (in terms of age, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation), but for staff members who have gathered versatile experiences from different parts of the world. The fact that you have been in situations that have forced you outside of your comfort zone normally develop mental flexibility and broaden your professional as well as personal horizons.

Thus, it should not come as a surprise to anybody anymore that HR managers are more and more frequently hiring candidates, who are not afraid of (cultural) differences and who show a talent for fostering an inclusive work environment. It is not only a matter of being able to work in diverse teams, but more importantly to capitalize on the wide range of skills and experiences such multicultural teams represent.

Developing multicultural skills

It is not correct to think that one day you just wake up and know exactly how to deal with diversity. No, it does not happen like that. Multicultural skills (as any other skill for that matter) are built over time and exposure. It’s something that we need to systematically develop and continuously invest in. If you lack skills to connect with people, who are different from you and if you do not realize the importance of improving them, you severely limit your own professional opportunities in the future.

In today’s turbulent and constantly changing marketplace, none of us knows anymore what to anticipate. The world around us calls for alertness, proactivity, engagement, risk taking, openness and acceptance of diversity.  If we only have a very narrow view of the world, we are not going to be successful - even our professional and personal “survival” might be at stake, if we persistently go on doing things in the “rigid, old-fashioned” way. The ability to effectively work with diverse groups is a non-negotiable contemporary skill that employers expect each one of us to have.

Readiness for intercultural encounters

Ask yourself, if you have what it takes to effectively cooperate with colleagues, who look, act and think differently from you? If not, you might end up having major problems at fulfilling your daily duties in this network-based world of ours, where people from all over are more and more connected than even before. Simply imagine what happens, if your employer unexpectedly tells you that you will have to start working on a project with colleagues, for example, from India, Germany and Australia, who you have not met earlier. Are you willing to take advantage of establishing good working relationships with all these people different from you or do you rather try to find an excuse for not getting involved in such international project assignment? For many this is not a challenge at all, whereas for some others it is.

Finally, if you wish to get your dream job and stand out from the crowd, make sure that you possess a unique set of multicultural qualities on top of the other important assets required in today’s labour market.  Professionals, who demonstrate cultural sensitivity, positive attitude and an ability to build rapport with a diverse workforce in multicultural settings are a sought-after resource for any employer.

Photo: Asherline/Flickr