Whose job is it anyway?

DSC_0466Molly Grear studies the environmental impacts of installing marine renewable energy. Her PhD work focuses on how marine mammals might be impacted by colliding with the moving parts of these energy producing devices.

Here’s an all too common question I get about ENGAGE when talking my fellow scientists:

“Why are you taking a class on science communication? Isn’t that taking away time you could be researching? Is that even part of your job?”

My reaction is often surprise. I think science communication is a valuable tool and a worthwhile investment of my time. First, I’m really excited about my work. I study creating renewable energy from the ocean. The oceans are a largely untapped energy resource and the more people know about the potential, the more people might start thinking ‘ocean energy is the perfect solution for my coastal town’. I believe we have a duty to make sure our science is communicated so that others can use it.

Second, breaking down and illustrating my ideas to a general audience makes me a better scientist. It forces me to create a compelling story for anyone, not just those interested in the minutiae of my work or the ones I share an office with. And when I successfully connect with this broader audience, in return I get new perspectives and a better understanding of my work.

Still, my science needs a little push to get out into the world. And who better to shepherd that process than me? I know exactly what the larger implications of the work are. I know exactly when I’ve made a big discovery. However, navigating that process can be intimidating.

This week in ENGAGE we found an important resource on campus to help: UW Today. UW Today is continually producing stories on scientific papers and studies coming out of every department at the University of Washington. I’ve seen this resource before and I assumed that the stories picked up here were written based on some sort of meritocratic system that rewarded the very best science being done. I’ll let you in on an insider secret: these stories are written largely because the scientist asked them to be written. The journalists interview scientists, create a compelling feature, and help translate science to the public.  These short articles from UW Today can act as a press release for your science, allowing the work to get picked up by other media outlets.

Sure, UW Today can make our jobs as scientists easier, helping researchers to craft stories in a way that is engaging and far-reaching. But it’s my job to make sure they start writing the story in first place.

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