[ASC-list] breaking into the field of sci comm & progressing

Will Rifkin willrifkinphd at gmail.com
Sun Feb 5 09:32:07 UTC 2012

Fellow travelers,  

Interesting discussion about what sort of training it takes to break into the field of science communication.  It is, perhaps, as interesting for what is NOT being said than what is being said, some would argue.  

A host of thoughts come to mind when considering advice to give to those approaching the threshold.  What training one needs depends on what destination one is headed for, and that education can be spaced out along the career path.  

1.  A lot of people seem to BREAK INTO the field on the basis of enthusiasm and an accumulation of experience.  Some undergraduate (or postgraduate) coursework related to communication, education, marketing, or communication about science specifically, is helpful.  

2. To PROGRESS in the field, it can be argued that one can benefit from formal education in a variety of disciplines.  Experienced hands recognise that explaining science is the easy part of the job.  Getting the resources and opportunity to do so and to do so in the way that one sees fit, that is the tough part. 

No amount of practice in presenting will give you those insights.  It is handy to know something about science-in-society (how non-scientists see science) as well as something about business (microeconomics, marketing, organisational behaviour, etc.).  

3.  To HAVE AN IMPACT on the field, on how others practice, it helps to have time to focus on a single problem, a single dimension or arena of science communication.  That can come from extended experience in a particular aspect of science communication and/or from postgraduate research.  

These elements can yield insight, but they are not enough to cultivate an audience for that insight.  For that, one needs political savvy to get into positions of influence, and that can include making alliances with powerful players, as mentors or colleagues.  

One bottom line is that a big smile and a love of science did not put many of the senior people in the field where they are today.  It helped, but there have been other steps along the way.  One has to confront one's 'Johari window', recognising what one knows, what one does not know, and exploring to find out what can be learned that one never imagined.  


Will Rifkin, PhD
Exec. Mgr., SaMnet / Assoc Prof, School of Physics, U of Sydney 
Director - ALTC New Media for Science Project  
Administered in the Faculty of Science, University of New South Wales  
willrifkinphd at gmail.com  /  +61 402 612 586    

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