From the Lab to the Layman
On May 24, Prof. Ingrid Scheffer gave a speech in Melbourne at the inaugural SOBR (Student Of Brain Research) networking dinner. She discussed the importance of communicating science to a wider non-scientific audience. It is an issue for scientists, as for many other professional groups, to work with the media and to feel confident enough to talk about themselves in a more engaging way.
2 months after participating in the L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards ceremony in Paris, Ingrid Scheffer referred to this experience as a key moment in her career. She had to talk to the media and learn how to deal with the limelight. “Science is sexy, and it is our job to tell everyone that.”
Ingrid Scheffer is convinced that scientists have a responsibility to communicate, not only with the scientific community (scientists are sometimes seen as living in ivory towers) but with a wider community. Communication in science is based on both publications and conferences. “We publish or we perish”, she said in front of an audience of students.
Most of all, communication is about sharing ideas. Team work is essential. That’s why attending international conferences is an important part of a scientific career.
Ingrid Scheffer is a pediatrician. In her field, communication also means sharing with patients. Enthusiasm about the results and their implications helps the patients to fight the disease.
LESS IS MORE
Prof. Scheffer’s advice to students: when it comes to communication, keep it simple.
“It’s very important to have a framework to your talk, said Scheffer. When you present your research, you have to keep in mind that people in the audience are not familiar with your topic. A big mistake: We don’t stand back and give the big picture. We can explain the context of what we are talking about. You know your work so well, but nobody has a clue of what you’re talking about.
“We all like complexity and you can make a talk very complex but it is not necessarily a good talk. A good talk makes it simple but importantly: everything must be as simple as possible but not simpler.”
WORKING WITH THE MEDIA
“We are scared of the limelight.” Scientists have to talk to everyone. “Media try to translate. But we have to help them. You have to deliver your message synthetically.”
Journalists are keen to get a story and scientists have to find a way to give them that story. Most of the time, the media are more interested in writing about the results, than in explaining the research process. Talking with the media is also an opportunity for scientists to raise awareness with the general public and to influence science policy.
Ingrid Scheffer mentioned her colleague Bonnie Bassler (L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards Laureate For North America) as her “idol” in science communication. Her famous TED Talk remains the best example for any researcher who wants to get people excited about science.
About Prof. Ingrid Scheffer :
Ingrid Scheffer is a paediatric neurologist and professor at the University of Melbourne. Her research aims to help to transform the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy, a brain disorder characterized by seizures and other sympltoms that can be extremely disruptive to the lives of the 50 million people affected by it.