During my summer internship I came to a realization. What’s the point of learning all this amazing information about science and public health if I’m not able to effectively communicate this information to the populations I hope to work with in the future? Think about it, how often do you reach the end of a science related article, only to realize that…you’re not actually sure what you just read. Happens to me all the time.
So when I received an email less than a week later publicizing a class called Communicating Science through Social Media lead by EHS professor, Andrew Maynard, I jumped at the opportunity to improve my skills and begin to understand the challenges of science writing. After sending Professor Maynard a note of interest, I enrolled in the class and embarked upon 10 weeks of science blogging and the exhilarating highs and sometimes embarrassing lows that came with it. Students in the class are required to post once a week for 10 weeks on a science blog created by Professor Maynard called Mind the Science Gap.
I remember sitting in Espresso Royale the first week of blog posting. My cursor hovered over the Publish button while knots formed in my stomach. By the time I finally clicked Publish, I was still so anxious about the feedback I would get that I wasn’t sure whether to do a victory dance in the middle of the coffee shop or break out into an uncontrollable sob. Fortunately I chose Option C: gathering my things and walking out inconspicuously.
As the weeks progressed, creating posts didn’t necessarily get easier. Balancing a full course load along with the stress and anxiety of creating a well-researched blog post was not always effortless. And adding to the intimidation was the fact that the posts were critiqued by respected scientific researchers and writers, along with the general public. Often, commenters would openly disagree with my sentiments or express their disappointment that I didn’t explore certain aspects of an issue. Fortunately, we met once a week for class (which occasionally became more of a group therapy session) where we debriefed from the past week and critiqued each other’s posts.
For me, the most difficult parts of MTSG were: coming up with a topic for 10 weeks straight and creating a post that was interesting, and factually accurate; enduring the (not always so nice) comments from the readers.
Throughout the semester I realized that in order to develop as an effective science communicator, it is important to truly process constructive criticism. However, these criticisms should be taken with a grain of salt. Although I wouldn’t please everyone with my thoughts on certain issues, attempting to continuously bend to meet the readers’ desires would eventually result in the loss of my voice and the unique perspective that I have to provide. As the weeks passed, I gained poise, putting a considerable amount of time and effort into developing posts that I was proud of and willing to stand behind. Blogging for MTSG taught me an extremely valuable lesson that can also be applied outside of writing. The experience taught me the importance of having confidence in my thoughts, my opinions and most of all myself—despite the positive or negative opinions of others.
Moving forward, I’m not completely sure of the role I want blogging and science writing to play in my future, however, for the time being I will be contributing to a series on health and cosmetics on the bridal blog, Munaluchi Bridal.
Here’s what Professor Maynard had to say about why he started Mind The Science Gap:
Public health practitioners need excellent communication skills – whether they are working with managers, colleagues, clients or other stakeholders. And because effective public health decisions are so often grounded in science and evidence, an ability to communicate complex science effectively to a non-science audience is critical. Mind The Science Gap uses blogging as a tool for developing and honing science communication skills. The course doesn’t set out to teach students to blog – although that may be a side benefit. But it does use peer review and the sheer terror of live publishing to help rapidly develop highly responsive communication skills that are transferable across many different domains. At least that’s the hope!