Communicating science is an intrinsic part of a scientist’s career. Scientists are constantly communicating their research interests and results, be it through the scholarly papers they publish, the talks they deliver at conferences, the proposals they submit to granting agencies, the courses they teach or the media interviews they give. Being able to clearly and effectively communicate their research to various audiences is key to the success of a scientist. However, science communication is not a skill that one magically acquires. Though it may come naturally to some, most scientists need to hone their science communication skills.
Unfortunately, few resources exist to support scientists in developing their abilities to communicate science effectively. Recognizing this, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) launched the Science Communication Skills grant competition as a pilot in 2020. This grant was designed to support organizations providing science communication skills training to students, fellows, and faculty in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) from Canadian postsecondary institutions. For the pilot, each academic institution could receive a maximum of one grant. At the University of Ottawa, the Pelling Lab and their Communications Director Cassidy Swanston were successful in receiving NSERC funding for SciComm School: a comprehensive science communication digital course that empowers early career students and researchers to communicate their research to the media, public and their colleagues.
SciComm School, scheduled to launch in Fall 2021, will be led by Cassidy Swanston, a highly experienced and passionate science communicator. Cassidy earned an undergraduate Biology degree at uOttawa in 2020, throughout which she has worked in science communication roles across the Ottawa area. Biophysics Professor and TED Senior Fellow Andrew Pelling hired Cassidy in 2018 as the award-winning Pelling Lab’s Communications Director; a very rare position in academic research labs. Cassidy has since travelled across the globe to pursue formal studies in science communication at the University of Western Australia. Since returning to Canada, she has embarked upon a graduate degree in science communication at uOttawa, where she is studying communication strategies to encourage COVID-19 vaccination uptake.
In preparation for the Fall 2021 launch of SciComm School, Cassidy is offering a series of podcasts to introduce scientists, graduate students — and anyone who is interested — to the foundations of science communication. This podcast will help scientists learn how to tell their stories and promote their research. According to Cassidy, “The need for effective science communication transcends every scientist's need to promote their own work. Given the unprecedented global challenges we're facing, building trust in science and scientists is more important than ever. We can only do that with effective, evidence-based science communication, and all of us have a role to play.”