Monthly Archives: November 2012

Maintaining a Population of People in the Science Community is Vitally Important. What are the Problems and Solutions to Communicating Breakthroughs Effectively with a Non-Academic Audience?

If we hope to maintain the current rate of advancements in science or even increase it, we need to engage an audience such that we can ‘get them hooked’.  So writing this article is a great opportunity to increase interest in technological sciences and so it’s important to get it right.

As we are all quickly learning (especially from HACS), the view of science that one might have before entering the community is very different to that of one after doing so.  The resultant problem is that a journalist (who is in the community) will not be in agreement with his/her editor about whether a story is appropriate to an audience [1].  The problem is further amplified when trying to communicate research in an everyday publication such as a common newspaper, where there are many alternative news sources for the reader.  In this case, the editor wants only to publish articles that will engage a large proportion of reads and so is more likely to choose a piece with a ‘wow’ factor – something very unexpected by the reader.  Dubas and Martel (1973) researched this area and their results are not promising for the communication of science in common news sources – they found that editors from city news papers were not interested in science articles and instead favored those that looked at conflict stories and those that would instantly engage readers [2].

Similar problems occur in televised science communication.  It is common knowledge that the increased involvement we feel during conversation results in better retention of facts than when we are been lectured.  Transmitting science in this format is difficult though.  Whilst researching this, I came across an article by Rich McManus [3] which discusses how Actor Alan Alda is now working on methods of communicating science.  Alda says one of the problems is that you cannot turn scientists into actors, so it’s difficult to get them to communicate what they know in an interesting way.

Alda does have an alternative idea though, which he used when attempting to promote science himself.  Rather than the traditional lecture/documentary style he interviewed scientists on their area, under the belief that ‘when people are relating, you can’t take your eyes off of them’ and that ‘we instinctively want to understand the connection’.  He says he would ‘…ask and listen until I understood’[3].

Whilst writing this article, Professor Brian Cox (‘The Celebrity Scientist”) keeps coming to mind as a counter-argument to everything I’ve written here.  Cox’s method is to take the City News Editors’ approach – to only create shows that will amaze people and generate a captive audience.  I thought quite deeply about this and concluded it was a result of the content. Similarities can be drawn between what his shows and, say, Brainiac. Both are designed to increase a public interest in science, not to pass on the latest discoveries.

References:

[1] The science writing inner club: A communication link between science and the lay public.  Science, Technology, & Human Values 5:14-22.

[2] Secondary Reference – Weigold, M. F. (2001). Communicating Science A Review of the Literature.Science Communication23(2), 164-193.

[3] Rich McManus. (2011, Apr.) nih record. [Online].http://nihrecord.od.nih.gov/newsletters/2011/04_01_2011/story2.htm

[UNIVERSITY]

To-Do Lists – An Incredibly Useful Cross-Platform App

My time management skills are practically non-existent, and so I picked up an awful lot from Randy Pausch’s lecture.  Nothing more so though than the benefits of a ‘To Do’ list.

I knew that I needed to find a really good service that would sync between all my devices and was super easy to use.  Over the last week, I’ve tried quite a few and read many reviews, and I think I have found the best one for the job.

Wunderlist is a free service by ’6wunderkinder’, and is managed by a 10-strong team in Berlin.  Their software syncs ‘To Do’ lists between iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows and OS X, which covers pretty much everything.  In addition, when you open the app you are taken straight to the view showing your current list of jobs and at the top is the box to enter a new job.  Could it be any simpler?

You can download it for iPhone here,
iPad here,
Android here,
Windows here
and OS X here.

I hope you find it as useful as I have!

[UNIVERSITY]

What do I want to get out of 3/4/5/6 Years at University?

Why did I want to come to University?  What do I hope to get out of it?  Apart from in my interview, nobody asked me that and yet it seems like such an important question.  I’m going to write my own thoughts here from what I have researched (from questioning my flat mates to reading some of the more sensible discussions on ‘The Student Room’ forums), but if you are going to read them and take something from it, I suggest you stop and try and answer the question yourself before carrying on.

I could relate to almost everything Randy Pausch said we shouldn’t be doing in his lecture on Time Management, which meant I found it extremely useful.  But the point that most stood out to me was that you should think of your time as money.  Taking a 3 year degree as an example, you spend £42,000+ on Tuition, Accommodation and Living.  But an average (after tax) income over 3 years (based on 2010-2011) is £41,130 (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, 2012) for someone in our age bracket.  That is an £83,000 difference in the value of your estate, come the end of 3 years, and that’s a lot of money for a piece of paper saying “I can work hard and I know how to solve problems and how to conduct research”.  But how many people come here just for that bit of paper?

Like many of us, I spent 12 years teaching myself about computers because I was fascinated and it was the only way to learn about them.  The idea of ‘officially’ studying computers and programming sounded so great I didn’t even consider anything else.  And so what I want to get out of these years is a really deep understanding of computing, specifically programming and architectures.  What else though?

The social and maturity aspect is important as well.  To quote the Oxford English Dictionary, University is “a high-level educational institution in which students study for degrees and academic research is done”.  Doesn’t that seem to be missing something?  From talking to numerous flat mates and fellow CS students, the reoccurring theme (other than pursuit of knowledge) is socialising and networking.  I’ve found, especially over the last 3 weeks, that various societies and sports clubs have the perfect atmosphere to help me grow socially and build team skills.

Our years at University are probably when we most mature as Adults, both socially and academically.  For many of us, it’s the first time we have lived completely independently, and it’s a perfect intermediary stage between living at home and leaving home.  Since our SKIL tutorial, I’ve begun to realize how important Time Management is, and it’s things like this that we can first master at University.

To summarise then, we are gaining knowledge of our subject, we are finally in an environment where we can learn about a subject of our choice, we pickup social skills and self-management tools and we mature into Adult’s.  What more could you ask for?

If you think I missed a key point, or if you decided University was the choice for you for a different reason, I welcome a discussion in the comments section.

References

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. (2012, 2). Distribution of median and mean income and tax by age range and gender, 2009-10 . Retrieved 11 3, 2012, from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/income_distribution/3-2table-feb2012.pdf

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