Entering the Rich World of Scicomm Research: What to Read?

We asked Dr. Sam Illingworth, Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, for 7 starting points

Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

Background: The PhilofSciComm Network & career building

Career transitions require support. When I decided to shift into an academic-adjacent space and add a private business to my academic work (I’m now freelancing as a communications consultant for institutes), I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Also, I needed a way to connect my activities with the research communities of science communications and public engagement. It is bewildering to enter a new field, and given my multi-disciplinary background, I know exactly what I want to avoid.

Therefore, given my life-long obsession with developmental scaffolding & niche construction processes in biology, I decided to model this leap after my own studies. With fellow philosophers engaged in outreach and science communications (Sophie Veigl and Rebecca Hardesty), I co-built the Philosophy of Science Communication Network community.

Science communications from a HPS-STS background

Our network will co-construct and co-scaffold professional development for philosophers, historians, STS scholars interested in entering the field of science communication and engagement. PhilofSciComm will also provide a nurturing interface with science communication experts. We can operate within this network and collectively ask for advice, seek mentorship, and grow as a collaborating community.

One central question is how we can engage with the communications of science without starting from scratch degree-wise. Do we need a degree in communications or science communications? Can we lean in and make use of our expertise and start from our unique angles?

Getting started: reading advice from Dr. Sam Illingworth

Dr. Sam Illingworth

I would like to share with you advice I’ve received from Dr. Sam Illingworth, a social scientist and science poet. He was one of the keynote speakers of #EUSEA19 (European Science Engagement Association) in Vienna. It was my first science engagement conference and I was floored by the passionate and loving atmosphere of science engagers. Dr. Illingworth gave a very convincing and moving talk about the power of #sciart (specifically, poetry) on scientific understanding, in particular, on understanding climate change science.

Dr. Illingworth published an “how to” article for academics interested in incorporating science communication into their work:

Delivering effective science communication: advice from a professional science communicator.”

In his article, he stressed the importance of relying on preexisting resources and expertise:

screenshot from “Delivering effective science communication”: are you re-inventing the wheel?

Therefore, here we are, trying not to re-invent the wheel!

Lynn: Dr. Illingworth, we are not yet professional science communicators nor do we have degrees in communications. We do not know how to conduct social science surveys, for instance. We’re trying to develop a unique starting point as philosophers, historians, and STS scholars, as we must lean into our own academic training. Are there “must-read” recommendations for anyone starting out, regardless of the field (social science, psychology, journalism and communications, STEM, etc.)?

Sam Illingworth: When I was starting off in scicomm I found myself in a very similar position, and to many respects I am still there; I am not ‘really’ an STS scholar, nor am I ‘really’ an environmental scientist — I suppose what I have tried to do is to forge my own path, and find a USP (for me this is poetry and games) — I think that the philosophic angle that you are adopting would also be great.

In terms of reading resources, this book was a HUGE help to me when I was starting out:

  1. Science Communication: A Practical Guide for Scientists

I also wrote a guidebook for scientists, but please note that some of this is out of date, and I am currently writing the second edition , here it is online:

2. Effective Science Communication

“we must lean into our own academic training ”

I LOVE this sentence, and this is what I always encourage my students and other scicomm practitioners to do; we shouldn’t forget all that training and rigour.

However, I think you can conduct surveys, they just need a little work. This is an EXCELLENT book for doing social science research, at a level that even I understood:

3. Doing Real Research: A Practical Guide to Social Research

I would also recommend keeping up to date with the journals, but I am sure you do that already. Of the following three, I find JCOM the easiest to follow/understand:

4. Science Communication

5. Journal of Science Communication (JCOM)

6. Public Understanding of Science

Our new journal is also a nice bridge between the physical sciences and the social sciences (although it is in geosciences not biology):

7. GeoScience Communication

For more readings, this is the master reading list for the MSc Science Communication programme that I used to run at MMU:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/stjvizsnvzipwqh/Reading%20List.pdf?dl=0

Lynn: Thank you, Dr. Illingworth, for helping us get started!

Sam Illingworth: Hopefully this is enough to get started on, but I want you to know that my inbox is always open and I am ALWAYS happy to chat through any ideas or act as a sounding board if it helps.

Check out Dr. Illingworth’s work on his personal website and follow him on Twitter: @samillingworth

personal website of Dr. Sam Illingworth

Follow us on Twitter: @philofscicomm

Follow us on Medium: Philosophy of Science Communication

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Lynn Chiu

Lynn Chiu

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I communicate science from a philosophical perspective. Researcher of living things that stay with the trouble. Communicator of risky interdisciplinary science.