How to Communicate Your Scientific Work to Non-Experts, with Dr. Ross Beattie – Ep #22

If you had to present your scientific work to a room full of non-experts, what would be your approach? Have you been in that scenario before? What strategies have you used to convey your data and findings to the uninitiated? Here to provide some excellent advice on this topic is Dr. Ross Beattie. 

After his presentation to DisrupTECH in July 2018, Ross was selected to participate in the Entrepreneurial Fellowship Program. Before his selection, Ross worked to gain support for the Emerging Leaders in Science and Society (ELISS) program among graduate students across the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. Through a grassroots campaign, they won the right to have the ELISS program come to UNC. Once the program was awarded to UNC, Ross was one of three graduate students who built support for the program within the institution, acquired funding support from the university, and helped orchestrate the recruiting of the applicants and application review. 

Ross received his Doctor of Philosophy in Inorganic Chemistry from UNC in 2016 and his Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry from Kalamazoo College in 2011. Ross currently studies as a Postdoctoral Researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

What You’ll Hear On This Episode of When Science Speaks

  • [1:05] Mark introduces his guest, Dr. Ross Beattie.
  • [5:45] Why developing science communication skills is so crucial.
  • [7:20] What drew Ross to his work with science policy?
  • [11:15] How to communicate your work to non-experts.
  • [15:00] Should scientists get involved with politics?
  • [17:15] How can participating in professional societies assist with science policy work?
  • [19:40] Ross talks about his experience with the Entrepreneurial Fellowship Program at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
  • [23:50] What does Ross want to do with the next step in his career?

Connect with Ross Beattie

Resources & People Mentioned

Communicating scientific work to non-experts

When was the last time you had to explain your scientific work to a non-expert? Believe it or not, many scientists and postdocs find themselves so embedded in their peer and academic circles that they can go considerable lengths of time without having to describe their work to non-experts. If you had to explain your work to an audience of non-experts right now, do you think you would succeed? 

Would your audience be able to walk away with a basic understanding of what you covered? If you find yourself struggling to image that scenario going well, you aren’t alone. Thankfully, Ross Beattie took the time to explain two practical approaches that researchers like you can use to communicate your scientific work to a non-expert audience.

What does grandma have to do with it?

The first approach for communicating your scientific work to non-experts is called the “grandma test.” Call up your grandma or someone close to that demographic in your family and try to tell them about the work you are doing in the lab and why it matters. If they can’t understand you, it’s time to dig deeper and get to the heart of why your research matters and how it impacts the public. Once you can get that core message across to your grandma, you are headed in the right direction. 

The second approach that you can use to communicate your scientific work is practice. While not as exciting as the grandma test, practice does, in many cases, make perfect. Yes, you’ll be uncomfortable, and you’ll probably put your foot in your mouth or see eyes glaze over, but you’ll learn and adapt from what you encounter. Don’t give up or throw in the towel just because you weren’t able to connect with your first audience, learn from that encounter and make the next one better. 

In his experience, Ross has found that with each meeting he has or the talks he delivers, it only bolsters his confidence and his ability to communicate, especially with non-expert audiences. To hear more of Ross’ helpful insights on the topic of science communication and other subjects, make sure to listen to his full conversation with Mark on this episode of When Science Speaks.

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