What happens when you introduce yourself as an aspiring physicist, astrophysicist, or astronomer? Do you get blank stares? Do people share with you the memory of their boring high school physics teacher? Does the conversation stop there?
Many people in our society are physics- and math-phobic, and yet we live at a time when such quantitative reasoning is necessary to understand how much of the world works. This disconnect contributes to an environment where people feel alienated from science. People are less likely to share in the outrageous awe of the world around them and less likely to see how it effects their lives.
As students of science, it is our responsibility to spend some of our time thinking about authentic ways to communicate scientific ideas. Doing this takes practice, but it is time well-spent. Effective science communication can take many forms – from movies like Interstellar, to books by Brian Greene, to a talk at a professional meeting, to a conversation between a child and parent. In each situation there are constants: the communication must be relatable and accurate. Honing your ability to communicate science not only benefits your audience – it also deepens your own understanding.
For the past two years I have co-run (with Elizabeth Stevens, Associate Professor of Acting and Directing) a workshop on science communication inspired by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. A key ingredient of this workshop is the improvisational acting games that we lead. The games call on us to connect directly with those around us – an essential skill if our message is going to find a receptive ear.
Here are a few resources that will get you thinking about how to effectively communicate science: