By Sarah Lamm
Many STEM professionals hold the misconception that engaging in science communication can hinder the progress of budding and established research careers. However, it is not necessary to choose between engaging in outreach and conducting research. The truth is science communication can improve research opportunities by increase your eligibility for funding, and expand your networking connections.
Science communication makes scientists eligible for funding, they would otherwise be ineligible for. At one point in my career, I was not conducting the research that I was passionate about, and I lacked funding to attend a conference. However, due to my past outreach efforts, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a science communication scholarship, which enabled me to attend the conference. The networking I had at this conference led me to completely alter the trajectory of my research career. Without that science communication award, based on my previous outreach efforts, I would not have been able to pursue an exciting new research direction.
Science communication expands the impact of research beyond academic journals and conferences. To illustrate, I once gave a geo-educational talk that caught the attention of a planetary scientist, who offered to provide materials for an upcoming outreach event of mine. After learning that we had similar research interests, they sent me applications for opportunities related to that type of research. Through this experience, I discovered that my engagement in science communication was valued by this scientist as a means of collaborating to promote his research. This is just one example of how science communication can facilitate valuable networking opportunities and unexpected collaborations that can enhance the visibility research.
Outreach has changed my career, opening up funding opportunities and providing me with invaluable networking connections. To those who are still uncertain about the benefits of outreach, I offer these words of encouragement: you do not need to be actively engaged in research to participate in outreach. Simply choose a topic that you are knowledgeable and passionate about sharing. In addition to that, you do not have to put outreach on hold while you are conducting research; in fact, the two can complement each other. Furthermore, you do not have to commit to large, time-consuming events to make a meaningful impact. Small, ad hoc events where you reuse the same demonstration or presentations for different groups can be just as effective. Every scientist has the potential to engage in outreach, no matter how small their contribution may seem. The ripple effects of science communication can be significant, benefiting both the community and your personal career.
-Sarah N. Lamm is a PhD Student at University of Kansas