3 August 2020
By Jacqui Tweddle
My name is Jacqui, and I am a science communicator. There. I admit it.
I wasn’t always. I started with the “normal” progression of Bachelors, Masters, PhD and postdocs (two). But my first postdoc position, based at Oregon State University, sparked something. The project I was working on involved working with Oregon’s Departments of Fish and Wildlife, and Agriculture, and I loved that connection to stakeholders and to the “real world”. I ended up taking a break from academia for a couple of years soon after, and worked in the UK as a marine planner, developing the first statutory marine spatial plan in the UK, one of the first in the world.
I ended up returning to work at a University (Aberdeen, in Scotland), gaining two consecutive fellowships in knowledge exchange – I now spend my days talking, mostly to people involved in marine policy, planning or management. Sometimes the talking is water cooler chat, and sometimes it is even work related. But both are useful. The first thing I learned when I moved into science communications and what is sometimes called the science-policy, or science-policy-society, interface is to build relationships with people. The second lesson (and I think the clincher in getting my first fellowship) is to provide tasty snacks at meetings. Everyone likes a fancy biscuit.
Relationships and understanding each other are important. I even undertook training in counseling skills to help build better relationships. These important communication skills involve listening as much as (or more than) talking. Learning what is important to whomever you are engaging with – what do they need? When? What knowledge to they already have? Once you do start speaking, remembering to frame knowledge or information to make clear why this is important to them, and in a useful format, shows you were listening and makes it more likely you will be listened to in turn.
I am still learning, no one is perfect at engaging, whether with industry, policy or the public. We all make mistakes or misjudge. But by listening to and learning about what your stakeholders are concerned about, and what they would like to learn from you, you will become a better science communicator too.
–Jacqui Tweddle is a researcher and science communicator, who works closely with marine policy makers, planners and managers.