Science communication (SciComm) as a career field, at least in India, is still developing. SciComm enthusiasts have to learn the skills themselves more often than not with limited resources and a lack of a proactively collaborative community. But does it always have to be that way? Does every novice SciCommer have to reinvent the learning wheel over and over again?
SciComm Lite 1.0 was an attempt to answer these questions. In February 2021, SciRio launched its first-ever SciComm virtual workshop. As participants, we gained immense insights from this workshop and couldn’t miss the chance to share them with the world. We also interviewed Suchitha, the Founder of SciRio, to pique her mind on the workings of the workshop! Please find out more about her experience in organising the workshop here and some behind the scenes!
The workshop spanned for over a week from February 24th to March 2nd 2021, with a diverse cohort of mentors. Here’s what our itinerary looked like.
|24th February 2021||Finding and Pitching Story Ideas||Shreya Ghosh|
|25th February 2021||The Editorial Process and EDI Representation in your Content||Aashima Dogra|
|26th February 2021||The Many Tongues of Science: Opportunities and Challenges in Transcreation||Spoorthy Raman|
|27th February 2021||Podcasting with IndSciComm||Abhishek Chari|
|28th February 2021||Drawing Science||Ipsa Jain|
|1st march 2021||Who are you Communicating Science for?||Somdatta Karak|
|2nd March 2021||Building your Portfolio and Feedback of the Workshop||Suchitha Champak|
With jam-packed sessions, valuable resources and lively interactions, the workshop formed a primer to kick start our journey to become a better science communicator. We were a diverse set of participants from India and across the globe, ranging from undergraduate to graduate students, freelancers, physicists, nutritionists in-making, and even public health researchers.
The impromptu conversations in the networking sessions before and after the main sessions added a lot to our understanding of communicating science effectively.
What made the workshop more impactful were the assignments we got to work on. It helped us put all of our learnings into action. It was the perfect opportunity for us to get out of our comfort zones and get our hands dirty with a new format or idea. To top that, we received personalized feedback from mentors to help improve our skills. It cannot get better than that!
We are now going to briefly walk you through the session highlights to give you a flavour of how the sessions went by.
Shreya Ghosh is the Editor at IndiaBioScience, a platform communicating science, among other vital work, to promote life science research in India. The session was well-structured with insights into communicating better, finding science stories, understanding what makes a good story, and do’s and don’ts of pitching. It was heartening to hear Shreya say, “To an editor, what matters most is the story and not the qualifications of the writer. Sell them on the story, first and foremost.”
Shreya broke down her thought process while looking for science stories in research papers. She ended the presentation by sharing her journey in becoming the science communicator that she is today.
The last segment of the session buzzed with questions and discussions. The audience made the best use of the session by probing further on topics such as how much science is too much, getting over the jargon mountain, becoming one’s own editor, finding your purpose for communicating, and many more!
Shreya’s expertise as a writer and editor gave the participants new ideas and perspectives to explore new realms in writing. It could be writing for kids, young adults, or newspapers. Importantly, the session inspired everyone to be adventurous with their writing!
Next in line, we had Aashima Dogra, a science journalist and co-founder of The Life of Science. She briefed us on the various aspects of science journalism and the process of editing a piece of writing. The first half of the session revolved around introducing the inverted pyramid of writing journal articles and the various other factors into writing a good piece. Aashima also mentioned how inclusivity and having diverse voices are essential to complete your story.
In the latter half of the session, she dived into the different stages of editing. Snippets of her professional experience and the anecdotes shared during the session were just the cherry on top.
In the last 30 minutes of the discussion, participants shared their hurdles while building their story. From her 10 years of being in the field, Aashima related to the problems and offered few tips on finding our way through them.
Techie turned science writer, and journalist Spoorthy Raman was the third mentor. With her infectious energy and vibrant presentation, the session was informative and fun. She highlighted the importance and the need of communicating science in Indian languages. Pointing to the wide gap in English literacy in India and the millions of science publications exclusively available in English, it left us thinking about ways of tackling this issue.
She later explained the challenges of communicating science in Indian languages and how we can try to overcome them. The informative tips on how newbies could dip their feet into the vernacular Science Communication space were gratifying.
Post-session, we discussed society’s scepticism and how gaining trust and keeping cultural sensitivity in mind is crucial for any local science communication efforts.
With trends shifting, science communicators with versatility have the edge over the others to reach out to a new set of audiences. While the first half of the workshop covered crucial aspects of science writing, day four’s session was the first of the three sessions focusing on multi-sensory content creation. Abhishek Chari, the contributing editor and co-founder of IndSciComm, sat down to discuss his area of expertise, podcasting in science.
The session started with Abhishek discussing the importance of communicating science through podcasts. He then spent a big chunk of time discussing the nitty-gritty of podcasting. As an experienced podcaster and SciCommer, Abhishek shared a lot of resources and tools to get started. As budding SciCommers, we resonated with Abhishek when he said, “[there is] no difference between us. We all are science communicators trying to make the world a better place.”
Finally, it was “listening time!” In the last half of the session, we got to listen to a wide variety of podcasts. After every listen, Abhishek broke down the components of the podcast and explained how these components amalgamated to form the finished product. The exercise made us appreciate the ordeal of technical work and small details that create an immersive podcast experience for listeners.
We asked an array of questions on topics like the nature of podcasts, transitioning from a writer to podcaster, licensing 101, translation, and multilingual science podcasts. The session made us appreciate the power of voice and sounds in humanising science.
Ipsa Jain, the creator of IpsaWonders, indeed created wonders by organising a hands-on SciComm mentoring session. It felt like we time travelled to our childhood. Before the session, we prepped up with keeping some sheets of paper and pencil/colours handy. Next, we were shown a series of images and asked if it was a sci-art piece or not. This activity probed us to define what SciArt meant to us.
Ipsa shared her insight on what SciArt meant to her – “I think of sci-art and science illustration as two different entities. Some spaces overlap. Illustrations need to be technical and tell the science directly whereas sci-art needs to evoke emotions.” The latter part of the session proceeded with Ipsa teaching us how to make her iconic zines.
Overall, this session was an eye-opener. It taught us sci-art can be unique to individuals and one doesn’t have to be an expert to explore sci-art.
This session focused on understanding who the target audience is, and Somdatta Karak, Science Communicator and Public Outreach Officer at CSIR-CCMB, eloquently conveyed this during her session. “Science communication involves making information more accessible to non-experts which do not translate to ‘dumbing it down”, she affirms.
She emphasized how knowledge and intelligence are different. Having an idea about our audience’s knowledge level will make our SciComm efforts more effective. Somdatta very elaborately walked us through one of the most important aspects of communicating science – the steps of weaving a story to your audience.
Later in the session, we read a few articles where Somdatta asked our opinion on if it was suitable for the said audience. It was interesting to listen to each one’s perspective, which made the session eventful. Finally, the session concluded with a few key takeaways which would help make our storytelling impactful on our audience.
From this session, we learnt how stories connect people and science communication isn’t complex once we understand our audience.
After an incredible week of learning and discussion around Science Communication, it was down to the final session by Suchitha Champak, the Founder and Editor of SciRio. The session started with her heartfelt thank you to all participants for their enthusiasm and involvement in the workshop. Then, before diving into the session, she geared the participants with all they had to know about the assignments they had to submit, culminating all their learnings from the workshop.
The session started with a fun exercise of identifying SciCommers in India. Then, it made the participants pause and give their career paths a thought, whether it’s freelancing, working full-time for an organization, or even carving their own niche.
Suchitha then focused on the motivations for doing SciComm. But, of course, the fact that SciComm cannot be gatekept was the biggest motivation factor of them all.
Only honing writing and communication skills isn’t enough to make a career for yourself as a Scicommer. To emphasize that, she discussed how important marketing, networking, and technical skills are in being on top of your game.
The key to unlocking collaborations and opportunities is in building a professional portfolio. So, in the next part of the session, she discussed the whys and hows of building your own SciComm space. The session also had exciting new announcements, of future projects, from SciRio.
Here are a few fun zines created for their assignments by our fellow participants.
The workshop ended with feedback from all the participants. They shared how much they enjoyed the workshop, their learnings and their goals.
All sessions had a continuum, and one built on the other. The workshop gave us wings to experiment, explore and find our unique style for communicating science. We were given assignments where we could choose to write a pitch for an article or podcast, create our own zines, attempt at creating multi-sensory content or try our hand at writing in English or local language. We received personalised feedback from the mentors, which helped us become better. It also equipped us with the necessary troubleshooting skills for the hurdles we might face in the future. The workshop might have ended, but it’s just the beginning for the participants and SciRio as well.
Inspired by SciComm Lite 1.0, we conducted our very first interview with none other than Suchitha. Find out more about her experience in organising the workshop here and some behind the scenes!