In a recent item in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science (JCTS), a MUSC team describes an internship in the College of Graduate Studies (CGS) which aims to develop the communication skills of non-specialists of scientists in training.
“Communication and trust between scientists and the general public is not as good as it could be,” said Kimberly McGhee, Ph.D., professional science writer for the South Carolina Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (SCTR), director of science communication initiatives at CGS and lead author of the article. “We are trying to teach scientists-in-training to provide good, solid science information in a user-friendly way to fill in the gaps and restore confidence. ”
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a stark reminder of the importance of keeping the lines of communication open between scientists and the lay public and the dangers of not doing so.
“By showing that scientists have no ulterior motives and aren’t too arrogant to sit down and say ‘let me explain this to you’, trainees can change their mind,” said Paula Traktman, Ph.D., Dean of the SCG and lead author of the article.
Since its creation in 2016, more than 25 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows have participated in the Scientific writing initiative for interns (SC-SWIFT). The interns are mentored by McGhee and Matthew Greseth, Ph.D., a scientist himself, who is also deputy director of science communication initiatives at CGS and editor of the CGS Speaks blog and co-author of the article. Interns have written over 100 EurekAlert! MUSC Catalyst News releases and articles. EurêkAlert! is a science news site operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and news releases published there can help researchers reach a wider audience for their work.
The internship is a collaboration between the CGS, the Communications and Marketing Office and the SCTR.
“Kimberly McGhee and I discussed the usefulness of improving the ability of scientists to discuss their work in user-friendly terms,” said Shelia Champlin, communications and marketing manager, co-author of the article. “When I suggested that I focus on training graduate students and post-docs, Kimberly immediately recognized the potential of the idea and fostered an extremely fruitful collaboration between the Office of Communications and Marketing, Paula Traktman and the CGS. “
This collaboration has now extended to the SCTR. “The ripple effects of the camp are numerous,” said Tammy Loucks, Ph.D., responsible for scientific development of the SCTR and co-author of the article. “These include a wider dissemination of research findings beyond the confines of traditional biomedical journals and increased recognition of the study teams and institutions that have led this work. “
In addition to championing SC-SWIFT, Traktman was so convinced of the importance of developing science communication skills that she made it one of the four components of her T32 training scholarship “Cellular, Biochemical Science Training Program and molecular: develop the skills and expertise necessary for a changing biomedical landscape. To date, seven of the eight T32 trainees, including Alhaji Janneh, have opted for the communication stream.
“Before this internship, it was difficult for me to explain my research to my mom,” says Janneh. “However, this writing internship improved my communication skills and improved my ability to effectively explain complex sciences to lay audiences, including my mother.”
Intern Catherine Mills believes that SC-SWIFT helps students and fellows not only to communicate more effectively with a lay audience, but also with scientists from other disciplines or those unfamiliar with their work. She found this to be true by sharing her science on MUSC Research Day.
“If you can explain your science and your audience understands what you’re talking about better, you’ll get a better response,” she said.
SC-SWIFT also opens doors for students and fellows to seek various career paths related to science communication.
“It’s a career, not just a skill,” Greseth said. “Yes, we expose students to the writing component every week, but we also run different seminars and networking events for interns. Once every six weeks or so, a speaker comes to talk about their work in the real world. “
Intern Julia Lefler didn’t know science writing was a career option until she became an intern.
“By doing this internship and falling in love with this side of things, it definitely made me consider a career in science writing,” Lefler said.
SC-SWIFT is in continuous growth and hopes to provide digital media and visual communication opportunities to its interns in order to reach a wider audience. The team also plans to offer a digital badge in short-term science communication and possibly a certificate program.
“We serve the public and are supported by the public,” Traktman said. “As we want to increase knowledge about science around the world, it is extremely important to train scientists to communicate more effectively with people. “