Breaking in to SciComm

How do you break into scicomm? This is a question I get A LOT, so I wanted to summarize a few things that might be helpful. It’s important to remember that not all paths are the same, and that what worked for me may not work for others. Additionally, there are lots of different types and flavors of scicomm, from science policy to scientific storytelling, and they require different skills, knowledge, and experience, so what’s needed and required may vary between subfields. Simply put, though: When it comes to getting jobs in research, we need educational credentials; for jobs in science communication, we need to demonstrate experience. All that being said, here are some very general things that you can do to set yourself up for success in science communication.

  1. Get training

Communication is a skill that must be learned and practiced. Take advantage of communication courses or workshops offered by your university or scientific society (for instance, AGU Sharing Science). There are also incredible free resources online (check out the bottom of this page) that you can use to learn recommended practices and improve your communication skills.

  1. Read the literature

Science communication is a field of study as well as a community of practice. It draws on theories from sociology, psychology, education and more, so it’s important to understand the field of science communication in addition to the science that you want to communicate. Be sure to read and study the seminal literature, just like you would when beginning a research project.

3. Make a website

People that communicate science need to be visible. Creating a personal website is a way to increase your visibility, showcase your skills, improve your legitimacy and have a “clearinghouse” for your work.

  1. Write a blog

This could be part of your website or a separate site. The idea is to showcase your work and let potential employers see your writing style, the types of science you cover, and the scope and breadth of your work. This is also a great way to get practice writing about science for different audiences and is a tried and true method for honing your scicomm skills. It’s also a valuable form of science communication in its own right!

  1. Get your writing into the world

Your blog doesn’t have to be the only way you share your work. Writing Op-Eds, joining writing communities like Massive Science, or writing for other outlets like The Xylom can be important tools for getting your work (and your name) out into the world. Some organizations like Temblor even have “externships” to help to get you started. Plus, if you have someone else editing your work, you’ll learn to be a better writer.

  1. Speak your science

Writing isn’t the only form of scicomm, obviously. Make sure your presentation skills are on point! Be sure to follow recommended practices like avoiding or defining jargon, being aware of body language, speaking clearly, and considering your audience when making your presentation. Also, the more you practice public speaking the better speaker you will become! So practice, practice, practice!! Organizations like Story Collider and Skype A Scientist are good ways to get practice speaking in front of different types of audiences.

  1. Work at a museum or other informal learning space

Working or volunteering at a museum or in any other formal or informal educational context will hone your skills communicating with a non-expert public, often of multiple generations and widely varied backgrounds. These opportunities also give you real-time feedback (if you’re paying attention!) to what works and where you lose people. You will learn a lot about landing a message or concept–which is the foundation of any medium of communication.

8. Engage on social media

Social media can be a critical component of science communication, so having strong social media skills on multiple platforms is important. Additionally, social media is a way to make a name for yourself as a communicator and is an important networking tool. Many of the opportunities that have come my way have been the result of connections made on Twitter! For information on social media for scientists watch my video.

  1. Utilize your scientific societies

Many scientific societies provide opportunities for improving science communication skills through workshops, community events and publications. For instance, AGU has their “Sharing Science” program that provides lots of resources for scicomm as well as a science communication and advocacy program called “Voices for Science”. Science communication sessions are becoming more common at scientific meetings; seek them out, and attend talks and posters! Also, Science Talk is a fairly new conference just for science communication. Which brings us to our next point…

  1. Join communities of practice and network

There are lots of people working in the scicomm space, some professionally and some personally, and this creates opportunities for engagement. The more people that you get to know that are working in science communication the more likely you are to hear about or be recommended for opportunities when they arrive. Find people on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc., and at conferences!

Here are some helpful links to get you started.

Get Skills

Get Experience

Many thanks to Beth Bartel and Adam Pascale for their contributions and editing!

Flying the faults of Southern California

I married in to a family of pilots. One of the perks of this is that once in while they’ll humor me and fly me around so that I can see Southern California from the air; more specifically, I can see the amazing faults and stunning geomorphology of Southern California.

Many thanks to my husband Scott and father-in-law Fred for flying me around to see the faults.

Yesterday we flew along the Elsinore and San Jacinto Fault zones. These faults are some of the many faults (including the San Andreas) that are helping to accommodate motion between the Pacific and North American Plates.

I’ve roughly annotated the photos below (on my phone, while in the air) so that the fault location is more obvious for those who aren’t used to seeing such features in the landscape. It’s important to keep in mind that faults are rarely just one simple strand; they are fault zones. Fault zones are broad zones of deformation with many fault strands and areas of crushed and deformed rocks – some fault zones can be km wide. So my annotations are gross oversimplifications that are showing the rough location of the most prominent strand that I could identify from the air.

One more quick note – geologists locate faults by looking for particular things in the landscape. The faults I looked at were right lateral strike-slip faults, which means that one side of the fault is sliding horizontally past the other so that everything on the other side of the fault looks as if it moved to the right. The landscape features (or geomorphology) that I was looking for were offset streams, changes in the slope of the land, offset ridges, lines of vegetation (water moves easily through the broken rocks of the fault so trees often grow along faults) and other changes in the shape of the land that are associated with faulting. When you see many of these types of features and draw a line between them we call that the fault trace, or the place where the fault intersects the surface of the earth. Not all faults make it to the surface – these are called blind faults. The Northridge earthquake occurred on a blind thrust fault.

All of the maps are from the USGS Quaternary Fault and Fold Database. The lines are the faults; the different colors indicate the last known activity on that fault (more info available on the USGS website linked above). Solid lines means geologists are very confident that the fault is in that location, whereas dotted lines are places where they have inferred that the fault is likely to be.

The Elsinore Fault

Lake Elsinore is a sag pond that was formed by multiple strands of the Elsinore Fault.

A sag pond is a common feature found along strike-slip faults. When there are two strands of a strike-slip fault that are parallel to each other they will sometimes pull apart a little bit, forming a depression that fills with water – this is the sag pond. In other areas parallel (or sub-parallel) strands may squeeze together a bit, and this forms a pressure ridge (sometimes called a shutter ridge). A famous pressure ridge is Dragon’s Back along the San Andreas Fault.

Lake Elsinore
Lake Elsinore
This is where the I15 crosses the Elsinore Fault.
The following images are of a more southern location of the Elsinore Fault near Palomar Mountain.
Lake Henshaw, just southeast of Palomar Mountain. This is another sag pond.
The Elsinore Fault at Lake Henshaw. The terribly drawn arrows show the relative direction of motion of each side of the fault (right lateral).
The Elsinore Fault
The fault is running through the valleys (which it helped to form).

The San Jacinto fault

The photos below were taken while we were southwest of the fault looking northeast.
San Jacinto Fault near Hemet
The San Jacinto fault near Hemet (the Hemet airport runway is in the foreground).
The following pictures were taken looking NW (over the left wing) from around the location of the blue dot as we flew northeast.
Do you see what looks like a line going across the center of the picture? That’s the fault. If you look closely you can see vegetation growing along the fault, a change in slope and offset channels.
A different view of the fault shown in the photo above
Such beautiful geology and geomorphology along the San Jacinto fault!
The next few photos are of the San Jacinto Fault near Borrego Sorings. As you can see from the map this area is very tectonically complex.
San Jacinto fault north of Borrego Springs
San Jacinto fault strands NE Borrego Springs.
San Jacinto fault
The following images were taken near Warner Springs. I think the fault is one of several fault strands that the USGS Fault and Fold database call the San Felipe fault (shown in black).
San Felipe fault
Lots of fault strands in this photo – I just annotated one.

When you talk about earthquakes and faults in Southern California you hear a lot about the famous San Andreas, but all of these faults (and many many more) are capable of producing damaging earthquakes. To learn more about how to prepare for earthquakes visit these great sites – Shakeout, Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country, and Ready.

My father-in-law and his copilots

Thanks again to Fred and Scott for flying us around and giving me the opportunity to see these amazing features from the air! And thanks for reading!

Valuing science communication

I’d like to briefly draw attention to part of our recently published Science Communication Training paper called “A Need for a Changing Value System”.

Science communicators often fall victim to the “Sagan effect“. People assume that if they do good science communication they must do bad research. (Fake News!) The truth is that, like research, science communication and outreach is a set of skills that must be learned and practiced, but when this skill building isn’t fostered and valued it hurts us all.

Scientists and policy makers consider creative and skilled science communication both an asset to and a fundamental element of science. However, few institutions within science explicitly support science communication efforts within their reward systems. We’ve got to change this!

Effective communication is critical for supporting the next generation of the geoscience workforce, attaining and maintaining funding, increasing public support of both basic and applied research, giving back to the taxpayers who fund scientific research, and enabling science-informed decision-making.

In short, science communication is important for science, scientists and society and we need to value it and support the people doing it.