Communicating science

10 December 2020 | Story Thania Gopal. Photo Je’nine May. Read time 4 min.
The science and communication course is convened by Dr Sharief Hendricks and Dr Nancy Laguette from the Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine (ESSM).
The science and communication course is convened by Dr Sharief Hendricks and Dr Nancy Laguette from the Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine (ESSM).

The proliferation of fake news and misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of science communication. The Faculty of Health Sciences offers a Science and Communication course for all Honours students on the BSc Honours Joint programme, convened by Dr Sharief Hendricks and Dr Nancy Laguette, from the Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine (ESSM) in the Department of Human Biology. In this course, students learn how to write, illustrate and communicate science more effectively. After all, communicating your research is part of the scientific process, says Hendricks.

"There’s a saying in our Division, 'if it's not published, it's not science’. The point is that publishing ones findings is part of the  research cycle.” In addition to the traditional scientific forms of communication, the course also teaches students to communicate research beyond the publication. “If we want to improve the public's understanding of science and positively engage our stakeholders, we need to translate our research into a more digestible manner. In the age of information, as scientists, we need to be aware that to some degree, we are competing for the public's attention - competing against pseudoscience, ‘conspiracy theories', fads, anecdotes and so on.”

In June 2020, course conveners launched a website called Health Science Reviews for students to share their research with the public. With 72 posts from students in 2020, the website has already received 4380 views from 39 countries. The website allows students to translate research papers of their topics of interest into blogs, infographics and video animation. Importantly, the website encourages students to reflect on their learning experiences. These reflections were particularly insightful this year, given COVID-19 and the shift to online learning. “The pieces were all so interesting, and the reflections were really touching, and a great outlet for creativity. It was great to see the engagement of the students,” says Laguette.

“The website offered students an opportunity to be creative on a different level to their other assignments. Once the student’s work has been published on the website, it gives them a publication output that they can then add to their CV. In addition to the science communication stuff, the website also offers students an opportunity to reflect on their learning experiences and challenges during their Honours year. As we know, reflection (and reflective writing) is important, and this was especially important during COVID. Some students really grasped this opportunity and published some really insightful reflective pieces,” says Hendricks.

The website can be accessed here.

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