Our aim is to unite research and practice on “communicating scientists”. We will investigate researchers’ roles and institutional contexts in science communication and their public engagement. One central aim of our JRG is to develop and implement an evidence-based training for early career scientists to become effective communicators of science in general and their research specifically.
Scientific knowledge plays a central part in solving today’s large challenges on a societal level, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, or digitization in domains such as transportation and health. On all these topics, scientists have been called upon to communicate their expert knowledge to a broader public. In doing so, scientists may serve a diverse set of aims, such as education, counseling, supporting private and public decision-making, involving non-experts in research, or building trust. As multifaceted as the aims are, so are the instances in which scientists transmit knowledge to others: when meeting with colleagues of more distant disciplines, or when being interviewed by a journalist on their latest research, but also when talking to family members over the holidays. Each of these opportunities poses different challenges:
How to effectively transmit my main message?
How to find the right balance between being too simplistic and too complicated?
Which claims are justified based on the conducted research?
And, most fundamentally: What does and what doesn’t fit my role as scientist – do I want to be a science communicator in addition to being a researcher and a teacher?
Communicating scientists are the focus of our research, and we aim to identify contexts, aims, forms, and formats of science communication by scientists. We strive to find out why some scientists engage with the public more than others, and which role scientific institutions play in this context. We will investigate which messages researchers aim to transmit, and what makes them effective in reaching their communicative aims. Our research will then directly inform a training program for early career researchers in which we will prepare young scientists for public outreach and engagement.
We strive to combine the two disciplines, psychology and communication science, in the JRG, as most evident in our methodological approach: We aim to triangulate research methods from the social sciences: On the one hand, to find out about the perspectives of the communicating scientists themselves, we will use a qualitative approach, and interview researchers from different disciplines and in different career stages. On the other hand, we will use psychological intervention designs to set up and evaluate our training program (which we piloted in 2022). Finally, we will use experiments to investigate how laypeople perceive communicating scientists, and how they understand their science communication products.