Monday, January 22, 2018

Discovering the Creativity in Science Communication

There is no question about the importance of science in our society. From healthcare to the environment, and all the way up to space, science permeates every facet of life. But its importance needn’t overshadow its ability to be fun and engaging.

I entered this program confident that I would help to expel science misinformation by firmly delivering hard facts and truths. However, this assumption was quickly extinguished as the first thing we learned was that science communication is a two-way street, a relationship between the communicator and their audience – one that requires patience, tact, research, and perhaps surprisingly, creativity. The deficit model, or the one-way street, is condescending and outdated, and therefore, the best communicators are ones who come to understand their audience and find unique ways to introduce them to scientific topics and research.

The creativity element was one that I hadn’t considered, but has impacted me the most. Through this program, we’ve learned to marry the science with our passions, skills, and personal interests. We’ve been encouraged to explore every domain, to paint the world with science, and by experimentation, learn to communicate through a myriad of mediums.

Hard at work during Wiebke's workshop!
My personal journey has seen me transform an educational video into a series of tweets, try my hand at documentary filmmaking and editing, navigate the world of sexual education through presentation, and dream up underwater adventures using virtual reality. While the idea of complete creative control may seem disconcerting at first, it’s a rewarding way to combine your interests with your goals.

Of course, I can’t forget to mention the masterful creations by my talented classmates. I constantly find myself filled with excitement and wonder when watching them exhibit their projects. I’ve sat in admiration watching some turn an exponential graph into a building song, create an endearing storybook for young children, propose a bacteria paint night, and bake climate change into a cake (yes, it was quite delicious).

The brilliance of this program is that with all of us coming from varying scientific backgrounds and worldwide locations, the way we approach science communication is multifaceted and unique. We learn from our courses, but we also learn from each other.

Likewise, our instructors also come from diverse backgrounds, allowing us to experience many different perspectives and disciplines. The concepts introduced in each course can be carried over to the others, and as a result, our communication repertoires have expanded with each new direction we take in class.
Early on in our first term, we were privileged to participate in a 3-day intensive filmmaking workshop led by Dr. Wiebke Finkler of New Zealand, whose directorial knowledge and love of whales were equally inspirational. Later on, we were also visited by Julia Krolik, creator of Art the Science (https://artthescience.com/), whose projects sing of ingenuity and innovation. Both of these women employ their diverse interests to produce awe-inspiring bodies of work in the spirit of science.

Art the Science founder Julia Krolik.
Having class at Science North also helped fuel our creativity, complimented by behind-the-scenes chats with staff scientists, project coordinators, and producers. Walking through the science centre on Wednesday mornings, you couldn’t help but feel the unlimited potential circulating through the building. Indeed, there isn’t anything quite like finishing your class then heading downstairs to say a quick hello to Maple, the resident porcupine. The setting invited our minds to explore, prompting us to think up and create different pathways leading to scientific understanding.

I often think of this program as a long corridor lined with rooms, with each door representing an invitation to try our hand at a new form of science communication. Some rooms I’ve enjoyed more than others, but I’ve left every one having gained new insights and skills. I’ve learned to go beyond writing, where I feel most comfortable, and instead transform the science and my ideas into tangible objects and new technologies.

Science can sometimes feel limiting in its creative license, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s possible to combine your passions in science with art or technology, and let the world see the unique creations that result. It also doesn’t need to be an overwhelming or daunting task, you simply must allow yourself to explore this field through different lenses, always keeping the science message en tĂȘte.

As we move into second term, our new courses present additional opportunities to go further down the corridor and open more doors, ushering us to new realms of science communication. 

- Meerna Homayed

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