Science communication, just based on the name, implies that the topic of conversation focuses on science. The problem with this is that in the midst of explaining research topics, lab techniques, and translational implications of results – all of which are important – the people behind the work get lost. The fact that science is not done by machines, but is in fact done by real life human beings, is traditionally not a part of the discussions around science. And this is true whether scientists are talking to a public audience or to each other.
This puts an undue burden on scientists, who are expected to live up to often unrealistic expectations on their time and their mental capacity to focus on a singular topic all of the time. These pressures come from both scientists and the public. This is especially highlighted by the expectation that scientists (as well as professionals in other intellectual fields) to show their dedication by working the most hours. It’s propagated within research by an ingrained expectation that in order for a scientist’s career to advance, long hours and the expense of a social life is inevitable. While this lifestyle may work for some, it certainly does not work for all.
In fact, scientists are a diverse group of people who come from different backgrounds and enter into a scientific career without losing what makes them unique individuals. This side of science, focusing on the scientists as people and not as research machines, must become a more prominent aspect of science communication so that research at the expense of everything else is not normalized. Science communication must also focus on the people behind the work.
I was happy to see a number of discussions on this topic arise on Twitter this weekend. I put together a Storify to highlight scientists explaining why science communication can not just focus on science. For more discussions, check out #scicomm and #diversityinstem and share your thoughts using those hashtags, or in the comments!