Science communication: in-between science and art

Ri Channel intern and PhD student Frances Cheesman explains the importance of science communication and her experience at the Ri during her BBSRC internship.

  • ada lovelace, science communication

    Packed Ri theatre on Ada Lovelace Day 2014.

    Credit: Paul Clarke
  • gunpowder, ri lates, events

    Hands-on gunpowder workshop at Ri Lates

    Credit: Katherine Leedale
  • School event with live demonstrations on Ada Lovelace Day 2014 

    Credit: Paul Clarke
  • science communication, ri lates

    Talking science at Ri Lates

    Credit: Katherine Leedale

Science is only important in society when it is shared. There’s no point doing research to help solve problems that the public face if the public don’t know you’re doing it. This is increasingly important when more and more science research is publicly funded; the public have a right to know how their money is being spent. In short, science needs to be communicated to have a purpose. Since completing a science degree at university, and even more now I am doing a PhD, the divide between science and art seems less clear. Science communication to me is the area of scientific research which is both science AND art.

When I was at school, there seemed to be a distinct divide between science and arts subjects; you could choose either one route or the other. It was like a fork in the road. No-one really emphasised to me the crossover between these disciplines, no matter what road you decided to go down at age 13 when choosing GCSE subjects or at age 16 when choosing A-levels and indirectly your university degree. As an impressionable 13 year old, science was portrayed to me as a subject which is interesting, although not as fun as the arts subjects such as art and music. No-one seemed to stress (at least not as much as the arts subjects on offer) that science could be fun too. However, this suited me. To me, science was fun because I found it fascinating and definitely something I wanted to pursue in my GCSEs, A-levels and ultimately at university. This really stressed to me the importance of enjoying what you do; that there was no point doing something because I was good at it but I had to like doing it as well.

  • The CHRISTMAS LECTURES was first held in 1825 and are aimed at 11-17 year olds.

    Credit: Paul Wilkinson

  • Roma Agrawal, a structural engineer, talking at Ada Lovelace Day 2014.

    Credit: Paul Clarke

  • Colour chemistry workshop at the L'Oréal Young Scientist Centre

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • Family Fun Days, getting the whole family excited about science

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • Nationwide Masterclass networks for Engineering, Computer Science and Maths

    Credit: Tim Mitchell

This has become apparent during my time at the Royal Institution. I’m at the Ri on an internship for 3 months (which I’m just halfway through now) as a way to get experience of working outside of research and an idea of potential jobs after my PhD. The philosophy of the Ri is to diffuse science to the wider audience and this is a sentiment which every member of the Ri team is passionate about. The general public aren’t going to be reading lots of scientific peer-reviewed journals (although this is becoming easier with the increased use of open-access journals) so how do they get to hear about current research? The media plays an important role in the dissemination of science to the public and their role is vital to shaping public attitudes. Communicating science in an imaginative and creative way can make science more accessible which is truly at the heart of the Ri. Just take a look at their videos on the Ri Channel. No-one likes feeling out of their depth and that it’s all going over their heads. Science needs to be communicated in accessibly, but in a way which doesn’t patronise the audience.

Science communication is an important skill to have, whether you communicate science for a living, stay in research, go into policy, industry or a whole range of other careers. The ability to take a complicated topic and explain it to a person with no scientific background is just as important as explaining it to people within your field. The public has a right to know what is going on in the scientific community and it’s up to the scientific community to share it.

You can read more blog posts by Frances on her blog and follow her on Twitter @Miss_FrancesC.

Latest Posts