An Undergrad is Doing Science Communication Research, and You Should Take Part

A few nights ago, I got a tweet from @OddOrganisms about an online survey announcement she wanted me to retweet. The twitter handle is named after a blog of the same name, Odd Organisms, a science blog that explores "the weird ways animals behave and function." I took the survey and was hooked by the topic immediately. And it was pretty fun to take - if featured an article about... an odd organism! Anna, an undergraduate student who double majored in zoology and science communication, is studying the impact of science blogs on readers' comprehension, knowledge and recall of scientific information. After my own scientific heart!

I DM'ed @OddOrganisms' on Twitter, and after offering a bit of advice on how she could improve her survey flow, I wanted to interview her and promote the survey here so that she gets lots of responses. And did I mention she is doing this for an undergraduate honors thesis?! Take the survey here, help her out.

Q&A with a undergraduate science communication researcher

Paige: It's awesome to see an undergraduate student getting involved in science communication research. What made you want to do an honors thesis on science communication?

Anna, aka Odd Organisms: I remember in high-school my favorite subjects were Biology and Media. I felt really torn because I thought I’d have to choose a career in either one or the other after school finished. Enter the strange and mysterious Science Communication course I stumbled across at UWA (the University of Western Australia). I'd never heard of SciComm before, and I was amazed that something existed that could combine the two things I was really interested in!

I ended up doing a double degree in Zoology and Science Communication and chose to continue studying Science Communication at honors level for two reasons. First, science is fascinating and I want to contribute in helping it spread and become more accessible. Second, employability! Science Communication is an important and growing field and it has opened up so many awesome opportunities for me career-wise. I feel confident that I can find relevant, interesting work whether I stay in research or enter the wider world. 

Paige: What got you interested in conducting research on science blogs?

Odd Organisms: I chose to study science blogs because now more than ever, people are seeking out science information online - and they want more science news online too! Science blogs are an online platform that we don't know a whole lot about. I wanted to see how they’re being used and how they could be used to greater effect to communicate science in the future. I do also have a personal interest in science blogs because I have one myself!    

Paige: You have a very fun zoology blog. When/why did you start blogging and what has your experience been with it so far?

Odd Organisms: I started my blog Odd Organisms almost three years ago now as part of a university project in a unit called Science Writing. We were practicing how to write for different mediums and blogs were one of those mediums. After the assignment finished I left it alone for a while, but was drawn back because I found it such an enjoyable space to write. I’m a bit mad about animals as well. I reveled in the opportunity to educate my friends, family, and anyone reading about how wonderfully interesting and strange all animals are!

Paige: You've been studying as a double major in zoology and science communication. What a fun combination! What has that been like? What have you been learning in school about science communication / science blogs? 

Odd Organisms: I thoroughly enjoyed my double major and thought the two went together really well. It’s crucial that we effectively communicate how animals behave and function so that we can put in place appropriate conservation programs, especially at a time when so many species are suffering as a result of human activity and climate change.

I think Science Communication would go well with any science degree, because it teaches you invaluable communication skills in general.

I remember I gave a presentation and a couple of students remarked that they could tell I did science communication – that made me really pleased! Particularly as I’d gone through a whole Science Presentation unit where we had to give talks every week for 10 weeks. If I couldn’t give a good presentation after that I might have had to change majors.

In addition to presentation and writing skills, my Science Communication major covered other valuable skills including working with the media, thinking critically and debunking myths, creating exhibitions and campaigns and even science performance! In one unit we had to create and perform a science show in schools – mine was on metamorphosis. Obviously I had to work in something animal related.

Paige: Tell us a bit about your research and why we should take your survey!

Odd Organisms: Currently I want to find out how science blogs can become more effective science mediators. What techniques can science bloggers use to help readers remember the science they’ve read? And, how can they increase the number of readers reading too?

To do that I’m running two studies. First I’m interviewing people from different science backgrounds after browsing science blogs to see what they like and don’t like. Second, I’m running an online survey.

This online survey has participants read a sample blog post to investigate how effectively it communicates science. I would love, love, love people to do it so I actually have something to write about, but also because it’s fun and because it’s important we find the best techniques for getting science out there!

The survey takes just 15mins and is open to anyone over 18. You even go into the draw to win $100 afterwards (yay!). Just click the link to head to the survey:

I can't wait to see these results! I love seeing undergraduate students getting involved in science communication.