Science Communication Goes Beyond Publishing Academic Papers

Dec 5, 2019

If a scientist makes a discovery while doing research, they will usually write an academic paper and submit it to a scientific journal. If the paper makes it through peer review, it’s published. For many scientists, the onus to communicate their discovery ends there. But more researchers are thinking that's not enough.

“If we want to think about the impact that we’re having, we want to think about getting to the masses, and the peer-reviewed publications isn’t going to do that,” said Dr. Nyeema Harris, an assistant professor at University of Michigan.

Harris, who recently lectured at Utah State University, studies how human activities influence relationships between carnivores and their prey. The Applied Wildlife Ecology or AWE Lab, which she directs, emphasizes the importance of scientific communication. The AWE lab has created museum exhibits, crowdsourced analysis, and set up booths in the library. For Harris, this choice is an important expression of who she is as a scientist.

“It’s a disservice in the academy if we’re highlighting that everyone has to do the same thing. My capacity, my passion, my cultural background, all of those things are going to influence what my unique approach is going to be. If we are valuing diversity it means that we want to be promoting people to approach productivity in lots of different ways,” Harris said.

Although communicating science through these channels does take time and energy, Harris said the rewards of this approach are greater than she anticipated.

“It ends up being more of a reciprocal process that I didn’t necessarily anticipate," she said. "The reality is that in these conversations, I’m learning, growing, changing my scientific thought because of the interactions I’m having with a diverse group of people.”