Science communication: It makes you think, even if it's WTF

Publication date
Thursday, 22 Sep 2016

There aren’t many science careers that let you research pretty much whatever you want, wherever you want. Welcome to the life of a science communicator. It’s a tough job, but Dr Will Grant just has to do it.

Dr Will Grant has made it his career to take science out of academia, and into the ‘real’ world.

Sometimes, he even takes it to the pub.

As a senior lecturer and researcher at the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) at ANU, his is a scientific area that is too often neglected: communication.

“Science communication is a research field, an education field and a practice,” explains Dr Grant.

“Basically, it’s how we get science from a discovery, in a great scientist’s mind, out of the lab and being used somewhere.

“There isn’t any point in developing knowledge if we’re not going to find a way to use it.”

More specifically, Dr Grant’s work looks at  the intersection of science, society, and politics, and the impact of new technology on that intersection.

Fittingly, one of his current projects is a podcast which is recorded live in the Wig & Pen Tavern & Brewery in Canberra.

Along with his colleague Dr Rod Lamberts, Dr Grant hosts the monthly Wholesome Show, a ‘pub-chat’ featuring expert guests with the aim of giving “answers to questions you never thought to ask.”

On the other end of the science communication spectrum, another of Dr Grant’s projects uses artificial intelligence to analyse job prospects for PhD graduates.

“I’m trying to find out how many jobs are out there, outside of universities that a PhD-qualified individual would be good at, and what potential employers might value their high-end research skills.”

To find this out, Dr Grant and his colleagues are using an artificial intelligence algorithm which explores the online job landscape and categorises available jobs into low-, medium- and high-knowledge employment. Within this final category, the algorithm then searches for the types of jobs that PhD graduates would be good at.

With pursuits across such a diverse spectrum, it will come as no surprise that one of the things Dr Grant enjoys most about his job is autonomy.

“There’s a lot of freedom to decide what I value and what I believe should happen in the world.”

From this freedom comes the power to have a real impact, Dr Grant says.

“I think it’s something that academics should think about a lot more. We have a very special place in society. We have great knowledge about key aspects of the world and it’s our job to get that knowledge out to people.”

Dr Grant’s students and contemporaries have gone on to a variety of interesting careers in order to achieve this goal.

“In some sense they have to write their own career. What they do is they find some gap between the world of science and the world of society, or the rest of the world, and say, ‘Okay, I can help at that gap.’”

Filling this gap has meant everything from traditional media careers on radio and television, to writing in newspapers and blogs, and even going on to make a living from YouTube channels.

“It’s important to remember that the jobs of tomorrow are not the jobs of today,” says Dr Grant.

“You won’t get your dream job straight out of university, or five or maybe even ten years later. But you should be working towards the job you want. The job that gives you the level of freedom, the level of responsibility, the level of interest, or whatever it is that’s important to you.”

No matter what you choose or how you choose to do it, though, Dr Grant’s main advice is to have fun.

“You only get one go around, having fun is pretty critical.”

Wise words from a guy who gets to chat at the pub and call it science.