Vol. 64, No. 3 | Fall 2019


Article: It Is Time Scientists Learn How To Communicate!

Written by ABS Member, Natalia Albuquerque

My name is Natalia Albuquerque, I am a Brazilian scientist currently working as a post doc at the Institute of Psychology of the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil) studying animal behaviour and cognition. I have a BSc degree in Biological Sciences and a MSc and a DSc degree in experimental psychology/ethology. As a member of the Animal Behavior Society, I recently had the opportunity to apply for the grant to attend the 2019 American Institute of Biological Sciences' Communications Boot Camp. This fund was dedicated to post docs and graduate students interested in developing skills for communicating the importance of funding agencies, initiatives and investments in research and education to those who make and execute the laws. In this area, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, based in Washington D.C. (United States), has been offering excellent training for many years now, becoming reference in scientific communication.

Science is one of the greatest and most important tools to make critical changes in the world. Science allows us to understand natural (as well as artificial) phenomena and to gain a deeper understanding of the role of each species that cohabit this planet. However, scientific speech seems to be often limited to the academic walls, failing to reach broader audiences. As scientists and citizens of the world, we must work towards disseminating our findings and the knowledge we are constantly generating in order to enable the development of appropriate and effective policies, conservation strategies, handling techniques and methodologies in all areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Particularly, every human being interacts with animals - be it directly or indirectly - and it is crucial to understand who these other individuals are and how they see and interact with their surroundings. Just as importantly, we must share this understanding in such way that truly functional and positive relationships with non-human animals can exist and different public perceptions and attitudes towards animals can be facilitated.

Unfortunately, though, there is an enormous gap between science makers, lawmakers and the general public, especially when it comes to communicating ideas, plans and necessities. It is particularly difficult to create possibilities for constructive dialogues towards effective social, environmental and economic policies. This is a reality for most countries and in Brazil it is not different. In fact, we are going through very troubling times, with Brazilian researchers and academics getting thrown into the oblivion and the ruling figures of the country becoming more and more distant from Science. Only this year, Brazil has suffered with massive funding cuts (with national funding agencies verging on shutting down, high-rank Universities struggling to maintain their basic academic and research activities and young researchers losing their scholarships). I believe that now, more than ever, we must take a step.

The opportunity to attend this Communications Boot Camp appeared to be an exceptional chance to develop important skills and competencies for effectively communicating: (i) science to non-academics; (ii) science and research-related demands to politicians and (iii) the role of scientists in the success and progress of our society.

The Boot Camp was organised in several presentations, question and answer sections and exercises over two very intensive, dynamic and pleasant days. There were scientists from various parts of the United States, one from Canada who had lived in the US for many years and was back in her home country and myself. Interestingly, I was the first "international" person to take part in the Boot Camp. Even though the workshop was focused on the US political structure, the entire experience was extremely useful for me. And I believe it was also very important for the others to have a bit of perspective from other parts of the globe.

We learned about using social media, making elevator pitches about who we are, what we do and why it matters, communicating appropriately and effectively in many formats (e.g. podcasts, local news interviews, radio, television) and to prepare to and be efficient in interviews with congressmen and congresswomen, representatives, assistants, etc. We also had the chance to hear from and talk to scientists from great national agencies as well as important journalists. In addition, the opportunity to meet so many brilliant researchers and the experience to share ideas and political views with them was priceless.

Back in Brazil, I have started working to build an international network to strengthen the efforts against the current cuts. I also started sharing what I have learned and experienced with my colleagues and am planning ways to break through the walls of the university and take scientific knowledge to the public, to educate people of the importance of science and to communicate with Brazilian law and policy makers about what is necessary for our universities, students and researchers.

I would like to thank the American Institute of Biological Sciences, particularly Dr Robert Gropp and Dr Jyotsna Pandey for the excellent opportunity and the Animal Behavior Society for allowing me to take part in this great workshop. I will make sure to apply everything I gained in this training into making positive changes, especially in environment- and animal-related issues, such as deforestation, climate change, conservation, animal welfare, animal-human interactions, etc. As an ethologist, I believe I can contribute to policymaking. Now, with my new skills and competences, I hope to become an agent of significant transformation. For anyone, Brazilian or not, interested in communicating science related matters, please contact me: [email protected]. Let's make a change!

If you are not a member of the Animal Behavior Society yet, I would highly recommend you become one. The Society is a great means of communication in the field of animal behavior and is always providing its members with fantastic opportunities.


ABS Newsletter

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Animal Behavior

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