Category: How to

Communicating Science and Technology in the 21st Century: Steven Pinker

These Christmas Holidays have been, as always, very relaxing and mainly dedicated to eating and knitting. If you were Portuguese you would understand there was no room for much physical or intellectual activities: full stomach is a must-have.

I have been going through two years of “saved” feedly items and I found a Steven Pinker talk on MIT about communicating science an technology in our time.

The talk is here, and I vividly suggest you watch it.

It is full of humor and examples on how to communicate our research in a simple and accessible way. Pinker deconstructs instituted ideas and doctrines about academic writing, and explains why they no longer make sense. It finishes in a very funny way with an essay written by a 10 year old – that is how one should explain things!


53 interesting ways to communicate your research


The blog Thesis Whisperer has recommended a long time ago an interesting book with hints on how to communicate research.

I will paste some hints he published on his website. The book is available on Amazon. I just feel this hints will come handy in the future.

  1. Include a QR code on your conference posters Suggests Steve Hutchinson. One of the challenges of the poster format is how to avoid doing what Hutchinson calls ‘your thesis on a sheet’. The short section on posters includes advice on word count (400 – 600) and suggests that you use a QR code to lead people to more information. Genius.
  2. Visual Cognitive dissonance (VCD) is an interesting technique suggested by Debbie Braybrook. VCD happens when the audience is confused by how the image on your slide relates to what you are saying. The book points out that this can be used as a kind of ‘visual cliff-hanger’ to keep your audience interested, so long as your verbal presentation eventually helps them make the connection.
  3. The ‘news hook’ is a key ingredient of the op-ed piece says Eleanor Carter. Op Eds tend to be about 800 words long and relate in some way to current events. A common tactic is to make a “simple statement of the argument” the author wants to confront, and then spend the rest of the words making a counter argument. Something all researchers should be good at!
  4. Consider using objects in your presentations says Anthony Haynes. If you are presenting your scientific experiment, why not bring in some of the equipment? If you are doing a history thesis, maybe you could bring in objects from the period (or reproductions). This tactic works, the author argues, because we are all used to slides. The shift into 3D is unexpected and can make the audience curious about what you have to say.
  5. Mix up the ‘texture’ of podcasts says Lucy Blake. The most interesting podcasts are composed of more than one voice or type of sound. Try getting a friend to interview you, make a podcast of a group discussion or record other kinds of sounds and cut them in.
  6. When presenting, think in threes suggests Aiofe Brophy Haney. Good stories have a beginning middle and end. The end should ‘resolve’ the story somehow. suggests a 3×3 matrix. Here’s one I made for a 20 minute presentation on social media I have to do in a couple of weeks time:

Topic: how to grow and use your social networks

The strategies The tools The problems 
Finding and following the right people Twitter / Facebook / Linkedin Dealing with ‘information smog’
Feeding your network Flipboard / Scoop-it / Twitter Remembering where you put stuff
Contributing to the conversation Micro-blogging
Being a good commenter
Finding time within your schedule and space in your job description
  1. Keep a checklist of Tweet types. Sara Shinton points out that some people can fear Twitter because they don’t know what to say. She provides a short, but useful list of possible tweets: signpost to resources (links to other blogs, journal articles); publicise an event, react to something (a news article, a conference presentation) or ask for help.
  2. Think about how to repackage yourself and your skills in a job interview says Caron King, who breaks down the process of describing yourself and your skills into three ‘E’s’:
  • Elicit everything you know and have done by writing it all down.
  • Explain what you have done and delivered, including the impact you have made.
  • Then think of how to provide evidence, using data wherever possible.
  1. There are only five types of questioner says Lucinda Becker: Confused, Oratory (basically intent on giving a mini lecture disguised as a question), aggressive, unexpected and helpful. She goes on to give good advice about how to deal with each type.
  2. When going for a non academic job, speak the employer’s language says Steve Joy. Planning experiments becomes ‘project management’, Supervision becomes ‘leadership’, presenting at conferences becomes ‘engaging with stakeholders’.