#02 2022

Graduate Student Network presents workshop on public engagement with science

By Tsumbedzo Ramalevha, Buster Mogonong, Thobeka Nsibande, Gigi Birkett, Brishan Kaylan, Tamryn Hamilton and Craig Mahlatsi, Graduate Student Network, NRF-SAEON

Closing the gap between scientists and the public needs to take place in parallel with science advancement and its increasing complexity – to inform local and global science policymakers and funders and increase the public’s trust in science.

As part of its capacity building initiatives, SAEON’s Graduate Student Network (GSN) held a virtual two-day (24–25 March 2022) workshop on public engagement attended by 35 postgraduate students and early-career researchers from various universities. The workshop was presented by Dr Marina Joubert, a science communication expert and researcher at Stellenbosch University.

Public engagement with science – what it is and why it matters  

Day one kicked off with Dr Joubert using a video to explain what public engagement with science is, why it matters and why scientists have a responsibility to intentionally, meaningfully and respectfully engage the public so that they know what is important to the public. This will ensure that scientists are able to transform the science being conducted into something of value to the public.

Dr Joubert then asked the attendees what their understanding of the term ‘public engagement with science’ is and why it matters. Responses included the following:

  • Public engagement with science is a two-way conversation where scientists and the public talk and listen to each other. – Tsumbedzo Ramalevha, GSN Steering Committee member  
  • So that the community knows what the scientists are doing, get public support and use the science to help the public. – Rio Button, science communicator

Definition of public engagement with science by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

To elaborate more on how scientists can have fruitful engagement with the public, Dr Joubert explained the guiding principles, effective plan and importance of ethics in public engagement with science.  

Scientific jargon and storytelling  

Science is not finished until it is communicated – Sir Mark Walport  

To ensure substantive public engagement with science and create an inclusive environment for informal learning, scientists need to recognise the need to engage all members of the public, focus on inclusion of diverse groups and break down barriers that keep the public from engaging with science. Central to ensuring substantive public engagement with science in the South African context is language.

Dr Joubert kicked off day two by explaining the importance of using plain language when scientists engage with the public as this will ensure that the public is able to follow the conversation, remain engaged and understand the message being communicated by the scientist. What science is, why it is important to the public and why there is a need to engage the public before, during and after a research project can be understood very well through storytelling.

The danger of jargon in science writing and how this can affect public engagement with science (Image courtesy of Shulman et al., 2020)

Dr Marina Joubert (top left) and Kogie Govender (top row, second from right) with GSN Steering Committee members and other attendees at the workshop

Take-home message  

As young African scientists or early-career scientists, it is our mandate to share our findings with the tax-paying public and to reinforce that Africa has a role to play in the global science space.

To access the workshop video and resources, click HERE 

Get in touch with the Graduate Student Network 

Keep your eyes open for exciting opportunities and progress updates on Indibano 2022. Follow us on our Twitter page @SAEON_GSN and like the SAEON GSN Facebook page.

For more information about the GSN activities and how to become a member, visit our website: gsn.dirisa.org