Communication competence in doctoral education – enhancing the abilities to reach out and bridging the gap!
The role of the researcher is undergoing change: researchers are now asked to engage in open science and to support transparency and inclusivity in their research. At the same time, and for a number of different reasons, scholars are increasingly looking for careers outside academia.
This session speaks to these issues by focusing on the development of science communication skills as part of doctoral education. Its starting point is that such training sits at the intersection of a number of key concerns in contemporary science policy: the need to strengthen science-society relations, to equip junior scholars with transferable skills, and to build scientific literacy in the wider public.
For science to be a transformative agent for societal change, universities and financing bodies need to work together to create conditions that better enable researchers to communicate, interact and initiate dialogue with citizens outside academia. To facilitate and enable a more evidence-based public debate, we need to start by equipping the key players – the researchers – with communication skills, and with confidence in using them. Indeed, we know that many researchers wish to talk about their research and reach out, but we also know that many are asking for tools and training in order to feel confident when meeting the media and other important target groups. This is evident, for instance, in a 2019 Swedish survey of researchers’ views on science communication. Communication training is not currently a mandatory part of third cycle education in Sweden, although several higher education institutions (HEIs) offer courses and coaching in communication.
Taking the Swedish case as a central example, we discuss how science communication might become a natural part of third cycle higher education. This builds on recent efforts led by Örebro University and the Swedish Research Council to develop and test a course syllabus for doctoral students in public communication ideas and practice. By discussing the course – which covered research on science communication, emphasised critical thinking skills, and mingled theory and practice such that conceptual lessons could be applied in practical activities – we reflect on what this experience teaches the wider science communication and higher education communities about integrating such training into doctoral education. How can teaching about science communication be integrated in doctoral programmes, what should its content be, and how does it affect and equip students for future careers in and outside of academia?