‘The Ability to Talk about Your Research in a Way That Is Accessible to a Wide Audience Is a Must’
On October 16, 2020, HSE University—winner of the Communication Laboratory 2019 Grand Prix—will host the 4th Russian Science Communication Forum. The Forum is held in partnership with the Association of Education and Science Communicators (AKSON).
AKSON is a professional association of specialists engaged in scientific journalism and external relations in scientific and educational institutions in Russia.
Alexandra Borisova, Scientific Journalist, Co-Founder of AKSON
When we founded the Association in 2016, we were inspired by two things: the growing community in Russia and a desire to gain international experience. With the second, we were greatly assisted by SWIM Science Writers, a new association in Italy. In terms of the first, I would very much like to thank the RBC Communication Laboratory project, which started this movement. When we first met, we realised we had common values and goals. There was a synergy that we wanted to keep going, and it was natural to think about creating a more formal structure for professional networking where we could share each other’s successes and failures. We also wanted to give the community a collective voice. This is the function of the Association and also one of the main objectives of the forum.
Now celebrating its fourth anniversary, the forum has become the main platform for the discussion and exchange of experience among science journalists, scientists, science promoters, press secretaries of scientific organisations, researchers of science and technology, and specialists from technology PR.
This year, the forum will be held online, and registered participants will be informed about connecting to the sessions before the event.
Traditionally, a plenary session opens the forum. This year the question ‘What communications does science need?’ has been chosen as the central topic around which discussions will be based. Together with invited experts—representatives of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, universities, professors from the Russian Academy of Sciences, young scientists, representatives of national projects—the forum participants will try to understand the current agendas of various stakeholders, and to what extent the existing scientific communication infrastructure is able to meet these challenges.
Andrey Lavrov, Director of Public Relations, HSE University
A few years ago, scientific communications as a proper discipline only existed in the communications departments of a small number of the leading Russian universities. Our universities turned their attention to this area once all the main PR problems had been addressed and it was possible to focus on these second-order tasks. Today, it is increasingly recognized that the ability to talk about your research in a way that is accessible to the widest possible audience is not a nod to fashion, but a must. This is not just about popularising scientific knowledge. Science communications can and do successfully solve a variety of problems encountered in a modern university. We will discuss this, among other matters, in the plenary of the forum.
The pandemic and remote participation have necessitated adjustments to all spheres of life, but it seems that it is medicine and communications that have faced the most serious challenges in this regard. Special sessions will therefore be devoted to the lessons learned by science communicators in Russia from the COVID-19 pandemic and how, in general, the discourse of journalists and medical specialists should be structured. Participants will discuss whether scientists, journalists, and communicators have succeeded in their mission to inform the public and the extent to which medical science journalism has been transparent and trustworthy.
Olga Dobrovidova, Senior Copywriter, Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) Press Service, Acting President of ASKON
The COVID-19 pandemic, among other things, reminds us of the importance of trust in science and the role that journalists and science communicators in general can and should play in addressing this global challenge. Namely, by conveying scientific knowledge accurately and fully, pointing out omissions and uncertainties, asking questions on behalf of their audiences and finding answers, ensuring the transparency of process and the accountability of decision makers. At the forum, we will also talk about how the pandemic has changed our work and what scientific communication should be like in this ‘new normal’.
Experts will also discuss professional formats for digital communications, in particular the strategies that universities can use to communicate their research in new formats and the pitfalls they might encounter.
According to Ksenia Bregadze, Deputy Head of the HSE Press Service, many new formats have appeared recently that can be used for scientific communication—podcasts, YouTube, TikTok, and Yandex.Dzen among others. The session will review both the bloggers' case files and the experience of universities that are already using these platforms to understand how these new formats can be exploited and the results they have yielded.
A separate discussion will be devoted to the standards of evidence-based science communication, the promotion of science in universities, and the competition of corporate media projects of popular scientific media.
Liudmila Mezentseva, Head of Science Communication and Outreach Unit, HSE
At HSE University, we have a popular science online publication, IQ.HSE. It features new research being conducted at HSE and much more. Our aim is to help shape a global scientific agenda. We have colleagues to turn to for expertise on almost every issue, be it coronavirus, black holes, or genome editing. This raises new questions; in particular, how we should interact with our fellow journalists, who are accustomed to receiving only press releases from universities.
The Forum agenda incorporates two master classes. The first is dedicated to citizen science projects and will take place as part of ‘People of Science’ project. Participants will learn about the mechanics of such projects and their features from a communication perspective. The second is an open recording of the IQ.HSE scientific podcast ‘The Crow on the Wire’. Guests leading scientific podcasts in Russian will record a studio edition dedicated to how and why it is interesting to talk about science.
This year, for the first time, a separate session will discuss how to educate people about the climate crisis in the face of uncertain forecasts and deferred risks. Also, for the first time, each participant will get an opportunity to take the chair and speak about ‘communications that deserve us’ during the anti-plenary session.
How do you communicate complex matters through the symbols of pop culture if you’re a 100-year-old institute? Where can you turn for news when everyone is just covering Covid? These are just a few of the topics, which, as part of the ‘Best Practices’ session, will be presented by the leading communication teams of scientific and educational organisations in Russia short-listed for the annual Communication Laboratory Award.
The day will conclude with a discussion of two topics. First, the forum participants will share their views on how to educate a new generation of science communicators and journalists. And second, together with documentary makers, they will discuss popular science cinema: what can be called a scientific film, who is the main audience of scientific films and who makes them in Russia.
The culmination of the event will be the presentation of two awards: the Communication Laboratory 2019 Award will be given to the best communication department among Russian scientific organisations, and the Rusnano Russian Science Writer of the Year Award will be given to the best science journalist.
This year, according to the jury, the competition is intense: heroes have appeared and new trends have emerged. ‘The movement formed six years ago, which was initially dominated by university units, and has now become wider-ranging. The newcomers are by no means inferior, and sometimes even surpass the old-timers,’ says Yegor Zadereev, head of the scientific communications group of the Krasnoyarsk Scientific Centre at the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The final event of the 4th Russian Forum on Scientific Communication will be an educational weekend for students and early career researchers.
Andrey Kozhanov, Director of the Centre for the Academic Development of Students, HSE University
Science communication for students is like ‘scientific orientation’ (using an analogy with sports), search and rapid movement, understanding the goals of the game, developing a victory strategy, plus excellent knowledge of the ‘map of the scientific area’. As part of the AKSON Forum, we will offer a two-day educational programme (October 17 and 18) for HSE students and, particularly, participants of the Science Republic project. We have developed a wide range of workshops and presentations by academic specialists on academic soft skills, career building for early career scientists, and effective science communication.
HSE staff members have the opportunity to attend the (online) forum events free of charge. To register, it is necessary to send a request from an internal HSE email address to firstname.lastname@example.org, indicating your full name, division, and position. The number of seats is limited. The working language of the event is Russian.