For several of those conference-going years I've been thinking that there should really be one and so late last year I wrote a blog post and then shared it on the "Science communicators in medical research charities" LinkedIn group (1) which currently has over 100 individuals who've signed up. Then Jess Smith from Alzheimer's Society got to work organising things and lo and behold three of us from medical charities are getting together with a couple of other people to hold a joint panel session on communicating tricky topics (2).
Fairly predictably I'll be talking about diabetes-related matters, including islet cell transplantation and possibly the issues of cord blood storage, perhaps with a minor detour into dodgy stem cell cures abroad. Perhaps I'll take requests ;) I expect I'll have a bit of a 'great big think' about this over the next few weeks and whack up another blog post on the topic.
The overarching theme of this year's conference is about the impact of communicating research. My job is actually more about communicating research that's nearer the bedside than the bench, and there are many different kinds of science communicators in medical charities / patient groups (3).
There are also a fair number of different medical charities for any disease or condition you might think of. I've been trying to persuade everyone to go and work for one of them by keeping a list of their vacancies pages here (and see also here) and it's a major impetus behind the creation of @ScicommJobs.
Also, about 100 charities are members of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) which has its own Science Communication Awards every second year. The next awards will open in September this year and the awards will be made next year.
Some other posts I've written about this sort of thing
- Science Communication Conference - acronyms and initialisms list 2008 22 June 2009.
We do use rather a lot of jargon in science communication-land. Alice Bell wrote this gently teasing post on same after receiving the list in the delegates pack.
- The science communication conference, public engagement and what I'm doing on the CHI+MED project 26 February 2011
My post in advance of last year's conference.
- Shall we have a charity science communication session at the Science Communication Conference #scicommconf 9 October 2011
(already linked in the text above)
(1) More on the "Science communicators in medical research charities" LinkedIn group
"The group is primarily aimed at people who are working in* medical research charities or patient groups based in the UK† and who use and communicate scientific and health information in their jobs. OK that's not really a 'rule' but hopefully it puts things in context. I am expecting this group to be largely populated by AMRC charity folk but all are welcome
Depending on the context I probably take a dim view of commercial postings or anything overtly promotional. Topics that don't appear to be relevant to the discussion will be removed (but text saved for later in case you convince me I'm wrong in removing it).
* or who would like to work in
† or global charities that have a UK chapter"
(2) British Science Association: Science Communication Conference 2012 draft programme (on p17 of the 19 page PDF)
Give me your brain: Communicating tricky topics
Session format: Panel discussion followed by group discussions
Jess Smith, Alzheimer’s Society
Kelly Edwards, Motor Neurone Disease Association
Jo Brodie, Diabetes UK
Jenny Gimpel, Freelance
Amir Gander, University College London
Medical research charities and institutions play a fundamental role in communicating science to different audiences, but how do they tackle tricky issues such as appeals for body donations, or unscientific claims for ‘miracle cures’? Case studies presented at the start of this session will highlight lessons learned from public engagement projects and charity publicity work on sensitive subjects. In round table discussions held in the second part of the session, charity and science communicators will further share their successes and experiences in tackling taboo topics, exploring with delegates the challenges faced by all and inviting suggestions for improvements in public engagement and communication on sensitive subjects. Delegates will be rotated through these round tables in a ‘mad-hatter’ manner to explore the plethora of ways that controversial topics can be handled publicly.
(3) In thinking of who the LinkedIn group was for I came up with the following examples of roles.
Medical research charities and patient groups employ several different types of science communicators (although they might not necessarily use that term in the job title).
Depending on the size and needs of the charity, science communicators will do any or all of the following (and I'm sure I've forgotten stuff!):
• write and edit content for websites and magazines (for members of the public as well as professional audiences)
• work in press teams
• manage research portfolios and give talks about the work that is funded
• provide a science enquiry service to people affected by a condition or to healthcare professionals
• develop policies on animal or stem cell research (or other controversial issues)
• respond to external consultations
• fact-check statistics and provide evidence-based information to colleagues and critically appraise literature etc.