By Michael Wilson – Supervisor Amanda Ellis
As scientists we like to think that we’re pretty awesome. Not just because we’re probing the secrets of the universe, but because without us modern civilisation wouldn’t exist and the economies of the world would be nothing. As a result it’s very easy for us to lose sight of who actually allows us to do it, where the money and support come from that give us the freedom to do all these amazing things. Just incase you’ve forgotten it’s the government and through them the entire population. As a result it is hugely important that we make sure that they know what’s going on for a whole pile of reasons. Every time there is a cut to the budget, or some sort of government regulation preventing research we’re quick to action launching petitions and social campaigns to raise funding and blame the prime minister for not having a science minister. In reality the only people we have to blame is ourselves. If the government doesn’t see value in our work it’s our fault for not showing them and the public they represent. Why have the cuts to university research and CSIRO continued, because we haven’t convinced them that science is important enough to invest in.
So, as scientists how can you help secure your job for the future? To start with, and as the title of this article suggests, you can talk about it more. Not just to industry and grant bodies who directly fund us, but to anybody who will listen. If people are aware of an issue they’re far more likely to support it, hard to get behind something you don’t know about. Moreover, if they actually like or respect you then they might even consider it worth the effort to vote for a party that does the same.
“But Wilson, people just don’t understand what I’m doing”. Bull scat I say. It’s been said that if you can’t explain something to a 12 year old then you don’t understand it. So if you need to get some practice in there plenty of ways you can do it. You could go home to your special someone and get ready to be a really good science communicator in 12 years 9 months. Alternatively, you can get involved in one of the multitude of programs to help scientists engage with the public. Here are a few to consider; The Youngs Scientists of Australia, The Conocophillips Science Experience, I’m a Scientist get me out of here, CSIRO Scientists in Schools. And if you think you already know what you’re doing then why not hit up Twitter, Facebook, instagram, youtube or a blog and start getting it out there.
If NONE of these are suitable then you might need to start considering your future in research. Not because you’re terrible at it, you’re reading this post so you must be pretty good, but because grants are looking more and more for public engagement, and if you’re not doing that you might not have the funding to continue.