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Science communication: integral part of academic duties

31 October 2022
Scientists need to engage with society to conduct societally relevant research. Of course! But not during working hours. This is the reality that many scientists encounter when doing science communication. The research team of Frank Kupper of the Athena Institute believes this has to change. That is why they published four core recommendations for universities to make science communication an integral part of academic job descriptions. These recommendations were presented today in a KNAW guide to minister Dijkgraaf of Education, Culture and Science.

The importance of the connection between science and society increases as the boundaries between them become increasingly blurred. Scientists are therefore expected to reach out and engage with groups in society through science communication. Many scientists - from starting PhD students to renowned professors from every possible discipline - would like to do so themselves, but their working environment does not support them sufficiently.

"Science communication does not yet have a fully-fledged place in academic job descriptions, which is why it lacks the necessary time, resources and support," says researcher Frank Kupper of the Athena Institute, who has been working on this issue for many years. "As a result, efforts in this area are not sufficiently recognised and rewarded."

These obstacles emerged from his research, within the programme "Science communication by scientists: Rewarded!" (Gewaardeerd!). Frank and colleagues Willemine WillemsSem Barendse and Anna Aris investigated what scientists need in order to engage in meaningful science communication. To answer this question, they analysed 91 research questions and interviewed 25 scientists, 10 communication experts and 7 policy makers.

The outcomes of the research were translated into four core recommendations for knowledge institutions:

  1. Align science communication with open science policy
    Make reflection on science communication part of the transition to a more open science system. Organise dialogue between scientists, communication experts and societal stakeholders.
  2. Make science communication an integral part of academic tasks
    Give science communication a full place in career profiles, alongside research, teaching, and academic leadership.
  3. Integrate science communication in all phases of science practice
    Integrate science communication into every research trajectory, from start to finish. Reserve a percentage of the research budget for science communication. Emphasise the need for well-thought-out plans for science communication, also in applications for research funding.
  4. Approach science communication as a profession, with associated expertise
    Provide education and training for researchers who want to become proficient in science communication, and broaden their expertise in public engagement. Give communication staff room for structural collaboration with researchers and connect scientists with an interest in science communication. Ensure that accumulated experiential knowledge is retained and accessible.

Based on these recommendations, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has compiled a guide to help knowledge institutions recognise and reward scientists who work on science communication. This will contribute to the professionalisation of the field and to sustainable embedding of science communication in the culture and structure of Dutch universities. The guide was presented today to minister Dijkgraaf of Education, Culture and Science.

Read the guide and the complete research report here (in Dutch).

The programme Rewarded! (Gewaardeerd!) was funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and carried out by a project group within the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), in collaboration with the Athena Institute at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, under the guidance of an advisory board.