Working on the issue of stem cells, I found that many people judge scientific procedures or methods without even knowing what they are good for and how its done. Or there are those that praise any kind of scientific work without questioning possible ethical aspects. Often, this is not because people are not interested or too lazy to get the information, it is that the information is badly distributed, explained and advertised throughout the media. Scientists also have problems to get their message across, which leaves ‘outsiders’ with little information that is often influenced by political goals or the type of media they consume.
This already starts in university when social scientists and researchers in labs stick to their own people, department and research field. Communication between them is rare and conferences on specific issues that address natural scientists OR social scientists do not encourage connections either. Also, both do not have to explain their research to people that are not affiliated with any university. This is especially true for PhD students who aim to stay in academics. One of my professors used to say: ‘Write and talk about your research as if you explain it to your Grandma’. Frankly, I do not think that my Grandma is interested in the research I am doing, but trying to rephrase a topic in that way is more challenging than one might think. At the same time no one wants an hour-long explanation of every detail. This is where the ‘elevator pitch’ comes in. It challenges anyone to summarize their idea and its value within a time frame of 30 seconds to two minutes (the time of an elevator ride).
To be able to explain research in a comprehensible and short fashion is crucial not only to connect to fellow researchers from other fields (and your Grandma), it also helps to get the message across to everyone who wants to understand where research is heading and how it benefits each and everyone. Most of the scientific discoveries will become more complicated and detailed and at the same time affect people in the way they for example receive health care, are treated for diseases or the medication they take. Showing the clear value of the research by making it accessible and understandable also enhances the chances of funding, that is when the government or government agencies can easily argue for the benefits of a certain project.
What do you think? Should researchers make more effort to explain their studies? Would you be able to summarize your research during an elevator ride with your Grandma?