CASE STUDY:  THE NEXT SCIENTIST (BLOG)

STRONG OPINIONS GENERATE DISCUSSION AND FEEDBACK.  WEAK ONES DON’T.”

BACKSTORY/GOOD TO KNOW

This example isn’t about explaining science per se, but it is a sample of my own writing. 

This opinion piece was written as a warning to graduate students who (sometimes) feel compelled to remain in academia longer than they should. 

I’m including it here as an example of how I attempt to capture an audience’s attention.  To date, it remains one of the most highly shared articles on the Next Scientist’s website.  It’s been shared and linked to by University departments, postdoctoral associations and career centers.  I’ve had students and postdocs around the world contact me personally for advice, or to simply admit they can relate to it. 

It resulted in a podcast interview and landed some recognition by winning a blogging competition (links are above).    

Even though it was written to graduate students (from an ex-student), it contains elements you can certainly use the next time you need to communicate your message.

WARNING:  The post is long, but 2000-3000 words is the requested length for this particular blog. 

If you dare take the time to read it, the framework isn’t unlike any other kind of media I produce.  There may even be some tips for you to try with your own outreach.  

 

LESSONS

  1. Talk to one person

Imagine your audience.

Even better, create a persona of that one person you’re trying to reach out to, and write to them.  When I engage in personal writing and animation projects, I’m trying to communicate something important to that one person. 

You don’t need to read far into the blog post to realize I’m targeting only one type of student – the one who’s still thinking they want to be an academic, but either isn’t sure they’re good enough by today’s standards or they’re simply not paying attention. 

It wasn’t written for students (regardless of potential) who’ve already made up their minds to leave.

It wasn’t written as a guide to arm students with resources on how best to make their way out of academia.  Plenty of existing websites address that.

One student – should they leave after graduating or stay?  They don’t know yet. 

And three items they could use as criteria to make that decision.

The end.      

Targeting information at more than one type of person at the same time runs the risk of becoming a watered down message that misses the mark entirely. 

Who is your audience?

Graduate students or investors?  Scientists or the general public?  Cancer survivors or high school students?  

What is it they need to hear?

Is the topic a potentially sensitive one?  Is humor appropriate?

In the event you need to communicate something to two distinct types of people, strongly consider crafting two (or more) separate scripts. 

When communicating your own message about science (or anything else for that matter) always remember who you’re talking to.  Forget about everyone else

Trust me on this one.

  1. If appropriate, use stories to get your audience to relate to you and your message

Somewhere in this post, there’s a story.  If you dared read to the end, you’ve likely figured out that some of it is based on my own experiences. 

While I’m not specific about my own time in academia per se, there’s a sense that I’ve been through something current students might be going through.  There’s no better way to get an audience to relate to you than if you’re willing to be honest about your own struggles (and triumphs).  Anytime you can weave a story or an experience (yours or someone else’s) into your writing or animation, you stand a better chance of resonating with your target audience.

Being willing to be (a little) vulnerable can go a long way.   

  1. If you’re creating an opinion piece, please state your opinion

So, this is a little different. 

I deal mostly with facts and data.  My own animations are based on peer-reviewed research and the work I do for others generally involves profiling the work of scientists or students. 

My own opinions never make the cut…unless I’m writing an opinion piece.

And I’ve learned that strong opinions fare much better online than weak or watered down ones.  Strong opinions generate discussions and feedback (good, bad and ugly).  Weak ones don’t.

I think this is the part where I casually drop a warning about subjects that can and do get people into trouble – race, politics, religion, misogeny…There are probably others, but you know what I mean.  

With your right to express your opinion comes your audience’s right to react to said opinion. 

Also, if you have ties to an academic institution or organization, it might be worth your while to check into any policies or ‘unwritten rules’ regarding such matters.

  1. Use visuals

Obviously. 

I run an art and animation production studio.  Visuals are worth a thousand words they say.  There’s nothing serious depicted in the monstrosity that grew into the flow chart accompanying the post.  But, it (hopefully) left students with humorous take on the struggles and complexities of grad student life.

And yes, I also create diagrams, infographics and flowcharts.

NEXT STEPS

For more help crafting your own message, here’s a quick cheat sheet to get you started with your own science story.  Simply hover over the PDF below to expand, read and download.

web-scripts-brochure

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