Out of the Lab – into the Spotlight
Doctoral students in the ArcTrain program are working on various subjects at the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Sciences of the University of Bremen as part of the Faculties of Geosciences, Physics, and Electrical Engineering, as well as at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Maritime Research (AWI). They are involved in very different means of science communication; Valentin Ludwig has been on stage several times already. The Bremen Science Slam at the Kulturzentrum Lagerhaus in June 2017 was his first time speaking in front of a lay audience. In competition with other researchers, he gave an entertaining and comprehensible talk about the evaluation of satellite data in the Arctic, which is the subject of his doctoral thesis. His talk earned him rigorous applause from the audience. He made additional appearances at Science Slams in northern Germany and at the northern German championship in 2018.
Ludwig also recently gave it a go with Science goes Public, where researchers introduce their subjects to guests at the bars and pubs of Bremen and Bremerhaven. He loves the interactive nature of this format. “After my lecture, people came up to me and asked some really good questions. They had a true understanding of what I do, which means a lot to me.”
It could be said that Ludwig is a “grizzled veteran” of science communication. Anouk Vlug wrote her first blog article at an ArcTrain conference. For this, the two researchers put together their own workshop on the subject of science communication. Vlug modeled glaciers in the Canadian Arctic on the computer. In her blog, she reported on her Arctic expedition on the Polarstern research ship and how she learned to avoid accidentally becoming polar bear food. “There are lots of people around me who want to know what I do,” says Vlug. “Using the blog, I can provide access to anyone who is interested. Now there is just a story online that they can read.” In the ArcTrain blog, her fellow doctoral candidates also provide insights into their lives in the world of research. They write about experiments, report on expeditions, or simply talk about themselves and their lives in order to give science a face.
Stories are the subject for the “Once Upon a Time” project as well – a project of the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Sciences at the University of Bremen, which is also the work of graduate students in the ArcTrain program. They write short stories, fairy tales, and poems on scientific subjects that are intended for both children and adults. In these works, the researchers place the spotlight on climate change and the role of the seas and oceans, among other topics. They describe how humans discover changes in the climate and how we can use and protect bodies of water. The project received recognition from the “Meere und Ozeane” university competition in the 2016/2017 academic year.
It practically goes without saying that the ArcTrain project is also active on social media – be it a blog, a Facebook page, or on Twitter. The advantages are clear for Ludwig and Vlug: a presence on social media increases the odds that someone will happen upon their research and, ideally, will be enthused by it. Additionally, posts on Facebook or tweets can be written quickly. And this method of knowledge transfer is dynamic thanks to the ability to like these posts, to share them, or to engage in dialogue with the audience through the comment function.
As Ludwig and Vlug see it, young researchers should learn early on how to discuss their research outside of the university setting: “I think what we are doing is important,” says Ludwig. “And I think it’s important to tell people about it. If no one knows about what we do, then we might as well forget about it.” You don’t need much to get started. “Just give it a try – the fun will follow.”