Difficulties and failures make a great story: Lessons from Springer Nature Storytellers

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The Source
By: Lucy Frisch, Fri Feb 28 2020
Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

Springer Nature Storytellers hosted an event at Berlin Science Week in which five researchers on the front lines of discovery shared true stories about life behind the science. We asked each of the storytellers to tell us what it was like to communicate about their research in a more personal way. Listen to the stories they told and read more about what they learned from the experience. 

Sandro Scandolo is a computational physicist at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP). In our interview below, he shared how his experience with Springer Nature Storytellers taught him that talking about failures in research can not only make for an interesting story, but it can also help advance science.

What was your experience with storytelling and research communications before participating in the Berlin Storytellers event?

I had given shorter talks about my research and longer presentations about my research and about my institution.

How was the storytelling experience different from other forms of science communication that you’ve done?

Previously I had concentrated on describing a concept, or a result of my research. Storytelling is about stories, so I had to rearrange the concepts in the form of a story. I enjoyed putting together the pieces in a different order and with a different narrative flow. I was surprised to realize that telling my own personal story was the most effective way to do it. 

How did you prepare to tell your story in front of this particular audience?

I knew I was going to tell my story to an audience eager to hear about science and I expected that other storytellers would be talking about their own research, so I decided to emphasize instead the human side of science, to the point that I constructed my story in a way that the description of my research was the starting point of the real story, not the end.

Was there anything that you took away from the experience that you plan to incorporate in your life as a researcher?

I believe so. The experience changed my perspective on how we scientists communicate the results of our research, not just to the general public, but also among ourselves. Research in our labs is a constantly unfolding story but in papers and technical talks we normally present only its results and how they follow from the premises. We omit difficulties and failures. Not only would difficulties and failures make a great story, but if known, they would also be of great benefit for the advancement of science.

What advice do you have for other researchers who want to improve their communication and storytelling skills?

Concentrate on the narrative flow. Practice, practice, practice.

Sandro Scandolo is a computational physicist working at the ICTP, a UNESCO institute based in Trieste, Italy. The institute is a driving force behind global efforts to advance scientific expertise in the developing world and Sandro contributes to its mission leading the institute's Research Division and spending most of his time in airplanes to visit physicists in the most remote corners of the world.

To hear more stories from Springer Nature Storytellers at Berlin Science Week, click below:

An audience likes to see the 'human' in scientists by Liane G. Benning

You have to care about the audience by Carlos Riofrío

Memorization can only get you so far by Masanori Nakayama

Communicating your research in plain language doesn't diminish your work by Olga Smirnova

Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

Lucy Frisch is a Senior Marketing Manager on the Outreach and Open Research team, based in the New York office. She has a passion for storytelling and works to humanize the research published across Springer Nature with a focus on the researcher experience.