Communicating your research in plain language doesn't diminish your work: Lessons from Springer Nature Storytellers

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The Source
By: Lucy Frisch, Thu Feb 27 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. .

Theoretical physicist Olga Smirnova is no stranger to science communication, but telling a personal story in front of a general audience was a new experience for her. Read our interview with her below, where she explains why researchers shouldn't be afraid to speak about their work in plain language for a general audience.

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

I have given well over 100 science talks but just a few popular talks aimed at a broad audience. Nevertheless, I always take an opportunity to communicate my work to a general audience.

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

It was a lot of fun and very different from all my previous talks, because this story was supposed to be quite personal. Normally, I do not do personal stories in front of a large audience. So I had to think how I can blend the science message with engaging personal story about my life.

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

I wrote it, re-wrote it, and then re-wrote it again, about a dozen times, and I changed it a lot during the very last days. I tried to make sure that my science message was coherent yet mixed with an engaging personal story, and I tried to use the funny events that happened to me to keep the attention of my audience.

How did the actual event compare to your expectations?

It was a lot of fun and very exciting. I did not expect it to be so much fun and so interesting for me. All other stories were really exciting and engaging and powerful. I was also surprised to find so many mutual connections and mutual friends with other participants. It turned out that I have read the papers of Sandro [Scandolo, who also participated in the Storytellers event] when I was a student, and that today we are using his codes in our research, and we have a lot of common friends.

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

This event has taught me a lot about communicating with a general audience. I will certainly take away the genuine interest of public in science and the need to put my message into a clear and compact form—something which is very valuable in research papers and scientific talks.

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

Write your message, work on the text, make it clear and compelling. If this is a science talk, get your key ideas across as quickly as possible. If it is a general public talk, do not be afraid to speak in plain language. It does not demean or diminish the science you do. In fact, the ability to connect to a broad audience and communicate general importance of your work is also an indicator of a good research problem.

Olga Smirnova is a theoretical physicist working on developing new ways to identify mirror twins of chiral molecules. She is currently at the Max Born Institute for Nonlinear Optics and Short Pulse Spectroscopy in Berlin, and also at the Berlin Technical University. Prof. Smirnova's research focuses on imaging and controlling the motion of electrons in atoms, molecules, and solids.

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


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.