Comparison of graduate students and tenure-track faculty in levels of and attitudes toward public science communication engagement

Author: Kathleen Rose – Dartmouth College, United States

Dominique Brossard – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Emily Howell – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Julia Nepper – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Dietram Scheufele – University of Wisconsin-Madison
Michael Xenos – University of Wisconsin-Madison

Productive communication between scientists and the public is beneficial to both scientists and the public. Much research focuses on the impact of engagement on the public, and recent efforts have aimed to both understand and increase scientists’ participation in public communication. These efforts have largely focused on the activities of scientists in professional settings such as industry scientists and academic faculty. While these studies are informative, the field lacks information on science graduate students.

As a first step towards exploring science communication in the scientist-in-training population, we examined perceptions and engagement in science and engineering graduate students. We surveyed the graduate student population at a research-intensive U.S. institution, in early 2017 (N=1,036; completion rate=16.6%), and compared these results with those from a 2016 survey of tenure-track science faculty at UW-Madison (N=373; completion rate=30%). Participants were asked about their familiarity with various media, their engagement in public science communication (PSC), and attitudes towards PSC and the public. We found that graduate student respondents were more likely than faculty to view social media as a tool for engaging with the public and other scientists, and were also more likely to post or comment on science-related content. In contrast, faculty were more likely to engage in public outreach (non-academic scientific communication, excluding social media) than graduate students. Overall, this first look suggests there are some cohort changes in terms of how graduate students engage compared to tenure-track faculty, with graduate students more frequently using forms of online engagement.

Broadly, we find that graduate students’ perceptions of the value and usefulness of PSC are favorable. We discuss factors that may affect these perceptions, and findings, and possible strategies for increasing competency and engagement in science communication across researchers at multiple levels of their academic career.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Building a theoretical basis for science communication