SciComm—shorthand for science communication—is a term we’re hearing more and more these days. Classes in SciComm are offered in university settings; new professional societies are emerging around the topic; large organizations, like AAAS and AGU, offer tools and training to build communication skills; and more scientists are valuing the role science communication can play in their own work, especially outside of academia.

But what is SciComm, really? Some might say it is simply being mindful to strip out extraneous details from research when talking about it. Others would say it is remembering to use jargon-free language and more accessible terms. And that’s not wrong; but we argue it’s more than that.

SciComm can be and is different things to different people. At the College of the Environment, we approach it with a lens of impact that is driven by you. In other words, what’s the impact you are trying to have in the world? What are you trying to achieve, and how can communication increase your odds at success? While each person strives to achieve something different, there are some universal traits that apply to all things SciComm.


Many researchers feel compelled to share their work with the wider world but stop short of thinking about why. Why are you sharing your work? What’s your goal? For some, the goal may be to get kids excited about science and make it feel accessible; for others, it might be sharing research to help develop policy about natural resource use; and for others, it might be simply getting your family to understand and value what it is you do. Thinking through the outcomes and impact you wish to have will shape your strategy about how you share your work and where to plug in.


Once you think about your goal, that will naturally lead to thinking about the specific audience you need to connect with to achieve that goal. If your work sheds light on fascinating ecological processes right here in our backyard, a local journalist might be interested (especially if there’s an opportunity to go into the field with you!). If your work informs a vexing environmental issue at the national level, your congressional delegation could be your audience. One word of caution: If you identify your target audience as “General Public,” see if you can drill down a bit deeper. General public is often an audience we hear most about, but the category is so broad we encourage you to see if you can be more specific.


Thinking through your goals and audience will help shape what you want to say, or your message. Try putting yourself in the shoes of your audience and think about what might resonate with them. What values, concerns, daily pressures and interests do they have? Can you create meaningful ways to talk about your work that connects to those values, concerns, pressures and interests? Helping your audience see themselves in your work will create an immediate connection and help them see value in what you bring to the table.

Relationship building

Trust is a key factor in getting people to work with you and value your research, and that takes time. The good news is broadly, scientists often enjoy a relatively high level of trust in the public sphere compared to other institutional leaders, but you still have to work at it and earn it. So how do you build relationships to build that trust? There are many ways, which could include going to where particular communities hang out, attending one of their events or meetings, volunteering with community groups, visiting with local officials before you have an ‘ask’. The list goes on and on. A big part of the trust-building process involves being available and putting in the time to get to know one another.

Practice, practice, practice!

As with all things, practice makes you sharper. Think about what you want to say ahead of time and practice with your lab mates, or your advisor, or a friend who knows nothing about your work to make sure it makes sense. Or call us and practice with a communications professional! Write down what you want to say and iterate, edit, and trim ruthlessly. Leave room for conversation, but make sure you surface your main points and why it would matter to that person or group. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will be.

At the College of the Environment SciCom Program, we think about the impact of communications all the time. If you want to connect with us and think about how your work might be of interest to various communities, be in touch ( and let’s chat.