Experienced Science Communicator (SciComm), Karen O’Hanlon Cohrt, explains why she enjoys writing for Research Features magazine and how her background in research makes her well placed to do this.
My passion for science communication began while writing my PhD thesis in 2010. Having investigated genes that contribute to virulence in a pathogenic fungus, I found the lab work exciting, and it was very rewarding to aid discoveries that might one day lead to new antifungal therapies. Ultimately, though, the chance to gather my findings and communicate them to my supervisor and viva committee turned out to be one of the highlights of those years.
Seven years on, and after two postdoctoral positions and a stint in the drug discovery industry, I no longer work in in the lab, yet my love for research continues, and I interact with researchers on a daily basis. I have shared my own findings through more than 10 peer-reviewed research publications since 2011, but this has not satisfied my desire to communicate science. While peer-reviewed publications are essential to inform, support and develop research fields, I believe that it is equally as important to share research findings with non-experts.
I began to seek freelance writing opportunities about 4 years ago, and I started out with writing technical articles for other scientists, taking advantage of topics that I had extensive hands-on expertise with. The goal was to take research techniques or concepts and break them down into concise and snappy articles so that non-experts or beginners would get a reliable introduction to new topics. This was a rewarding experience and it opened my eyes to the fact that I could use my research skills and experiences to support others, even if it meant I wouldn’t carry out the research myself.
As time goes on, I realise that my main passion actually lies in communicating science to a much broader audience – one that likely includes researchers, but also interested members of the public. I believe that if we want the general public to support and appreciate science, we as scientists need to communicate its potential and successes in a way that the people can understand.
The ease of accessing information in our modern technological world, and the abundance of science blogs and news sites on the Internet brings with it opportunities and problems, in my opinion. On the positive side, opportunities exist for people to follow science news and developments that they would never have been able to access in the past. What concerns me, though, is the sea of non-accurate scientific information that exists on the Internet, and while trained scientists have a chance to sort out what’s real from the pseudoscience, the general public cannot be expected to do so. As well as these issues, I see a great gap between the abundance of peer-reviewed scientific literature and the availability of high quality popular science. I believe that Research Features magazine helps to fill this gap by enabling researchers to make their findings freely available to general audiences worldwide.
I began writing for Research Features in August 2017, and as an experienced researcher with a genuine interest in scientific outreach, I appreciate the opportunity to remove the barriers from complex scientific information, translating it into a language to meet the curiosity of the general public. For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of working with Research Features magazine is the chance to put questions to the researchers, and I hope that I manage to ask questions that readers might have on the tip of their tongue while reading the articles!