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Unpacking Science Communication at the PCST Mexico Symposium: A Reflection on Language, Reflexivity, and Praxis

April 16, 2024

Photo of laptop, a cup of coffee from a balcony over looking a cobblestoned street in Zacatecas, Mexico

Attending the International Symposium on Public Communication of Science and Technology 2024 (PCST) and IX National Colloquium on Science Recreation // El Simposio Internacional de Comunicación Pública de la Ciencia y Tecnología 2024 y IX Coloquio Nacional de Ciencia Recreativa in Zacatecas, Mexico, was an eye-opening experience. The symposium was a part of the PCST Network (Global Network for Science Communication), RedPop (Network for the Popularization of Science and Technology in Latin America and the Caribbean), and Recreación en Cadena (Mexican Network of Recreational Science). 

I decided to attend this conference due to location, since I am currently located in Mexico City. The opportunity to to network and learn more about science communication IRL, especially from an international perspective, was very appealing. I knew the language barrier would be a challenge, but it was one I was up to facing. I couldn’t turn up the opportunity to explore a new city in Mexico and to learn more about science communication.

The symposium’s focus was on “New Voices, New Knowledge” and was the through-line across every session, speaker, and conversation. The symposium focus was “on exploring and promoting effective communication strategies that bring science and technology closer to all people, especially sectors that traditionally have not had a voice in discussions.”

In this blog post, I’ll unpack some of the key takeaways, particularly around language, reflexivity, and my intentions to put theory into practice.

Unintended Language Immersion: A Challenge and an Opportunity

The conference was bilingual, with simultaneous translation for keynotes and lectures. While this was helpful, it wasn’t available for all sessions. And so this turned into an unexpected language immersion experience. I discovered my comprehension of Spanish was way better than I thought, and knowing context of the conversations helped me bridge the gap. There were plenty of native Spanish speakers willing to help translate in most sessions. I got a solid assist from a Mexican researcher who helped me with the term divulgación, which did not translate in my Google Translate app. It means science communication and is unique to Mexico.

However, it also highlighted the challenges faced by non-Spanish and English speakers. Thankfully, some Spanish speaking presenters prepared a presentation written in English. There were fewer examples of this from the English speaking perspective. 

Deconstructing My American-Centric Lens: Reflexivity And Rethinking Science Communication

The conference also helped me confront my own biases. Several sessions addressed the importance of diversity and inclusion in science communication. I reflected on my background in sport management, a field heavily influenced by American dominance, from the sports industry to the research we publish and consumed. I realized I had unconsciously adopted a narrow perspective on research communication from my experience, training, and lived experiences adjacent to the sport industry. This sparked a personal commitment to “unlearn” these biases and become a more effective advocate for inclusive communication practices.

A recurring theme throughout the conference was the tension between expertise and accessibility (or democracy). This manifested in several ways, including the deficit model of communication, where audiences are seen as lacking knowledge. The discussions highlighted how science communication can be exclusionary due to factors like culture, language, gender, and sexuality. One of the ways to combat this is through reflexive communication. As one presenter emphasized, science communicators must be mindful of how they present themselves and their message to ensure it resonates with a diverse audience.


Related Post: How does Knowledge Deficit Model Impact Researchers


Reflexivity In Action

There were a few points within the symposium where reflexivity could have benefited. First, while there were accommodations for language, there were seemingly no accommodations for people with disabilities. As communication professionals, we must strive to consider the seen and unseen needs of our audiences and accommodate accordingly. This would exemplify a truly reflexive approach to communication, ensuring inclusivity for all participants. 

Second, the closing session included a European scholar presenting research with a European focus and addressing a primarily Latin American audience. While the topic itself (the role of science communication in challenging times: persuasion, democracy, and empowerment) was highly relevant, the presentation could have benefitted from a more reflexive and adaptive approach for its audience. Simply acknowledging the audience’s geographical background and incorporating examples or case studies from Latin America could have helped us connect better with the work.


Related Post: Don’t Get Lost in Translation: Communicating Complex Ideas to a Lay Audience


Collaboration is Key: Co-Designing Science Communication for Impact

Another recurring theme throughout the conference was the importance of collaboration and co-designing research communication with the communities you’re trying to reach. There were many calls to action for supporting citizen science initiatives and fostering partnerships between researchers and the public. One session explored how science communicators can bridge the gap between communities and research teams, using the example of co-designing plans for a spent nuclear facility. This approach not only respects the lived experiences of the community but also empowers them to have a voice in shaping their future alongside the researchers and industry (or government).

Bridging the Gap: Museums, Communities, and Beyond

The conference sparked a reflection on how the way information is presented can significantly impact its accessibility. There was a lot of discussion about museums, which led me to consider the difference between good and bad museum experiences in relation to science communication. Effective science communication, like a well-designed museum exhibit, should be engaging, thought-provoking, and even inspire action. I contrasted the National Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, which uses a powerful narrative to immerse visitors in the story, with the National Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati, where crucial information was presented through massive text displays. This comparison highlights the importance of storytelling and clear, concise narratives in science communication that is available for a wide audience. 

This can translate into your own approach to research and science communication. The audience should always be considered first. 

The opening keynote speaker discussed the complex relationship between science communication and diversity. He shared a thought-provoking anecdote from his travels: encountering a museum with signage solely in Catalan. This experience, which resonated with my own travel experiences, highlights the tension between focusing on a local audience and educating the broader community and world. Museums are often built and designed with the local community in mind, yet the knowledge they hold has universal value. This paradox highlights a battle in diversity, a challenge science communicators must continually grapple with.

Next Steps: Putting Learnings into Action

The symposium left me with a inspired sense of purpose and a clear roadmap for the future. Here are some of the key takeaways that will guide my work moving forward:

  • Officially joining PCST to connect with a wider network of science communication professionals.
  • Presenting as a practitioner-scholar at PCST 2025 in Aberdeen, Scotland, to share my experiences and insights.
  • Collaborating with other science communication trainers to develop more effective training programs.
  • Continuing to learn and adapt my programs based on the latest research on science communication, including assessing quality science communication and reflexive science communication.
  • Rethinking my services to better support scholars in bridging the gap between their research and the communities that can benefit from it.

The symposium was a valuable opportunity to engage in critical conversations about science communication, in both English and Spanish. By focusing on language, reflexivity, accessibility, and collaboration, science communicators can empower communities and ensure that scientific knowledge reaches everyone. And science communication trainers like myself can continue to build programs and training that meet the needs of researchers and the communities we aim to help.

And if you are interested in talking more about science & research communication, schedule a free strategy session with me today!

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Alicia Cintron, PhD

Research Public Communications Trainer & Coach + traveling Scholarpreneur

Welcome! Here you’ll find insight, musings, and thoughts about research, public engagement, communication, travel, and higher education. Have an idea for a topic for us to cover? Shoot us a note
 

Alicia Cintron, PhD

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