1. Keep an open mind, stay flexible
Both authors and scientists embarked on this project with their own expectations as to how the process would unfold (some negative, some positive). However in most cases these preconceived ideas were soon challenged and as part of the process both scientists and authors had to adapt their expectations around one another. Although this was often challenging, it lead to new avenues of creative thought for both parties, and upon completion of the project everyone agreed that this had been an enjoyable and productive learning experience.
2. Communicating with a non-scientist one-to-one
This collaboration highlighted for the ECRs the importance of defining scientific terminology when communicating with non-scientists. Specifically one ECR (Sarah Fox) learnt to be wary scientific terms that also double as general usage words during (e.g. ‘plaque’ in neurophysiology has very different connotations in her field to, say, dental plaque).
3. Communicating with the public in live events
For some of the researchers it was their first time speaking at a public event. Therefore, this project provided an excellent opportunity for them to practice communicating their own work in a succinct and understandable manner.
4. Always be prepared
As a research scientist, who spends more time with computers than people, Sarah Fox admitted to being nervous with regard to communicating with the public at a live event. However, she found that arriving at the event with a prepared reading which had been well practised aided the process significantly. She even admitted to enjoying the ‘buzz’ she received from speaking, and hopes that in future she be less apprehensive about talking at public events.
5. Widening your field of expertise
Research can and must focus scientists upon their specific area of expertise. However, it is also important for scientists to appreciate their own work as part of the larger sphere of scientific knowledge and advancement. For the ECRs involved in this project the act of collaborating with non-scientists and preparing an ‘interesting’ lay-scientific afterword required them to look beyond their specific line of research and appreciate its relevance to the wider world of science. This broadening of their academic horizons will undoubtedly aid them in their future careers.
6. Do not fear the metaphor
From an editor’s point of view, Comma had previously been warned off approaching science as merely a ‘metaphor kitty’ (as it is often treated by poetry). This was the attitude of science fiction writers we’d previously worked with, and in particular the editor of the previous project, Geoff Ryman, who viewed it as an intellectual cop-out. And yet, as long as acknowledgements are made to its limitations, metaphor can be used, indeed in many cases it must be used. It’s often all scientists themselves have, and this project ultimately felt like a vindication of careful, conscientious application of metaphor in science communication.