Communications is central to science
The art of communication is vital to the success of any endeavour and this premise is central to the work undertaken by Marina Joubert, researcher at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (Crest). “I was able to combine my two passions of science and communications by first doing a science degree and then postgraduate training in science journalism,” says Joubert. “Since I started working there has been a huge upsurge in global awareness in the importance of public science engagement and this has allowed me to build a career as a science communicator.”
Joubert defines her role as that of facilitator and catalyst in assisting scientists to connect with broader society in a wide range of ways, from mass media to science on stage. And her academic history certainly supports her capabilities, with a BSc Food Science (honours) degree, Journalism (honours) degree, an MSc (Agric) degree. She is now studying towards a PhD in science communications. In January 2015 she returned to academic life at her alma mater, Stellenbosch University, after eight years working as a freelance science communications consultant, among other for the SKA.
Her track record also includes time spent working at the National Research Foundation (NRF) and at the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (Saasta).
Joubert spends a good percentage of her time working with postgraduate students at Crest teaching a module on “Science and its Publics” once a year and supervising a number of master’s students.
“Earlier this year, close to 90 scientists and science communicators from across Africa participated in an online course in science communication that I designed and presented,” says Joubert. “This was a first for Stellenbosch, South Africa and Africa, as far as I know. It’s the first fully online course at Stellenbosch University and the first university-accredited science communication short course in South Africa and Africa.”
The course proved to be extremely popular and as a result another run has been scheduled from October to December 2015. “Since my field is about communicating science, I feel passionate about participating in this process.” Joubert is committed to making science relevant, accessible and meaningful to public audiences and has recently started a series of public-science dialogues at Crest called Science Fridays @Stellenbosch.
“Once a month we invite someone to speak on a topic relevant to the communication of science and a scientist’s experiences of engaging with the public,” says Joubert. “About 100 people — a mix of academics, students and the public — turn up to explore topics such as citizen science, science theatre, science books and more.”
Joubert is also focusing her research on how and why universities as research organisations, and researchers as individuals, communicate science and engage the public in science.
“I hope that my work at the NRF and Saasta and as a communication consultant at the SKA SA project for 10 years has contributed to establishing science communication as a field of practice in South Africa,” concludes Joubert. “My challenge now is to make a difference in establishing science communication as a field of research here too!”