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Helping Scientists Get the Word Out


Greg Mack, 2013-15 Executive Branch Fellow

Scientists are experts in their field, but many aren’t expert in informing the public about what they do. Sound familiar? And while much of the public is aware that the National Science Foundation (NSF) backs a lot of great and useful research, the agency knows that much of it could use more publicity.

The Science Communication Toolkit for Principal Investigators (PIs) was designed by physicist Greg Mack, 2013-15 Executive Branch Fellow, to help NSF-funded PIs understand why their engagement is important and how they can be involved in the process of creating communications tools. This in turn will better enable NSF to communicate the science it funds.

“It may look like a presentation, but it is an interactive application that users employ at their own pace to help them stretch how they communicate their research and its broader impacts,” explained Mack. “When NSF program officers have an idea or when their PIs come to them with something to communicate, they can use this resource to get a better idea of what to do and who to talk to at NSF to make it happen.”

If more scientists understand the importance of communication and learn to do it more effectively, more people will become aware and supportive of their research.


“NSF wants to communicate more about the great work being accomplished by NSF-funded researchers, but it needs to be able to hear about those stories from the researchers,” said Mack. “And, some researchers don’t know the type of things that NSF wants to communicate or how to go about it.”

The toolkit aims to address these challenges and includes: 1) the importance of science communication, particularly from the NSF perspective; 2) the process for communication involving NSF-funded researchers, public information officers at institutions, NSF program directors, and NSF’s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs (OLPA); 3) suggestions for effective science communication; and, 4) all of NSF’s communications channels with examples and links.

Fellow fellows, as is often the case, proved useful. “I bounced ideas off of other fellows, most notably Ryan Bixenmann, Susan Pell, and Liz Boatman [all 2013-15 Executive Branch Fellows]. They also helped test the tool.”

This project was the kind of experience I was really hoping to have coming into the fellowship: something that combined my scientific background with my interest in science communication in a way that can positively affect a part of the scientific community.