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On the 13th of February 2015, our first SciCom NL symposium organized with students and the Science Communication tracks in The Netherlands took place. As I had some part in making this happen, I really wanted to give the ‘opening talk’ on behalf of SciCom NL, to give the crowd some idea of why we are doing what we are doing with our association, and to offer some background. I’d written out the text, which I’m posting here, for posterity’s sake… 🙂

‘Natural enemies’
When I started my job here at TU Delft as a science information officer, one of the first things I was allowed to do was attend the 2007 World Conference for Science Journalists in Melbourne.

One of the many things that struck me there was the fact that this conference was organised by an association called the Australian Science Communicators, with subheader ‘for those who make science accessible’. 

At that time in the Netherlands you only had two science communication clubs, one for university press officers, Platform Wetenschapsommunicatie, of which I still am board member. The other one was the Vereniging Wetenschapsjournalisten Nederland, for science journalists (now more open to other communicators as well). These were two distinct groups and ‘natural enemies’ in a way, there’s this thing between journalists and ‘communicators’, something that I was beginning to find rather tedious at that time (and still do).

And there I was, in Melbourne, suddenly confronted with an association which represented the whole field of science communication, all sorts of communicators thrown together, with science communication as a connecting factor. Great, apparently there was another way to organise things!

So I became an immediate fan of this club, and still am today.

For everyone with a story about science
I then met Lara, who is now our SciCom NL chair (update 17/12/2015:  alas, not anymore, but see https://scicomnl.wordpress.com/het-bestuur/ ), because she wanted to join my platform of university press officers. I had to tell her no, as she was not a university press officer. I did have the good sense to ask her why she wanted to join us. ‘There is no other alternative’, she said, because the emphasis of the VWN was too much on science journalism, which was only one of her many interests.

One thing led to another, and eventually we did start our own association for ‘everyone with a story about science’: SciCom NL in 2013. We currently have almost 100 members (update 17/12/2015: 124), four partners with more underway (update 17/12/2015: six partners, and counting), two extra board members, Jelle and Joost, we’ve started our own SciComLab, hosted several events, big and small, and almost have our first local hub in Groningen and lots of ideas. So we are slowly but steadily gaining momentum.

Much to slow for our taste, by the way, because we are doing all of this alongside our day jobs, studies, kids, cats and dogs, so if you want to help, join SciCom NL and become an active member, please do so.

Now, with SciCom NL there are several issues we want to tackle, issues that have been plaguing the field of science communication for decades. Call us ambitious.

Fragmentation
One of the first of these issues is the so-called fragmentation – versnippering – of the field of science communication. All across the country science communication activities are taking place, at universities, science centres, science cafes, schools, etc, but most of them are local, without being embedded in a larger whole, and without knowing what the organisation next door is doing. This has been the topic of discussion for literally decades, without anyone apparently being able to do something about it.

By bringing together people and partners within SciCom NL, and also within the related LinkedIn group – which currently has over 1.000 members by the way, – I think you can say we are making a start with taking on this fragmentation, and bringing together the field in the Netherlands.

Theory and practice
Another issue which has been around for at least as long as I have in this field, is the enormous gap between science communication theory and practice. As someone working in the field of science communication I have never really had the feeling that the theories being developed by science communication scientists were relevant to my daily job. Now I do have to say that that is slowly changing, and with our own SciComLab – I won’t go into detail here, check our website – I think we are helping to bridge that gap even further.

Involving students – Professional Learning Community
The last issue I would like to mention is also my stepping stone to today’s theme.

One of the things that has always been high up on my own personal science communication bucket list has been trying to find a way to get science communication students and professionals together in some way. Students are our future colleagues or future competitors for our jobs, and either way it would be nice to know what skills and knowledge they are bringing to the table.

On the other hand, I think that finding out about what we professionals actually do all day when communicating about science, will help students think about the skills and knowledge they will need when they leave college. Ideally it will also keep the courses up to date and relevant at the same time.

Internships go some way towards that goal, of course, but I believe that thinking about a more structured Science Communication Professional Learning Community – one of the main topics of today – would be a great next step in bringing together students, professionals and other science communicators, and help with the previous issues I mentioned.

 I don’t know what such a PLC will look like in practice, but I do know that the cases that will be presented today, and Carolines research, show some very interesting and promising ideas. Hopefully we can follow up on those and start implementing some of them, using SciCom NL as a basis to work from. I’m very much looking forward to seeing that happen in the next couple of years.

So, with that in mind, I wish us all happy matchmaking today, and gladly give the floor to the next speaker, who has a lot more to say on this topic of bringing people together.

 

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