Written by Ashley Stasko, PhD Candidate in Biology at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Interests in marine food webs and drivers behind variation in ecosystem structure.
The science portion of the Arctic Frontiers started off nicely with an early career researcher social event at Ølhallen, the oldest pub in Tromsø. Participants of both the Arctic Student Forum and the Arctic Frontiers PhD Workshop were in attendance. The social was a great venue for us to break out of our shells and network with each other. We were served a delicious dinner of local foods, and I finally had the chance to try some Norwegian beer!
The next day, there was a panel discussion on science communication at the Arctic Frontiers that I had been really interested in attending. Four panelists spoke about their diverse experiences in science communication (from large-scale film productions to Twitter), and gave advice on how early career researchers could reach out to the public to share their research. The panelists included Lawrence Hislop (a professional film-maker and science communicator from the Climate and Cryosphere Project), Magnus Svendsen Nerheim (University of Bergen and former APECS Director with extensive social media experience), Alexey Pavlov (Norwegian Polar Institute Researcher with classical media relations experience), and Sara Aparicio (APECS Portugal Researcher, who actively participates in educational programs for youth).
In general, the speakers had interesting and useful advice to give on communicating their science. I particularly enjoyed the diverse range of media products presented by Lawrence Hilsop, who has been involved with many eye-catching and interesting science communication initiatives, such as films and print media for international climate reports. It reminded me of a close colleague of mine, who just graduated his MSc in Arctic Fish Ecology but has much grander aspirations of becoming a film maker and professional science communicator. My friend has always been a strong supporter of making science not only accessible, but visually stunning and exciting for a general audience. I admire the dedication and talent it takes to turn your research project into a photo shoot (which is a talent I most definitely lack).
But I have to admit, that while I think communicating science to the general public is a very important endeavour, as Arctic researchers in particular I believe that our biggest communication responsibility is finding a way to effectively communicate our results and data back to the northern and Indigenous communities that have a deeper vested interest in our findings. This was one topic I was very surprised to find lacking in the panel discussion. In Canada, where I conduct my own science, it is near impossible to conduct research in the Arctic without the input and approval of Inuit research advisors. Admittedly, this makes the delivery of results to northern communities a little bit easier than it may be in other pan-Arctic regions. But there is still a lot of room for improvement, and I think that science communication for Arctic researchers should automatically include the notion of reporting back to those most deeply impacted by the political, environmental, and social subjects we study. And this requires a social and societal education on the part of the researchers. The media outlets, language, and approaches that may be most effective for communicating to our own southern communities may not necessarily be the ones most effective for northern communities.
As the polar science community grows and the support system for early career scientists strengthens, I hope that more resources will become available for learning how to communicate with Indigenous and other northern communities. Science, after all, is an important Arctic resource for us, and the people of the Arctic have a right to share in this resource.