People with a passion can make the impossible happen Sep 16, 2018
Behind every great science communication platform there is a science communicator, or in this case multiple ones. Meet Martijn and Els, the two science communication officers of UHasselt who are out on a mission to put the communication back into science.
THERE ONCE WAS A SCIENTIST
“With increasing passion comes increasing creativity to reach people” – Steve Jobs.
Martijn and Els are just discussing the novel design schemes for the various social media of inSCIght when we enter their landscape office with a beautiful view on the skyline of Hasselt. A warm welcome immediately ensues and we are offered something to drink while we proceed to their meeting room. After some pleasant small talk we immediately dive into our first question: How did the both of you get into science.
“I have always been very intrigued by science” Els takes the lead. “Being curious is my second nature. That’s why I chose to study industrial engineering with a specialization in biochemistry. After that I ended up in BIOMED, at that time known as the Dr. Willems institute, at UHasselt to study Multiple Scleroses (MS).”
“Apparently both of us did not only end up in science communication, we also did research in the same field and institute” Martijn, who studied biomedical sciences, laughs. “Maybe that’s the secret key to becoming a scicomm’er? I got into science thanks to my grandfather. He was a retired forest keeper and taught me everything he knew about nature during our countless walks. It sparked a passion inside me that is still there to this day.” Martijn elaborates on all the fun little facts that he learned as a child from his grandfather after which we end up at our next question: so how did you get into the profession of science communication?
THE ORIGIN OF SCICOMM
It was in 2008 that a brand new position was created at UHasselt, that of science communication officer, Els tells us. A position for which she immediately and successfully applied. “I have always found it important to keep society up-to-date about scientific progress in a stimulating way. Seeing people from all ages and backgrounds being captivated and entertained by science stories as well as being interested in the science conducted at our university is a truly amazing and motivating experience. I still remember a little boy spontaneously hugging a professor after a talk he gave at the ‘children university’.”
“I couldn’t agree more”, Martijn weighs in, “experiences like these are unforgettable. I once had to hand out autographs to dozens of children who cornered me on a school playground during an event called the ’science battle’. Suddenly all these kids were interested in nanotechnology and MS and wanted to become a scientist. It did not only show me the power and importance of science communication but also made me feel like a real rock star at the time. This motivated me to increase my efforts when it came to communicating my research as well as scientific concepts in general, which snowballed in science communication becoming a true passion. So I was elated to say the least when I got the opportunity to turn my passion into my job this year”
AN EVER-CHANGING ENVIRONMENT
With a decade of science communication experience, Els has witnessed first hand how drastically everything evolved during the past years. “Back then there wasn’t as much focus on organized science communication as there is now. It were exciting years as for the first time ever, the Flemish universities started working together on bigger communication projects like ‘the science shop’ or ‘science fest’. We were pioneers. Over the subsequent years, stakeholders and policy-makers have shifted their opinion on how impactful science communication can be. But I have also seen an evolution in how scientists themselves look at showcasing their results. Now more then ever, young researchers are motivated to participate in popular science events.”
Also Martijn seemed to have noticed the occurrence of this trend as well. “I still very vividly remember how I was one of the only researchers at our university doing science communication 4 years ago. But now countless researchers at our university are exploring the many opportunities that lurk in the science communication world. Especially the dawn of social media has forced scientists to switch gears. People are glued to their phones, living a great part of their life online. So science communication needs to follow. We cannot stay behind. The gap needs to be filled.”
“It is this opportunity that has inspired us to create inSCIght”, Martijn tells us,“ To make science become a part again of people’s daily life. To reach them and to create a relationship of trust and dialogue. To stop informing and start communicating again. That’s what inSCIght is all about.”
We cannot help but wonder what will be the outcome of these two people passionate about science communication working together, determined to make this world a better place…