22 September 2022

Five current and prospective MPhil and PhD candidates at CREST – Marnell Kirsten, Chumisa Ndlazi, Lili Rademan, Ntsiki Sackey, and Lali van Zuydam – travelled to Venice in September 2022 to participate in a graduate seminar on science communication at Venice International University (VIU). Dr Marina Joubert, senior lecturer at CREST, was one of the invited lecturers at this seminar.

The theme of the seminar was ‘Science Communication Today: Challenges and Opportunities in the SDGs Era’. The five-day seminar took place from 12 to 16 September and was led by Venice International University (Italy), Stellenbosch University (South Africa), University of Padua (Italy), KU Leuven (Belgium) and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (Italy).

Dr Joubert led the following sessions at the seminar:

  • Introducing science communication as a field of research: its evolution and where it is now
  • Moving towards ‘evidence-based’ science communication or ‘the science of what makes people care’
  • Reflecting on COVID-19: the good, the bad and the ugly. What have we learned, what will we do better/differently when a pandemic strikes again?

For the session entitled Reflecting on COVID-19, the CREST students performed a short piece of science theatre entitled “Home Affairs” to present some of the dominant challenges South Africans faced during the pandemic. Lili played a government minister, Lali an uncommunicative scientist, Chumisa a young woman with an overreliance on social media for information, Ntsiki a new mother who is pro-vaccination and Marnell a schoolteacher navigating the pandemic with young learners.

The scenes take place in a queue at a South African Home Affairs office where the minister holds an impromptu community meeting and provides statistics which are aimed at encouraging people to get vaccinated. The meeting turns into a discussion between the different characters about their experiences of the pandemic, vaccination and navigating the “infodemic”.

Some key takeaways from the seminar, relating to science communication in the era of the SDGs include:

  • Science communication is an empirical art
  • Creative thinking and a combination of cross-disciplinary approaches (art-based, multi-sensory, visual among others) to science communication are necessary
  • The importance of co-creation and discussions with the public
  • The importance of evaluating the impact of science communication activities
  • Inclusivity, empathy and listening are key to good science communication
  • Science communication should play a more prominent role in research proposals
  • Engaging resistant scientists is important
  • Multilingualism in science communication should be taken into account to reach people “where they are”.

Lili is a registered CREST student and is investigating pseudoscience in cancer reporting in the South African online news media for her PhD thesis. “The science and art concepts inspired me to think creatively about scicomm. I loved experiencing the mindshift towards social co-creation of science,” Lili said.

Lali, Marnell, Ntsiki are currently completing their proposals to undertake their PhD studies at CREST. Lali loved the opportunity to meet other students from different disciplines and universities. “It opened my eyes to the diversity of ways to communicate science,” she added. For Marnell, the seminar was an amazing opportunity to meet scholars from all over the world, and to create connections with them “that will hopefully last for years”.

According to Ntsiki, attending the seminar was an eye-opening and enriching experience. “It was great to be in a room full of people who understand the importance of science communication. I learnt a lot and am grateful I was granted the opportunity to be there.”

Chumisa is in the first year of her MPhil degree at CREST. Each student also had the opportunity to present their research during the seminar. “The graduate seminar inspired me to start thinking about my research topic and questions more intently. I now feel more equipped to tackle my research project next year,” Chumisa said.

Stellies scicommers in Venice: (from left to right): Lili Rademan, Ntsiki Sackey, Marina Joubert, Marnell Kirsten, Chumisa Ndlazi and Lali van Zuydam.

“Home Affairs” performed by CREST students.