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Results of survey of graduates of MSc in Science Communication, Dublin City University Independent research carried out by Brian Trench, founder and former chair of the MSc in Science Communication

The Masters in Science Communication enrolled its first students in September 1996. The current cohort of students is the fifteenth. To mark this fifteenth anniversary a survey of the programme’s graduates was undertaken, to gather information on the place of their Masters studies in their careers and their intellectual and personal development. Notice of the online survey was sent in February 2011to graduate classlists and to individual email addresses for graduates with whom there had been contact following their period at DCU. Recipients were invited to forward the notice to others and many graduates will have received the notice from several sources, so it is not possible to say how many were reached. The total number of graduates, including those who received their degrees from Queens University Belfast during the first seven years of the programme’s operation as a joint DCUQUB programme, is 220, so the 79 responses represent one third of all the programme’s graduates. The responses came from Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, United States and West Indies. 39 of the 71 respondents who indicated their current place of residence were in Ireland. The responses to the survey are presented here mainly in the sequence of the questionnaire. Question 1: Do you work full-time in science communication? Yes: 45.5%; No: 54.5% Question 2: If you answered No to question 1, do you work part-time in science communication? Yes: 25%; No: 75% Combining the answers to question 1 and 2, 58% of respondents work full-time or part-time in science communication Question 3: If you answered Yes to either question 1 or question 2, in what capacity do you mainly work in science communication? The five categories most strongly represented among the 36 responses to this question were: Teacher/lecturer/trainer (8); Public information / public relations (7); Journalist / media producer (6); Explainer / informal educator (5); Researcher (4). Among the near-half of respondents (17) who answered ‘Other’, the largest categories were Communications Manager (4) or Outreach Officer (3). If we assign these to Public information / public relations, this becomes by a wide margin the largest category of graduate employment, representing one third of all respondents to this question.


Question 4: If you answered No to both question 1 and question 2, in what sector do you work? The five categories most strongly represented among the 35 responses to this question were: Research and Civil or public service (7 each); Higher education, Secondary or primary education and Services industry (5 each). Media came behind these categories. A further 4 respondents (of 7 who replied ‘Other’) work in education, making the combined educators the single largest category of those working outside science communication. Question 16 sought information on graduates’ current job titles and employers. The range of job titles included: Education manager; Assistant professor; Principal market analyst; Deputy editor; Research scientist; Freelance journalist; Scientific writer / editor; Instructional design manager; Teacher; TV presenter/ producer; Astronomy programmes assistant; Communications and public affairs director; Events and community manager. The employers named included: local authorities, higher education institutions, research institutes, magazines and journals, pharmaceutical companies, database publishers, science museums and centres, civil society organisations and multinational corporations. Question 5 sought information on respondents’ year of DCU graduation and on their other educational qualifications The respondents covered the full spread of graduation dates from 1997 to 2011 (graduation takes place in March of the calendar year following completion of the programme). Half of the respondents (38) named further degrees received. 14 of these were PhDs and 4 of these were identified as having been awarded prior to undertaking the MSc in Science Communication. Six respondents had business or marketing degrees and three had teaching qualifications. The institutions in which 10 PhDs were apparently completed after undertaking the MSc in Science Communication were all except one (University of Barcelona) in Ireland and the UK. These were: UCD, TCD, NUI-G, DCU, U Swansea, U Newcastle, York U. It appears that 8 of these doctoral theses were in science communication and cognate areas (e.g. science policy and science education). Due to incomplete answers it is not possible to give a precise number. Questions 6-9 sought information on respondents’ media science consumption. All respondents answered all questions.

6. Do you watch science TV programmes ... 7. Do you listen to science radio programmes … 8. Do you read popular science magazines … 9. Do you read science articles in newspapers …

At least weekly 34%

Less frequently 60%

Rarely / never 6%

11%

48%

41%

32%

47%

21%

76%

22%

2%

The responses indicate that graduates have, in general, maintained a strong interest in following developments in science through the media. The much stronger attention paid to


newspaper coverage than to that in other mass media may indicate the graduates’ media consumption habits in general rather than anything specifically related to their media preferences for obtaining information on science. All respondents answered questions 6, 7 and 9; one did not answer question 8. Questions 10-12 sought information on respondents’ participation in public science events and interest in popular science. All respondents answered questions 11 and 12; one did not answer question 10. In past month 10. Have you attended a 30% public lecture or debate on science … 11. Have you read a popular 37% science book … 12. Have you visited a science 32% museum or science centre …

More than a month ago, but in past year 42%

Longer ago 21%

Not since I completed the DCU MSc 8%

34%

25%

4%

37%

29%

2%

These responses confirm the picture obtained from the previous group of questions of graduates who maintain a strong interest in public science and popular science. Questions 13-14 sought views on the importance to the respondents of their MSc Science Communication studies. All respondents answered question 14; two did not answer question 13.

13. How important are your MSc Science Communication studies to you in your personal life? 14. How important are your MSc Science Communication studies to you in your professional life?

Very important 35%

Quite important 53%

Not important 12%

59%

37%

4%

Combining ‘very important’ and ‘quite important’ responses indicates that a strong majority consider their Masters studies to have remaining significance to them in their personal (less strongly) and professional (more strongly) lives. This importance is expressed in various ways in the answers to the following question. Question 15: What impacts have your MSc Science Communication studies at DCU had on your personal and professional life? Please give three main points. 75 of 79 respondents answered this question, most of them giving three clearly identifiable points. These tended very largely to address Career impacts, Intellectual perspectives, Personal interests and benefits, though there is some overlap between these, as can be seen in sample responses below. The distribution of sample responses under these headings matches approximately the total distribution of responses in the various categories.


In considering these responses it is worth noting that a clear majority of students have come to the Masters in Science communication from a background in natural sciences, most with BSc qualifications, through some with MSc, Graduate Diploma and PhD degrees. It should also be noted that the sample of respondents is probably biased towards those with strongly favourable views of their MSc studies. Even allowing for these factors it seems fair to observe that the experience has had a crucial, even life-changing, influence on many of the programme’s students.

Career impacts •

The MSc Science Communications enabled me to change careers and pursue a job that interests me and is constantly challenging

The MSc allowed me to bridge the gap between the hard sciences and the humanities thus allowing me access to other job areas and encouraging my interest in science communication activities

Completing the dissertation this course gave me a basis for my knowledge of research which I use every day in my current position

A context for leading an unusual and different career path … Confidence working in a high skilled area where colleagues and people I do business with are highly qualified and have achieved high level of academic qualification

Following my research assistantship, I applied to do a PhD – I would never have gone on to do this without my MSc.

Presenting work during the course gave me material for first showreel that then led to many more and eventually to presenting my own BBC show.

Provided me with a platform for ALL my career choices to date.

Allowed me to change career entirely … Allowed me to pursue a writing career and publish a book, both long-held ambitions.

I have never been on a presentation skills course that even came close to being as good as what I learned in my MSc.

Intellectual perspectives •

I am significantly more aware of how science is communicated in the mass media and also how other information (politics, economics etc) is communicated in the mass media. I use a lot of what I learned to raise awareness of science among the students in school where I teach.

The MSc opened my mind to other disciplines, broadening my world view. It made me more reflective and critical.

Understanding the needs of the public rather than trying too hard to make the public understand the needs of science.

The MSc in Science Communication provided me with a theoretical framework for the field I was interested [in], and gave me a direction to focus on.

As I intend to continue with research science the programme has helped me to get an outside perspective on science.


Caused me to think about science from a different perspective and in a wider context, which has impacted on my personal view of the world and on my current career as a scientist.

It provided much needed background in the humanities (philosophy/sociology of science), which has made me a more rounded and balanced scientist.

The MSc literally changed how I look at the world. It gave me tremendous analytical skills which enabled me to challenge any orthodoxy and forensically dissect any argument.

The course gave me a strong background in critical thinking in relation to science and engineering. It significantly improved my writing skills and it gave me a confidence in my ability to take a complex subject and interrogate it.

Revised my unquestioning pro-science perspective to a more nuanced position that has been invaluable in acting as 'translator' between dogmatic scientists and the public in my professional life.

It opened up my interests - no longer daunted by humanities. It helped me learn how to learn, i.e. if something is difficult to understand it is most likely poorly communicated,

Contributed to a more inclusive world view. Validated a long-term suspicion of the 'exclusivity' of the scientific method. Gave me a platform for the pursuit of ethics nor only in science but in other disciplines.

The course filled a gap in my science education, as it dealt with broad themes that are important for any scientist to be aware of, but which can be overlooked in the very specialised world of modern professional science, e.g. epistemologies of science, sociologies of science, public perceptions of risk etc.

The MSc in Science Communication provided me with the tools to question science, to question politics and philosophy. It wasn't about preparing for exams and memorising biochemical pathways, it was about opening up your world to science and all the implications involved.

Personal interests and benefits •

Encouraged a personal interest in science & technology from a popular perspective.

Since starting the course in DCU I am more interested in reading/watching science stories and do so with a different level of appreciation

Having taken part in this course has increased my confidence with regard conducting knowledgeable conversations and presenting in front of people.

My passion for science has not diminished and the MSc also helped enhance that passion

I help out on a voluntary basis at my child's school in primary science and environmental educational activities

Influences reading and tv choices

I also made some great friends on the course, the best!


I feel well equipped to interpret and assess science-based texts that I come across, whether in private or professional life

It enabled me to move from a role that had an enormous routine element attached to it to one that offers me not only great variety but brings me into contact with people in diverse roles.

I use a lot of what I learned to raise awareness of science among the students in school where I teach

On a personal level it is very important to enjoy what I do professionally, the MSc definitely help me achieve that

I also have a better appreciation for science in general and will instill an importance in learning different areas of science in my children, something that wasn't instilled in my early years.

I have made lifelong friendships with very talented people, some of whom are working in Science Communication.

I have used my science communication to impart knowledge of science to friends and family. The MSc taught me that it was important to make science accessible to everyone and not hide behind jargon.


Results of survey of graduates of MSc in Science Communication