7 Must-Know Tips for SciComm Hires

Scientists are in the business of finding answer to the universe, your job is to bring that science to the masses. Here’s how to do it effectively.

5 minutes
By: Andrew Cassel

Congratulations on your new job as a social media communicator for a research-focused institute, center, college or whatnot. Within the scicomm role, you’ll be telling some of the most exciting stories in higher education.

There are a few things to keep in mind. This will be short; you’ve got a lot to do.

Okay, maybe not short because there’s like seven big important things you need to know right away. Let’s dive into them, starting with number seven.

7. Scientists Have One Thing on Their Minds: Science

They want you to tell their stories, to tell the world why their work is important, why their science is relevant to everyone. But they don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it. That’s what you’re for. 

Make the most out of every moment you have to talk or email with a scientist. Keep the questions direct, the emails brief and the requests for video interviews to a minimum.

6. Science Is Never, Ever Done

No scientist will say, “And that’s why this thing is the way it is.” And if they do, then you’ve got a big story on your hands. No matter the size or scope of the science project you’re sharing there’s always more work to be done. 

Keep this in mind as you’re sharing the cool story. This is just one section of much larger research. Words like ‘contributing to’ and ‘building on’ will be your best friends. 

When talking with scientists always ask what’s coming next, what this project will lead to, and what others will be able to use these findings for. It’s a great way to let the researcher you’re working with know that there’s an understanding that this is part of the bigger picture.

5. Scientists Don’t Work Alone

Even if there’s a single author listed on a paper, that author will always want to credit someone else. Approach your writing and sharing that way. 

When contacting scientists to ask about content, more than likely you’ll be looking for cool photos, it’s best to ask about content “from you or your collaborators.” If you’re talking with them on video to share on YouTube or Reels ask them about the rest of the people on their team or in their lab. The more you can signal boost the collaborative nature of science, the more they’ll be willing to find time to talk to you. 

This also extends to how you describe the work. Always use words like “co-author” when writing about published studies. There is no solo science when it comes to science outreach and communication.

4. Scientists Are Creative on Their Own

They may be trying some science communication individually. They may have rap videos they’ve created about their work. They may be writing and illustrating graphic novels. They may already have a TikTok. 

When approaching a researcher for social media content for your work ask if they’ve already got some of their own that you can share. You will be surprised at what’s already out there to curate. 

And don’t gatekeep it. It may not be the quality or the style you’d make, but you can give it great context and keep the science content authentic.

3. Researchers Have a Vested Interest in SciComm

These scientists have gotten funding for this work from somewhere. The people who gave the money want to know that it’s being spent in the best way. That’s your lead-in for some of these conversations. 

When writing that email to start the conversation gently mention that this would be a great way to show what they’re doing with the money they’ve been granted. For example, “One of our goals with this TikTok is to demonstrate the importance of this work and the need for continued funding in this area.” That simple sentence could turn an “I don’t have time” into “I’ve got half an hour on Wednesday.”

2. Don’t Fan the Flames of Fear

When posting and sharing about climate change research there is a strong temptation to bring in words and phrases about the end of the world, the risk of human suffering, extinctions, extreme heat victims and many horrible and true things. 

The scientists you’re sharing about and talking to have been warning policymakers about the effects of climate change for decades. They know it’s scary. Their research is not here to frighten people, it’s here to help lawmakers create better regulations. To help public health officials prepare for pandemics. To provide information for engineers who will design buildings that can withstand floods or fires. 

Focus on the hope provided by the work: “Your work has great promise to improve a situation,” rather than “Your work is about the death of all bees.” If you phrase it in that way, the person you’re hoping to share about or talk to is more likely to participate.

1. Get the Science Right

This is make or break for you. If you get the science wrong in the post you’re making or the Instagram Story you are building, that scientist will remember that and be less willing to talk to you in the future. Not only that but you’ll also get a tersely worded email correcting you. That will not feel good.

The only way to get the science right is to make sure you get what this story is about. That can take some work. The time to get to what the paper or project was investigating is when you are emailing or talking with the researcher. 

One of the best ways to accomplish this right from the start is to inquire about the research question they are asking with their research. They’ll be able to answer that right away and clearly. For example, they may say, “We wanted to know more about why rain falls over here and not over there.” 

Now when you’re writing about the new $13 million grant they received, you can start right out with “University of My Place scientists want to know why rain falls over here but not over here.” The science is right, and now you get to work filling in the context: “Because if there’s not enough rain falling over here, these people will have less water, have to rely on city water systems more, putting a strain on the economy,” and so forth. 

Get the science right and the researcher is likely to talk to you again. Get the science wrong and you’ll get ghosted pretty quickly.

Those are the top seven things to keep in mind as you start your role as a social media admin for a research-focused office. There is a zeroth rule, the omega rule, which is: read the paper’s abstract. 

Whenever you are posting about science work or wanting to talk to a scientist about their work, you must have at least read the abstract. It can sometimes be pretty tough going, but it’s the place in the paper where they’ve tried to use the least amount of jargon and acronyms. Or at least the place they’ll best describe what those acronyms mean.

Science outreach and communication is among the most important work in social media. Communicators are the bridge between the field, the lab, lawmakers and the people who will be affected by the science. It can be very rewarding and the stories are fascinating. Be patient, helpful and understanding, and take some time to learn the culture of the labs and the areas of study with which you’re working.

You’re part of the effort to make life better for all people on our planet. It’s a big responsibility. But you’ve worked hard to get here, and you’re going to do great.

Andrew Cassel

Andrew Cassel


Andrew Cassel has been creating and curating social media content for higher ed since 2011. Cassel speaks regularly about social media content at conferences and symposiums. Cassel was awarded a best-in-track Red Stapler and is a five-time winner of the Aurora Awards of Excellence from the Public Relations Society of America – Alaska. In 2019, he was a host for Higher Ed Live – Marketing Live. His paper “Twitch for higher education and marketing,” based on his HEWeb 2019 session, was published in the spring 2021 peer-reviewed Journal of Education Advancement & Marketing. Cassel is currently the Senior Social Strategist and Content Producer at Middlebury College.

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