THE ROLE OF SCIENTIFIC DIVULGATION IN THE EDUCATION OF FUTURE SCIENTISTS
Educational programs of students of scientific or technical degrees such as Biology, Biotechnology, Medicine, Chemistry or Agricultural Engineering, among many others, has been traditionally focused on the acquisition of scientific background and specific technical skills. This approach has the potential to serve good scientists and professionals to society. However, in many occasions these good professionals fail when they have to communicate to society what they are doing, and what their work is socially useful for. Education of future scientists in optimal communication skills is necessary in order not only to make them capable of collecting funds (in the form of public research grants or private contracts), but also to transmit the results of their research to society in an easily understandable way. This is especially important in the case of public researchers, ethically responsible to inform taxpayers about the use of the economic resources devoted to scientific research.
A practical and attractive way to show students how to make good scientific communication is to have them working on real examples of scientific communication. In the course “Legal and Sociological Aspects of Biotechnology”, included in the Degree on Biotechnology of the Universitat Politècnica de València (in Valencia, Spain), we ask groups of five students to work in parallel on:
1) a scientific paper, published in a top life science-related journal (Science, Nature, Cell, etc.), from which a press release note must be confectioned according to journalistic criteria.
2) a real press release note published in the Science section of a newspaper with nationwide coverage, and based on a relevant scientific paper. We provide the students with both the press note and the scientific paper, and they must critically analyze the note, finding their weaknesses and strengths, and if need be, suggesting ways to improve it. Their analysis is orally presented to the rest of the class.
We are applying this practical learning methodology since 2009 and results are very positive. In this paper we analyze these results in the context of the instruction of Biotechnology students in scientific communication and divulgation skills.