The DST-Centre for Policy Research at the University of Hyderabad (DST-CPR-UoH) successfully hosted a virtual roundtable on Wednesday, December 6th, 2023, titled “Building Science Communicators From The Ground Up: Why and How.” The event aimed to initiate a cross-disciplinary dialogue on integrating science communication (SciComm) into STEM education in India.
Moderated by Prof. Usha Raman, Head of the Department of Communication and Co-PI of the DST CPR UoH project, the roundtable gathered distinguished scientists, academics, STEM educators, and SciComm and public engagement professionals.
The inaugural panel consisted of eminent scientists and educators including Prof. Prajval Shastri, Emeritus Professor at Raman Research Institute; Dr. VV Binoy, Associate Professor & In Charge of the Science Communication Programme at NIAS, Bangalore; Prof. Sharath Anantha Murthy, Professor at the School of Physics, University of Hyderabad; Dr. Ponnari Gottipati, Associate Director, Research Management at LV Prasad Eye Institute; and Dr. Aalok Khandekar, Assistant Professor of Anthropology/Sociology at IIT Hyderabad.
The panelists delved into the critical need for public engagement among scientists, addressing the gaps in research and education that are hindering effective public science communication. The discourse extended to the feasibility of integrating SciComm courses into STEM curricula, advocating for transformative changes in India’s science education framework.
“There is a deliberate and strong hierarchy being imposed on Research, Teaching, and Public Engagement (the three pillars of science praxis). I think this structure needs to be rehauled and the mandate for scientists needs to be redefined to speak to all these pillars,” noted Prof. Prajval Shastri.
Dr. VV Binoy highlighted the urgent need for science educators to discuss science within societal contexts, while Prof. Sharath Anantha Murthy underscored the significance of shaping public perceptions of science through a discursive mode. “I would rather have a science communication that follows the pedagogy of the oppressed, in that, the public should be critically aware to know what they are receiving,” added Prof. Murthy.
Dr. Ponnari Gottipati stressed the importance of community engagement in medical research, emphasizing the value of patient involvement. Dr. Aalok Khandekar advocated for a collaborative approach to science communication, encouraging active participation from scientists, communicators, and other stakeholders.
The panelists’ individual remarks culminated in an insightful discussion offering recommendations for the integration of SciComm courses into STEM education.
After a brief intermission, the second panel delved into the insights and best practices shared by accomplished science communicators, public engagement professionals, and science historians. Panelists included Dr. Jahnavi Phalkey, Founding Director of Science Gallery Bengaluru; Dr. Somdatta Karak, Science Communications and Outreach Officer at CCMB, Hyderabad; Tejah Balantrapu, Associate Director of Science, Health Data, and Storytelling at LV Prasad Eye Institute; Sarah Iqbal, Science Engagement Consultant at FAST India; and Dr. Siuli Mitra, Consultant at the archives of Christian Medical College, Vellore.
“It’s important to see our work not as a service but as a critical engagement,” opined Dr. Jahnvi Phalkey, as she highlighted the need for transparency in knowledge production, and recognizing the citizens’ dignity to contribute to our collective relationship to fundamental knowledge.
Dr. Somdatta Karak shared success stories from CCMB, highlighting students’ approaches to science communication and its impact on their research work. Tejah Balantrapu stressed the vital importance of collaboration in public science engagement, while Dr. Sarah Iqbal called for a shift in the discourse from individual to institutional support that can empower scientists in public outreach.
Dr. Siuli Mitra underscored the need for a comprehensive framework for science communication education, drawing insights from communication courses in medical institutions and scientists working in CHIM studies.
After initial remarks, the panelists went on to discuss the roadblocks in their experiences of science communication and public engagement practice.
The event concluded with a cross-panel dialogue on the theme, generating much-needed conversations on hegemony in knowledge production, the importance of multi-disciplinary collaborations, critique of existing models of communicating science, citizen contribution to scientific knowledge, and more.
DST-CPR-UoH is committed to producing a comprehensive report on the event that will serve as a set of recommendations for developing robust Science Communication courses in Indian educational institutions. The event saw participation from students, researchers, and faculty members from the university and other DST CPRs.