Scientists and researchers work in Institutions with specific objectives and quite often with budgeted funds and clearly defined deadlines. The amount of time that they can allocate for learning new skills is limited. This series of capacity building activities take into account this limitation.
Workshop on Science Writing
Many researchers and scientists have difficulties in writing. And in that line of work, unless they publish, they perish.
Since I have been reading a large number of papers in international journals like Science, Nature, PNAS, JAMA, BMJ etc., I recognise that the demands on proficiency of English language is very high to get publications in such journals. So even if the content is good, quite often, the papers are rejected by high profile journals with high impact and higher readership.
Since most researchers do not write anything at all for a long time – till they have enough data to write a paper, or sometimes their thesis, – the writing skills degenerate. I have come across many who wanted me to edit what they write. But I would rather train them to write better than to edit their works. So I end up training them how to write.
The tips, tricks and tools that I use remain the more or less the same as in the workshops on writing science. But here, the pitch and the content of the workshop are different as per the requirements of the target group. Moreover, the output is scientific papers that are better formulated and easier to read.
Usually, if the institution has a newsletter or a journal, contents related to layout and design are also discussed with the participants.
A two-week duration is necessary to get the required change in the writing habits of this age group, since many of the bad habits in learned in English and Science classes and those will need to be unlearned. But with pre-workshop interactions on a Google group formed specifically for the purpose, and extended mentoring after the workshop could help reduce the time for the workshop to one week.
To test the claim that it is not only desirable, but also possible, I did a workshop in Current Science in June 2016. The output from the workshop was published in the journal in a column Science Last Fortnight. http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/111/01/0013.pdf
Science Last Fortnight is news about research published in the fortnight between two consecutive issues of Current Science. It focuses on research done by Indian scientists. By training scientists to write science, it has been possible to create and maintain such media friendly output of scientific communication. The people who have been trained starts writing 300 word news items based on a recently published paper initially and then progress to writing Research News items that bring together the results from many scientific papers. Slowly they learn the art of writing scientific reviews. Since reviews generally get more citations than papers, scientists and academics gain a lot from this series workshops and the associated virtual interactions.
Similar one-week workshop was held at IFGTB, Coimbatore, 17th to 22nd January 2017, at Current Science from 3rd to 8th April 2017 and from 7th to 12th August 2017. The next one would be held in December 2017.
Two one-week workshops were held at M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, 28 Nov – 2 Dec 2016 and 19th to 24th June 2017.
Due to this series of workshops the column, Science Last Fortnight in Current Science has become strong and sustainable. In fact, the column increased from two pages to four pages in January 2017 and by July 2017 the content produced could not be accommodated even in four pages. Thus a science news agency had to be formed to reach across to the media channels that can carry the content. See the present website of the science news agency here.
Workshops for researchers on video production
There are two types of workshops for video production. A one-week orientation workshop and a two-week training workshop.
In the orientation workshop, there will be no production at the end of the week. This allows inclusion of more participants than my training workshops. Up to 20 participants may be accommodated in such workshops. The preferred target group is PhD scholars and project assistants.
This workshop is designed to help researchers who would like to use video – 1) as a tool for observation and also 2) to build their confidence to produce video abstracts of their papers or process videos of the experimental protocols.
Emergence and growth of Journals like Journal of Visualised Experiments which focus on experimental protocols and general acceptance of video as a data in scientific circles make it mandatory for Indian scientists also to master the medium. The two-week workshops will give some hands on experience and give scientists confidence to produce videos on their own.
In August 2017, there were only 7 videos from India in JoVE collection. This series of workshops intends to change the situation in 2017. See also my report on the Indian productions in JoVE, published in Current Science.
Weekend workshop for scientists
This is a two-day workshop to orient scientists to media in general.
How to deal with a television news crew, what to take care of when you are called in as an expert in a TV talk show etc. would be in focus.
There will be no production. But all participants get to address the camera and also to work behind the camera to get an insight into the process.
This workshop aims to desensitise and reduce the fears and apprehensions about media, to provide some exposure and experience to build confidence in dealing with media.
Earlier workshops of this kind organised in IISER Pune has shown very positive results. One fourth of the participants went on to face camera confidently and started creating their own e-learning courses.