Spring boarding into science communication

Nikola Medić, MixITiN ESR2, talks about his experiences of communicating his research to various audiences

April 2020

As a researcher my typical working day includes a range of different tasks – reviewing the scientific literature, checking if my mixoplankton cultures are alive and happy and free of “aliens” (=bacterial infestation), working in the laboratory with my mixoplankton. In my MixITiN project I am working with Prymnesium parvum, a toxin producing constitutive mixoplankton species that immobilize the prey with toxin prior to the ingestion of food. Prymnesium can also form harmful blooms and during these blooms cause fish-kills and damage the ecosystem leading to economic losses.

After completion of each phase of laboratory experimental work, the next step is to find out, in discussion with my supervisor, whether the experiments have worked and what are our conclusions. As a marine researcher, I also discuss my research data with fellow mixoplankton scientists, and communicate these mostly to a scientific audience.

I also enjoy talking to my family and friends about my research, sharing my work on social media. While I have been trained to talk to scientific audiences, the new challenge for me has been to stand in front of a non-scientific audience and talk about marine ecology, the importance of plankton – specifically mixoplankton – without scientific “jargon”. When I mention the ocean, people think about blue water, holidays on the beach, coral reefs, dolphins, sharks and “Nemo”. They never think about the tiny unicellular organisms – the “Perfect Beasts” – that play a crucial role in the processes on Earth that sustain life.

Last year during my summer holidays at my hometown Pula, I had the opportunity to chat with a journalist about marine ecology and the importance of mixoplankton. Our conversation was recorded for video and radio broadcast for the Croatian national TV. In the TV show “More” (meaning “Sea” in English), I talked about my background and my current research position as Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions ESR in MixITiN, the importance of mixoplankton in the marine environment with special emphasis on the toxic species and future perspectives.

This experience made me think more about the importance of science communication and how important it is to communicate our scientific findings to a wider audience and society. This can be in the form of outreach activities not just like TV and radio broadcasts, but also through public engagement events (e.g., in schools), through popular science articles etc.

Recently, I wrote a popular science article about mixoplankton in Croatian for Bioteka – a NGO for promotion of biology and related sciences, the article was published on the web page Biologija.hr.

Since we are living in a century of rapid environmental changes, like global warming and climate change, communicating recent scientific results and raising public awareness about the importance and benefits of the ocean for the society is crucial. My experiences, as a MixITiN ESR, of talking to diverse audiences has shown me the importance of communicating science as much as I can. I feel confident to open a dialogue with journalists, governmental and non-governmental organizations, (NGOs), politicians and various other stakeholders to talk about ocean conservation. As I go forwards, I hope to be the voice of the ocean, to be a representative of the very important microscopic oceanic mixoplankton, in the society.