Science is fascinating, and all of us are immersed in a swirl of communication about our work. Whether in a conversation to someone in your lab; in a manuscript, grant application, or presentation at scientific meeting; or even with friends and family, you are conveying information about science. That makes you a science communicator. Depending on the audience, it can be difficult to distill science to its fundamental purpose, but doing so has great benefits to all of us, particularly, to the members of the public who are seeking answers to health issues. Some things are more obvious to the public than others. Curing diseases is exciting. Connecting the dots about how your research on basic biological processes will contribute to improving health might take a bit more work, but it is well worth doing.
Thinking about the relevance of your work to the public should start as early as your NIH application phase. Remember, if funded, the title, abstract, and public health relevance statement of your project will be made available to the public on NIH RePORTER. But at the application phase you are often (and understandably) thinking about writing for reviewers. It is at this point, however, where I encourage you to think more broadly, because even reviewers, their scientific background notwithstanding, will benefit from a clear statement of what you are doing and why it is important. And since that description will ultimately become the public’s window into your work, make it the best window possible when writing your application.
Here at NIH we are working on ways to help the public better understand what we as a medical research community do, and how important that work is. One way we hope to expand our message is to enlist our extended community in these efforts. So if you are a grantee, take the time to connect the impact of your science to the National Institutes of Health as its funding source.
We are helping on our end by developing tools and setting policies. For example, on all notices of award you see a reminder to cite the National Institutes of Health (in addition to the specific funding institute or center and grant number) when you present your work, whether it be in a presentation, publication, press release, or some other format. We’ve also made changes in RePORTER. A new “News and More” tab on the RePORTER search results page will allow us to link press releases from the NIH, and increasingly, press releases from your institutions, to the information about your grant award in RePORTER. What a powerful way to continue connecting NIH funded grants to research outcomes—having the related publications, patents, news releases, and more all together in one place. Note that, at the moment, News and More is being piloted on only a small group of NIH awards, but we hope to expand this service to include news that spans the entire NIH portfolio.
The fascination and promise of biomedical science is something to crow about. Each of you has great findings and stories to share. We want to encourage you to continue in, and to provide more useful tools to assist you, lighting the fire of science for everyone.