Talking about science

Silja Jóhannesar Ástudóttir, communications manager at the University of Akureyri
Silja Jóhannesar Ástudóttir, communications manager at the University of Akureyri

Today was the last day of the two week-master’s course “Talking Science: A Practical Guide to Creative Science Communication.” The course was taught from February 5th to February 16th by Jenny Rock, instructor at UW, and it is part of the master’s program as an elective course for both Coastal Marine Management and Coastal Communities and Regional Development. The course is about communicating scientific content within academia and more importantly, beyond academia. Students learn creative ways to communicate research in various contexts. The course is a hands-on workshop and draws from a range of fields to help students communicate about diverse science and social issues.

We interviewed Silja Jóhannesar Ástudóttir, communications manager at the University of Akureyri, who was here in Ísafjörður for the course.

What is your background?
I have a BA degree in political science from the University of Iceland and an MBA degree from the University of Reykjavík. I’ve also taken 30 credits in business administration at the University of Akureyri, and I am currently in my first year of a master's program in teaching. I have never had a burning interest in anything specific, but rather, I’ve been moderately interested in almost everything. As a result, I have a rather diverse career. For the past eight years, I have more or less worked with job and regional development. I have worked in environmental issues, educational projects, European projects, and in general consulting for individuals and small companies, from everything related to bringing an idea to life, to funding, grant search, marketing, and so on. I have worked in many units, institutions, companies, and for the government, both as a project manager and participant in projects. I was involved in building Norðanátt through my work at SSNE, which is a platform for entrepreneurs and innovation in the North. Then I worked as an independent consultant, and most recently, I took over the position of communications manager at the University of Akureyri in the summer of 2023.

How is the course useful in your work?
It will be useful in two ways. Firstly, listening to young scientists. The students in the course bring a lot of insight into how young scientists think, and that is interesting to me. They show critical thinking, and they are also the people who will have to promote and communicate their research in the future. Secondly, the material itself. The teaching material is useful for all communication in general, but it is specifically aimed at science communication, which helps me in my role where I have to communicate scientific material in my work as communication manager at the University of Akureyri. I will continue to use this material that I have learned and use it to support the scientists at the University of Akureyri. The course is structured in such a way that all classes begin with an extensive discussion of the reading material where participation is assessed, which makes you pay close attention to the reading material. It is also transparent how participation is evaluated.

Why did you choose this course?
It happened through a connection, like so many things in Iceland. My supervisor once worked at UW and she saw this course and pointed it out to me. It is useful to me because I am new to this work and have not worked systematically before in science communication. What I found interesting about it was the international experienced instructor for the course. Since the University of Akureyri is also in collaboration with UW, it is a perfect opportunity to make use of the collaboration for knowledge transfer and further cooperation.

What is it like to take a course at the UW with work?
It's complicated, but I am so lucky that my circumstances allow me to come and stay in Ísafjörður for two weeks. I am used to remote work personally, and the University of Akureyri is a workplace that has a lot of experience with remote work and assists with career development. Another bonus is that I can make use of the remote work facilities UW has to offer while I am here, so I can use my time efficiently outside the classroom. The UW staff is also very helpful and ready to assist me with all kinds of practical issues. They are very welcoming, and I like being here.

What are the other students like?
It's me and about 15 young international students who are taking this course. They are very informed, and they express themselves a lot, which is very good. They are part of the two master’s programs at UW, and they have a multidisciplinary background. It is very fun to be a part of this vibrant and knowledgeable youthful energy.

How is the course useful for continuing education?
It is useful if you do not have direct experience in science communication but are working in a workplace where it is necessary, or if you are a scientist yourself. It may be useful for people working in communication for companies or institutions. It is also useful if you have not been working in communications for a long time. The topics in the course are relevant and the projects keep you engaged.

Would you recommend this course?
Overall, yes, I think that in combination with more marketing knowledge, it can help a lot with the presentation of science. I also believe that this course should be taught in undergraduate programs in all higher education. It is a very good experience in science communication, and it is extremely important that research doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes knowledge and art in order to communicate it to all kinds of target groups.

UW would like to thank Silja for the interview, and point out that all master's courses taught at UW are open to guest students, exchange students, and people from the world of work. The courses are part of our two international multidisciplinary master's programs, Coastal and Marine Management and Coastal Communities and Regional Development. The courses are modular, taught in English, hands-on and many of them include field trips and company visits. Check out the UW course catalogue to find out more.