Science communication as a career option

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It seemed that Hashem Al-Ghaili’s future was already mapped out for him when he was just six years old. After school he would go out into his father’s field in Yemen, working there until late in the evening. "My father always insisted that I should become a farmer", he was later to recount at his master’s degree ceremony. But even as a child he had other plans: "I wanted to pursue a career in science."

A little over 20 years later, Hashem Al-Ghaili is one of the best-known science communicators in Germany and beyond. Almost 20 million Facebook users from all over the world subscribe to his Science Nature Page, which mainly features videos about new scientific findings and technologies. His films have already been viewed five billion times – showing that someone capable of translating even the most complex scientific topics into readily understandable language can reach huge numbers of people. This is reflected by the growing range of continuing education opportunities in science communication.

Insights into fascinating worlds

Science communication as a career option
Through his films, the science communicator Hashem Al-Ghaili wants to do his bit to combat fake news.

In his reports, Al-Ghaili talks about the latest innovations in medicine, physics, chemistry or astronomy, explores age-old scientific questions or offers insights into our planet’s fascinating animal world. Subjects covered by his videos include a new early warning test for Alzheimer’s and the incredible capabilities of ants. He uses existing footage for his videos. He edits the film material, adds background music and then inserts English subtitles containing the scientific information. In his most successful video to date, which has been viewed more than 170 million times, he presents a boat that removes waste from the oceans.

Simplicity is the secret of his success

It took Hashem Al-Ghaili a long time to get where he is today, reaching out to so many people with his information. After completing school, a scholarship helped him achieve a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology in Pakistan. For his master’s degree in molecular biotechnology at Jacobs University in Bremen he received a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Even while still at university he used social media to reach thousands of science enthusiasts. His big breakthrough came when he began engaging more intensively with science communication after graduation and set up his Science Nature Page. Even his first video – about a diver swimming between the North American and Eurasian continental plates – was a hit. "I never thought it would get this successful", he says today, looking back. "I have only done what I love."

One of the secrets of his success, Al-Ghaili reveals, is that he keeps things simple. "For the texts I use an easy language that everybody understands." He also explains that visual communication of the information is crucial, as this allows people who do not speak English to grasp the fundamental facts.

Science communication to combat fake news

Besides his Science Nature Page, Al-Ghaili also writes a science blog entitled Daily Accord. These days, his income sources include Facebook advertising revenue and lectures on science subjects. He also advises companies wishing to communicate via social media just as successfully as he does.

Nowadays, people need to be much more alert when it comes to science communication because of the growing influx of fake news, the 27-year-old explains. "We have to fight this, by means of logic and rational argumentation." He believes that researchers should also do their bit by passing on their knowledge to a greater extent.

Al-Ghaili himself plans to continue combating fake news through his films. At the end of April 2018, shooting for his first short film began. It will be about time travel, the science communicator explains. And unlike in his videos, his short film will not only give answers, but will also raise many questions: about the lives and origins of humankind. And that is all he is ready to reveal as yet.

 

Various options for young researchers

Special degree and continuing education programmes in the area of science communication are available at German universities and non-university institutions. The following are just a few examples:

National Institute for Science Communication, Karlsruhe (only in German)

Rhein-Waal University of Applied Sciences

Science Journalism, TU Dortmund University (only in German)