Sinikiwe Simakani, a Masters student at Stellenbosch University, is passionate about closing the gap between science and the public. She is currently working on a projected funded by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and keen to design effective science communication methods to share research about an invasive wasp.
Sinikiwe defines ‘science communication’ as the ability to take scientific information and present it to the public in a way that they can understand and respond to it, leading to public science engagement. She sees science communication as the first step in creating crucial partnerships between science and public that are needed to tackle challenges such as disease, climate change, invasive species, etc.
“Being a sociologists by training I strongly believe that the world is not viewed from one single lens and science communication allows me to present the ‘scientific world’ to different publics using different lenses,” she explains. “In science communication each method of communication is tailor-made for each audience which brings a level of creativity to science communication and this is really what I love and find attractive about it.”
Sinikiwe enjoys collaborative work between the natural sciences and the social sciences. “Being able to work closely with scientists, and combining a basic understanding of the science with my social science knowledge, made me a better communicator,” she believes. She enjoys working with entomologists, but admits that it can be challenging at times to understand the world from their perspective. Another challenge she faces regularly is about how to communicate about invasive alien species in a way that will ensure a positive response from the public and get them involved in the eradication of invasive alien species.
Her key communication tip for others in the field is about knowing your audience. “Knowing your audience sets the pace for everything else you do in science communication,” Sinikiwe says.
She is very interested in citizen science as a science communication tool. “It gets people hands-on involved in science, while also helping scientists to cope with scientific problems.”