This post is written by Jocelyn Solis-Moreira. Jocelyn has a Bachelor’s in Integrative Neuroscience, and a Master’s in Psychology concentrating on Behavioural Neuroscience. Her research focussed on the neurological mechanisms behind adolescent alcohol binge drinking, and how emotional deficits persist into adulthood. Jocelyn is a passionate science communicator, connecting people to why and how science is important to everyday life. She is currently on the editorial team for JNCCN 360, an oncology news site focussed on the latest updates in cancer research. When she’s not working, she’s either reading science magazines, running, or trying new flavours of coffee. Find out more about Jocelyn and her work on Twitter.
If life experience was a field of study, my Dad would have a PhD.
Ironically, he didn’t have a formal education. My Dad dropped out in middle school when his Father died unexpectedly. Things were different in rural Guatemala; education wasn’t a priority when necessities like food and water were hard to come by. At the age of 13, he became the man of the house.
Just like a scientist, my Dad has always been resourceful and logical. He knew his life situation wasn’t ideal and he experimented through trial-and-error to find the ideal method to make money. The result was a move to America, where there was a promise of hard work and opportunity. My Dad set an example, he worked hard and secured his GED after moving to America, and I am incredibly proud of him.
His decision meant that his children – not just me, my siblings too – graduated from college. I started a Master’s program where I performed neuroscience research on alcohol addiction. I was incredibly proud of myself, and I knew my Dad was too, but I also felt conflicted.
Neuroscience is a branch of science that isn’t too familiar for the everyday person. On one hand, it’s exciting to feel like an expert on said subject, but on the other hand, it is disappointing to not have people understand why studying science, including the intricacies of neuroscience questions, is important. As I moved away from the idea of life on a lab bench, I thought about what drew me into science in the first place. And then it clicked. People don’t care unless you give them a reason to care. It isn’t a matter of what the research was but how it is presented. Thoughts like these propelled me towards chasing a career in science communication.
‘Make science accessible to the public’, that was my motto. To do that, I needed to read articles from science writers who have done this successfully. My preferred publication was New Scientist and I quickly subscribed to their weekly print subscription. I also thought it would be a good investment for my siblings to read since we are all studying and working within STEM fields.
On one particular Wednesday, my Brother and I were in the middle of talking about the latest research findings on Alzheimer’s disease when I noticed my Dad lingering in the background. Paying no mind, we wrapped up our discussion and went our separate ways until my father asked me in Spanish a question on the study, “was this Alzheimer’s part of the brain?” It was a simple question and one that could have been answered with a quick yes or no answer. But I was dumbfounded. Shocked and disappointed, in myself. All this time I prided myself on my neuroscience education and I always spoke to my friends (and strangers on the internet) about what I learned. So why had I never spoken about it with my Dad?
One question turned into three more. It never crossed my mind that my Dad would be interested about science. Maybe it wasn’t that he was disinterested, but rather he had no way of accessing the subject. Science wasn’t something that influenced his life unless it concerned the weather. Or a pandemic. Even the Spanish news channels he watched glossed over science. Interesting headliners featured the latest political scandals, not bacteria growing in space.
Just because someone doesn’t have a formal education doesn’t mean they don’t value learning. My Father wanted to learn, he just didn’t have the tools to do it. So, with all he sacrificed for me, how could I call myself a science communicator when I never communicated with my Dad?
We talked for hours that night. At first, there was a language barrier. New Scientist doesn’t come in Spanish, but I translated the articles and we used an interpreter app to translate complicated terminology. Since then, we sit down weekly to go over the latest scientific findings. My Mom has recently joined us too. I’d be lying if I said it was easy, it takes time and patience to simplify concepts that require preexisting knowledge. I had to challenge myself not to regurgitate the words written in New Scientist articles, but rather tell a story that makes a meaningful connection between the research and his life.
Science communication starts at home. It starts by talking to people who don’t care about science. It starts with talking to family. For me, it started with my Dad. When the goal is to make science accessible to all, it means overcoming any language barrier, and any scientific jargon so that people understand the world around them. My Dad didn’t have the best education, but he loves to learn. He is a wonderful reminder of the impact science communicators have in educating the public, including the ones standing 3-feet away from us.