Jørn Hurum – highlight of the day at communication course
Jørn Hurum giving a lecture on how to communicate research to the public (Photo: Simula/Bård Gudim)

Jørn Hurum – highlight of the day at communication course


The experienced researcher and science communicator Jørn Hurum held an intriguing guest lecture on May 9th on how to communicate research to the public.

Jørn Hurum is a paleontologistfamous for finding Ida, the first complete primate skeleton. He has been visiting Simula as part of the ongoing first week of the intensive 2-weeks course on how to communicate scientific research to peers, decision makers, and the general public. As Hurum is a researcher devoted to outreach, he was an obvious choice for this special guest lecture.

Hurum was introduced by the course instructor Michael Alley as “the highlight of the day”. Commenting the lecture, Michael Alley states: “Jørn Hurum is innovative in making science compete with popular media coverage, like sports and television.” Alley even wants to get Hurum give a TED talk on how to sell your science.

Because travel limits his time, Alley says that he is impressed by the course design that Simula came up with to allow the students to achieve much depth: “It combines theory with plenty of practice. The students prepare assignments, give presentations, submit writing excerpts, and receive feedback on this.” He revealed that in the fall there will even be a lecture on how to make films out of research.

Professor Are Magnus Bruaset, who is heading the Simula School of Research and Innovation and hosts the national course, states it this way: “At Simula, we diligently strive to put quality first. This applies to our research, and to the way we communicate our results. Therefore, we also need the very best training. Having collaborated with Alley and his team for more than a decade, I am confident that this course is at the very top level internationally.”

Many useful lessons to be learnt

In front of an eager audience comprising 64 PhD students of science, technology and medicine, Hurum told the story of how he has developed his outreach from being taken by surprise to taking control of the media storm.

By listening to his experience, the students learned that preparedness, timing and meeting the public interest is important if you want to do good outreach in a world where the pace of the information is speedy and immediate.

One of Hurum’s main points was the necessity to simplify. By removing the “tribal language” of your research field, you make it understandable for the journalists and your lay audience. To get to the right level, Hurum suggested that the scientists test their text on their mother.

Hurum also urged the students to take control of the promotion of their work by making a media strategy. A message was that by preparing the outreach while researching, the scientist is much more in control.

Communicating Scientific Research 2016

The communication course at Simula has existed since 2003. This year it has gone national by inviting students in natural sciences from all relevant campuses in Norway.

Communicating Scientific Research is preapproved as a 5 ECTS syllabus component in the PhD program at Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at the University of Oslo. It is designed to help graduate students make their research communications more understandable, memorable, and persuasive—in speech and in writing.

The main lecturer, Michael Alley, holds a master of science in electrical engineering and a master of fine arts in writing and is an associate professor of engineering communicationat Pennsylvania State University. The course is based on a semester-long graduate course he taught at Pennsylvania State University,the University of Wisconsin-Madison, andVirginia Tech.

If you are interested in reading more about this course, please take a look at the course page.