Potentials, limitations and the future direction of postgraduate education and training in science communication



Friday 24 February




Mitsuru Kudo

Center for the Study of Co* Design, Osaka University (Japan)


The aim of this presentation is to discuss potentials, limitations and the future direction of education and training in science communication, through a reflexive analysis of one of the leading examples of postgraduate education for responsible research and innovation (RRI) at a university in Japan.

This case study will focus on the Program for Education and Research on Science and Technology in Public Sphere (STiPS). STiPS has been running since 2012, as a two year certificate programme open to postgraduate students in all the disciplines, including engineering, medicine, natural and social sciences and humanities. The core objective of STiPS is to develop students’ capacity for bridging different fields of practice in scientific research and policymaking towards RRI, whereby they can address ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) of scientific and technological research in both actual research conduct and relevant policy administration. To this aim, STiPS is designed to deliver a wide range of courses so that students efficiently develop understanding of key approaches in science communication, ELSI of various scientific and technological themes, systems of policy administration, and social scientific research skills, with a view to make use of those knowledge bases and skills in their professions after completing the STiPS programme. Its core courses are delivered in student-centred learning formats such as discussion groups and interactive workshops on topical, complicated issues of science-society relations, which encourages students from different disciplinary backgrounds to explore and learn about different approaches to complex science-society relations in a collaborative cross-disciplinary fashion. In addition to the coursework modules, students complete a small-scale research project over their second year in the programme.

The programme’s graduating students’ exit survey presents very positive results overall, indicating that STiPS works as a solid educational platform of science communication, where students learn how to address contemporary issues in scientific research and relevant policy fields in a cross-disciplinary manner. At the same time, however, various types of difficulties have been identified through a series of interviews with the students, programme graduates and teaching staff. Diversity of disciplinary backgrounds of students remains a big challenge, even though the cross-disciplinary nature of the course is one of the STiPS’ characteristics most highly valued by the students themselves, in that students in social sciences and humanities and those in natural sciences, engineering and medicine have very different needs for developing skills and knowledge throughout the programme. We are also facing other more institutional and administrative challenges, most notably that because of STiPS’ status as a non-degree-awarding certificate programme, students tend to suffer from lack of recognition in their own research and professional fields.

In the presentation, by drawing on the literature about education and training in science communication, I will examine the difficulties and challenges in developing and delivering training programmes of science communication in the contemporary political context of scientific research and higher education, as well as discuss future directions.

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