How to explain research to your grandma

Written by Adjoa Cofie, undergraduate student, Stockton University and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Explaining research to my grandma is something particularly challenging for me. Except, instead of my grandma, it’s my parents and my friends.

It is a bit easier to explain to my friends, because even though they are not science-oriented people, we share the same educational background. Nonetheless, I have been guilty of those actions that make others view scientists as “smart, but not warm or trustworthy individuals.”

During the seminar, Dr. Indira Mysorekar, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Associate Director of the Center for Reproductive Health Sciences at Washington University, did not give tips on how to switch and substitute words to make others understand (which is essentially what I expected), but emphasized the idea of connections. My mind was blown by this simple and effective idea of making yourself, your research relatable to those you are explaining it to. It is not about explaining the complicated steps in your work to find out about what that “didn’t-even-know-existed” cell is doing to spread… (I am not even going to finish because at this point I’m not even listening). Neither is it about dumbing things down for people in a way that you think will make them understand, when in reality, all you are doing is insulting their intelligence and making scientists seem untrustworthy.

Dr. Indira stated, “explaining WHY you do your work is how to explain what you do; it’s inspirational, easy to communicate, as well as a way to motivate yourself and others.” Communicating why we pursue a certain research allows for science to become relatable, make our research relevant to the public, and self-motivate. When explaining, it is important to connect our work to common experiences, explain the purpose of what you are doing and why it’s important to you and others. At the end of the day, what matters to the public is the main idea and how it’s relevant to them. This also reminds me of another quote “People won’t remember what you say to them, but how you make them feel.” People will not remember the specifics of your research, but will remember why it’s relevant to you, to them, to their loved ones.