Speak Simply about Chemistry
As a chemist, you understand that chemistry is all around us. As a Chemistry Ambassador, you see opportunities to talk about chemistry all around you, too.
Chat up chemistry.
No matter where you go or who you’re talking to, you have a chance to improve someone’s understanding of your profession. Whether at a neighborhood barbeque or a cocktail party, or when discussing current events with a non-scientist, there’s bound to be an opportunity to shine a positive light on your profession.
Everyday conversations are great opportunities to shape others’ perceptions of who chemists are and what chemists do. And there’s no better spokesperson for chemistry than you!
Allison Fox, a geochemistry graduate student at Penn State University, attempts to explain her research before Speak Simply training and after. Which version do you think will appeal most to non-scientists?
How can you speak simply about chemistry?
- Chemists, "What do you do?" – Answer the question “What do you do?” in a way that anyone can understand and appreciate
- Chemistry conversation starters – Develop your own simple and quick explanation of your work that anyone can appreciate
- Make everyday connections to chemistry – Help non-scientists understand how chemistry connects to their daily lives and current events
- Share why you’re proud to be a chemist – Tell others how chemistry improves people’s lives and why you’re proud to be a chemist
- Communicate with others about your research – Learn why it's essential to distill your message and speak simply about chemistry
In everyday conversations – a neighborhood party, a networking event, a business flight – you’re given the opportunity to share something about yourself and your profession and to improve someone’s appreciation for chemistry.
Don’t get tied up in the language of research notes, lectures, or your latest progress report. When you’re talking to a non-scientist about your job, think in broad terms and big pictures. Use real-world examples to illustrate how your role makes a difference.
Who am I talking to?
If you’re able, use examples that the other person would be familiar with, such as a current event, a connection to their profession, or a link with their community.
Will they understand what I’m talking about?
It’s critical to speak in terms that anyone can understand. Avoid using technical terms or, if you have to use them, explain them in simple terms. You may also need to generalize what you do to make it understandable.
Why will they be interested?
People are interested in topics that affect them personally, so show them a connection to their lives. The enthusiasm and pride you show when discussing chemistry will make others more likely to listen, too.
Have you ever found yourself hard-pressed to explain your work to someone who doesn’t understand chemistry?
Write your own conversation starter – a quick and simple description of your job. Consider it your personal tag line, a 10-second description of your job. Your conversation starter should be short and use terms that anyone can understand. It should be relatable to everyday life and encourage someone to ask questions to find out more about you.
Here are some examples from ACS members:
“I’m a chemist and I’m discovering how drugs in our water are affecting the growth of our crops.” – Kyle Butzine
“I’m a chemist and I help create drugs that help the body protect itself through the immune system.” – Francine Park
“I’m a chemical engineer and I teach my students how to make new products on a large scale, at the lowest cost, and in the safest way.” – Kal Sharma
"I’m a chemist and I’m working to discover drugs to cure brain cancer.” – Zuping Xia
"I’m a chemist and I teach people how to learn about the atoms and molecules around them.” – Onofrio (Dick) G. Gaglione
We know that chemistry is a part of our everyday lives, but others may not see the connection. Non-scientists might recognize plastics and gasoline as a product of chemists, but might not see the chemistry that goes into a safe supply of food and water.
You can shed light on these important connections.
When you hear someone marvel at the changes in technology over their lifetime, point out the advances in materials, medicines and other products that are a result of chemical research. If you’re discussing a news story about the environment, point out the advantages of green chemistry as a way to reduce waste and improve efficiency. Take the time to tell others that chemists are involved in many of today’s most pressing issues and advances.
Chemistry is exciting and meaningful. Chemists work on complex challenges to improve people’s lives through better medicines, cleaner technologies and safer materials.
How did you choose a career in chemistry? What’s exciting and interesting about performing research? Did you ever have an “ah-ha!” moment? Why does chemistry captivate you? Who is the chemist who inspired you ask difficult questions and motivated you to explore the world through science?
“Chemistry is all about new materials, new reactions, new catalysts, new structures. Anything that leads to a dramatic transformation in how we live depends on chemistry to at least some extent.” – George Schatz
“Chemistry is always trying to improve what is already known and is constantly trying to find new knowledge, new discoveries that improve and transform the quality of life. Through new discoveries and a better understanding of what is affecting our quality of life, including health, the environment and energy, chemists have sought and will continue to produce solutions to all these problems.” – Ingrid Montes, ACS Director-at-large
“I don’t know of many disciplines that open up the world the way chemistry does because it touches everything. I would be hard pressed to think of something where chemistry isn’t playing a role in the advances that we benefit from today ─ from breakthroughs in medicine, to nutrition, to more sustainable energy sources, to personal care products, to biodegradable packaging, and so on.” – Mary Carmen Gasco-Buisson
“I am very passionate about this idea of educating scientists in how to talk about their work. It's really all of our jobs to say, ‘What we do is important,’ and to be able to explain why in a way that other people can appreciate.”
“This is the first job I've ever had that really deals with the general public, and we get all types of folks coming into the park. It’s interesting to talk to people who are not scientists. I’ve found it remarkably rewarding.”
West Orange, New Jersey