“What Do You Do?”

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.

http://web.2.c2.audiovideoweb.com/va92web25028/Chemistry_Ambassadors/Rebecca_Potash.flv

Rebecca Potash of Carnegie Mellon University describes the application of her research in conductive plastics in a way that engages scientists and non-scientists alike.

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We’re talking about a communications gap — a vast one that exists between scientists and the general public. The bottom line is that most people admire us, but neither understand what we do nor realize how science — particularly chemistry — transforms their lives.”
– Russell Johnson, Chemistry Ambassador