Telling vital stories | Polar Jobs

Telling vital stories

Hugo Guimaro | 20 March 2024

Early career polar scientists need to be more than just researchers, they must also be storytellers

Field work for Polar research is very fascinating to see for the general public. But once that part is over, people tend to loose interest in the results. Therefore, researchers should train their storytelling skills. (Image: M.Schiller, AWI)

By Hugo Guímaro

The polar regions play a vital role in the global climate system, but they are rapidly changing due to climate change. The acceleration of these changes is increasing at a pace that now makes it imperative to bridge the gap between the complex scientific knowledge surrounding these regions and the broader public understanding. But how can we do it?

The Paris Call for Glaciers and Poles, issued in November, brought a lot of attention to the poles. It also underscored the critical need for education and outreach efforts to raise awareness about the challenges that these vulnerable regions have been facing. In this opinion piece, I want to highlight the crucial role that early-career researchers (ECRs) have in this matter.

Climate change isn’t just a distant threat; it’s unfolding before our very eyes, and the impact on the polar regions is alarming. But it can be hard explain what climate change to people is in a manner that allows them to fully comprehend what it is. Usually, it is easier for people to understand a concept they see with their own eyes, especially if it directly impacts them. I believe this holds true of climate change.

If we listen to the news, we frequently hear about the retreat of Arctic sea-ice or to the melting of glaciers in Antarctica. Despite the magnitude of these changes, effectively communicating the nuances of polar science to the wider public remains as one of the biggest challenges. One of the reasons is the barriers that are associated with scientific language, including the terminology we use. But this is where early career researchers (ECRs) are emerging as assets.

Public engagement can be conducted in many ways. Some researchers use citizen science projects and inform about their research work on the spot, such as the project “Fjordphyto”. (Photo: Rutger Bianchi via IAATO)

Fresh from their academic training, ECRs are being encouraged to look for soft skills that could make a difference in the scientific community. One of those skills is scientific communication, the art of translating complex scientific concepts into engaging narratives that resonate with diverse groups of people. Through the years, this skill has increasingly been making its way in the curricula of ECRs’ programmes.


In a digital world like ours, and with younger generations largely living on-line, communication is key. If our grandmother understands what we’ve said, then we’ve done our job properly. Currently, ECRs are not merely researchers; they are becoming storytellers who can bridge the gap between the world of science and people’s everyday lives, transmitting the urgent need for action to protect the polar regions.

However, it isn’t only in the on-line world that they ECRs can have an impact. They are actively engaged in educational initiatives—workshops, conferences, public talks—aimed at bringing polar science directly into schools and communities. Our younger generations are the future of the planet, and we should make an extra effort in our school systems to inform them about climate change. But how can we explain what it is to them? They know climate change has to do with increasing temperatures and melting ice, but how can they understand the the tangible consequences it is having?

One approach, and the best one that I found so far, is to learn how to touch people emotionally. For most people, and children especially, it is animals, and the impact that climate change is having on them, that touches them most. Climate change isn’t just rising temperatures or melting ice, it is also suffering animals. There are a lot of images and videos of phenomenal people who have the power to transmit this, and children are super keen to understand it.

Informing about Polar research can be done even on a school level like the Swiss Polar class project, here at the Cerny Museum for Contemporary Circumpolar Art in Berne, Switzerland. But it’s important for early career researchers to train such skills. (Photo: Michael Wenger)

Beyond that, there are a lot of initiatives serving to promote inclusivity and diversity in polar research. Two examples are the Women in Polar Science initiative, aiming to connect and support women in the polar regions, and the International Polar Weeks initiative, which places scientists in schools. Additionally, organisations like the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists provide platforms for ECRs to share their work and collaborate with educators.

The result has been collaboration to develop innovative resources in education, including an initiative by the Portuguese chapter of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists called Open Science, which publishes summaries of a scientific article as a way to make them more accessible to the public, and The Polar Resource Book project from Polar Educators International, which aims to make polar science accessible in schools, and which will be updated soon.

In a world facing unprecedented environmental challenges, ECRs are more important than ever. Neither their role in polar-science outreach can be overstated nor can their dedication to bridging the gap between scientific knowledge and public understanding of the polar regions. Through their efforts, we can inspire future generations to act and preserve our polar regions.

Originally published on 19 March by Polar Journal AG.

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