SciCommer Interview: Marina Joubert, PhD

By Fancy Comma, LLC Team

According to @MarinaJoubert, a science communicator for over two decades, “All science communication begins with the ability to write clearly and engagingly.”

Fancy Comma recently had the pleasure of interviewing African SciComm expert, Dr. Marina Joubert, an internationally-renowned science communicator. Dr. Joubert has worked in the field for over 20 years. She presently serves as a senior science communication researcher at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. From 2005 to 2014, she ran an independent science communication consulting firm, Southern Science. During that time, she was a co-developer of the first online course in science communication in Africa. As of 2021, the course was completed by over 500 people in Africa and around the world.

Dr. Joubert’s current research interests involve understanding ways scientists respond to the increased demand for public engagement, and ways to support scientists to maximize their time spent talking to communities, youth, policymakers, and others. She’s won many awards for her work, and she is an honorary life member of the global network for the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST). Keep reading for our conversation with Dr. Joubert!

photo of dr. marina joubert
Dr. Marina Joubert is an internationally-recognized science communications professional and co-founder of the first online SciComm course in Africa. Photo credit: Twitter

Fancy Comma: Where are you based?

Marina Joubert: I am based in Stellenbosch, a beautiful university town in the Cape Winelands region of South Africa.

FC: Why did you choose SciComm as a career?

Marina: I chose SciComm as a career because I enjoy the diversity of science (from virology to astrophysics and also social sciences), and I’m interested in the relationship between science and society.

FC: What research practices do you apply from the science world to study SciComm?

Marina: I tune in on what is happening in the world, looking at current events through a science communication lens which helps me to identify new opportunities for research. 

Coming from a natural science background, it was quite a steep learning curve for me to get to grips with social science methodologies (and this will be a case of life-long learning!). Therefore, I also try to create multi-disciplinary research teams, and I think it is really important to include young people in research since they bring important and different perspectives to research questions. 

The other secret to research (in my view) is to stay up to date (as much as you can) with relevant research in your field and to network with other researchers and learn from them all the time.

FC: What’s your favorite SciComm format, and why?

Marina: For me, all science communication begins with the ability to write clearly and engagingly about research findings or issues in science. Whether you write a Twitter bio or an in-depth feature, that text can then lead to other forms of public engagement (dialogues, talks, presentations, etc.). 

Therefore, I spend time writing in a way that (I hope) people from all walks of life will understand and (depending on the intended public group) will also find relevant. Of course, equally important is the ability to listen! And, I really like visual forms of science communication – ranging from infographics to cartoons and theatre.

FC: Was starting SciComm or its recognition difficult in South Africa?

Marina: When South Africa became a democracy in 1994, our new government embraced public communication of science as a way to democratize science and improve people’s lives. Today, we have political support with science communication and engagement reflected in policy documents and legal mandates of research organizations. 

However, on the ground, it still requires hard work and dedication to convince researchers about the value and benefits of proactive public engagement that is embedded throughout the lifecycle of research (much more than just disseminating results). As elsewhere in the world, we are grappling with the challenges of how to recognize and reward researchers who contribute to public engagement, as well as how to develop more capacity and support for these activities.

FC: What are some of the SciComm challenges in Africa as compared to Europe?

Marina: There are some challenges that are similar, most related to human nature and the way people respond to new and emerging technologies, as well as challenges around mis- and disinformation. But, in a culturally diverse and highly unequal country such as South Africa, we also face some unique challenges (but also opportunities!). 

Millions of South Africans live in poverty and face daily challenges in terms of their survival, meaning that we have to make an extra effort to demonstrate the relevance of science to their lives. In some cases, scientific worldviews may clash with traditional views and cultural belief systems, and we make a special effort to include and acknowledge traditional knowledge systems where relevant. 

When it comes to community dialogues, we always have to think about language barriers, cultural sensitivities, and the varied educational levels of the groups we engage with.

.@MarinaJoubert: “When it comes to community dialogues, we always have to think about language barriers, cultural sensitivities, and the varied educational levels of the groups we engage with.”

FC: What have you been working on most recently?

Whenever possible, I try to write a popular piece about my research for The Conversation Africafind my articles there. My latest research article is about an issue that I feel passionate about – the distinctions and blurring boundaries between science journalism and science communication. Read my academic work on Google Scholar.

About Dr. Marina Joubert

Marina Joubert is a science communications professional of over 20 years and a journalist writing often for public outlets such as The Conversation-Africa. She serves as senior researcher in science communication at Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science, and Technology, and member and Chair of the Program Committee for the Network for the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST Network). 

Marina is based in South Africa and her research communication writing topics reflect the unique advantages and challenges facing science communication and research in Africa. She is especially concerned with the cultural and socioeconomic challenges that impede teaching, learning, and talking about science in the African context. She also focuses on the issues of misinformation and disinformation. Learn more about Marina and her work by following her on Twitter @marinajoubert or visiting her profile page at the Stellenbosch University Centre for Evaluation, Science, and Technology.


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