Knowledge translation is a rare skill, not necessarily inherent in most people pursuing a scientific discipline. Being good at knowledge translation means you have to have the knowledge base in your subject matter, but also a communication style that can engage people outside that scientific bubble to want to learn more about that subject. Knowledge translation also requires an ability to take a 10,000-foot view of scientific information. What would regular people like to know? How do I explain this to them while still being as accurate as possible to the source material? What words might I use that would lose my audience, and what seemingly complex terminology and concepts might be grasped intuitively?
One of the best ways for people working in scientific disciplines to become good knowledge translators is – as it is with all skills that can be honed – practice. It was with that in mind that Marjolaine Rivest-Beauregard and Justine Fortin embarked on their passion project – explaining difficult psychological concepts and studies to the general public in an effort to combat online disinformation.
Justine and Marjolaine are about to launch the third season of their French-language podcast Sors De Ma Tête. Montréal psychology students and colleagues, they began this project in 2021 with an eye toward COVID and the disinformation surrounding it. They wanted to collect the data they had on COVID, then sit down with two other people. An expert to talk about the science, and someone with a large public platform to speak directly to people.
Justine is at UQAM, Marjolaine is at McGill, and they met thanks to the supervisor they had in common, Dr. Alain Brunet. Dr. Brunet of course became the first guest on the program (see the CPA’s podcast Mind Full, where the first guest was CEO Dr. Karen Cohen) to discuss the emotional reactions people were having to COVID and to lockdowns. The other guest on their first episode was Instagram content creator Cassandra Bouchard. Cassandra posts funny videos online and speaks about mental health issues – toxic relationships, quitting smoking, eating disorders – that sort of thing.
The process for choosing an online influencer to join Sors de ma tête is probably a more arduous one than the process for choosing the expert. After all, it’s clear who has the expertise in most subject matter – but for people who have a following and discuss mental health issues on their platforms, it’s a little tougher to narrow down who has both the competency and the communication ability to be part of the bridge to the public. Marjolaine says there are a few essential traits each person must have.
- They talk openly and often about mental health
- They are willing to speak openly about their own stories and experiences
- They are available on the day and time the podcast is going to be recorded!
Justine says they also look at the following of the people they invite. She says “we’re not known by people 18-35 years old, so people with large followings are great – our goal is to reach the most people we can”. She also says a lot of this comes down to personality and energy. She tries to find people with similar energy levels who match well in a public discussion like a podcast. Finding the right expert to pair with the right content creator can be a difficult exercise in itself, but can produce some very rewarding content. Says Justine,
“One of my absolute favourite episodes was the last one we did in 2022 [‘Trahison amoureuse avec Michelle Lonergan et Marie Gagné’]. We had so much fun, we were laughing the whole time, talking about betrayals we had lived through, the crushes we had as kids. It’s a bit of a sad subject but the conversation was light and super enjoyable.”
From here, Marjolaine’s main focus is on research. She hopes to get her doctorate degree and pursues research into the mental health effects of disasters and crises, with a focus on prevention. She is imagining a side gig as a crisis management consultant, someone who helps to mobilize the response to a disasters (the earthquake in Turkey, the recent tragedy in Laval) in a scientifically sound and evidence-based way.
Justine’s career path, at least as she sees it from here, is a little different. She is focusing on both research and clinical work, and hopes to one day open a clinic as a neuropsychologist. She really wants to continue working with people who have been diagnosed with cancer, and talks with passion about ‘chemo brain’ and the other issues affecting people in cancer treatment. She want to continue doing research as well, saying “I don’t want to be a professor, as such, but I’d love to keep doing research. Maybe in Marjo’s lab!”
It would be great to think that for years to come, these two partners and collaborators will continue to work together on projects big and small. The third season of Sors de ma tête will launch very soon, and while Justine and Marjolaine are cagey about the content this year, they let slip that climate change will be a big front-and-centre subject in 2023.
It’s unclear right now how long the podcast will last. Will it be a project they keep up until the end of school? The end of COVID? Maybe much longer? Only time will tell. The one thing we can say for certain is that people like Justine and Marjo, the people who have put in the time and the practice, will be the knowledge translators of the future. The people who can bridge the gap between scientists and the public, who can push governments to make decisions based on hard data and otherwise unknown studies. With the Sors de ma tête podcast, they’ve already spent two years doing just that.