As someone who spends most of their life elbow deep in research, it’s sometimes hard to take a step back and view what you’re doing from the outside.
I’m pretty happy with my ability to communicate our work to a scientific audience. It’s something I’ve been trained (and have trained myself) to do over the last five or six years and so is something I find quite easy. The thought of having to explain what I do to a conference audience, or to the project partners in a meeting is something that I know I can cope with.
Explaining it to a general audience however is a different prospect. As part of some scheme or other there was a researcher from the BBC visiting the school today to see what we get up to. She stopped by our lab/office for ten minutes and I had to explain what it is we do in general terms. Explaining something like the mobility work that we’ve done is slightly tricky without having to get into details about the whys and hows of opportunistic/ad-hoc networking and mobility models. It’s especially tricky when you haven’t thought about what you’re going to say at all. Fortunately the more recent work we’ve been doing focusing on human decision making with regards to twitter is much easier, as is the personality/foursquare work that’s currently in the final stages of implementation. This work is easy to understand because it’s all about what people do and why they do it - I think a general audience can understand it easily because they have some form of empathy with the experiment participants. But communicating this work still forces you to step outside of the research and look back to see what is interesting not just to you as a researcher in the field, but to the public at large.
I think we’re fortunate in the little corner of computer science in which I work as ultimately the closer you get to humans, the more interesting the work is to a general audience, and so the easier it is to talk about and present.