“people always ask interesting questions that make me think about the research in a different way. Sometimes scientists get tunnel vision with their research and I think it’s good to talk to the public about it.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Becky Brooks
Where are you based?
Who do you work for?
I’m a final year PhD student in Biochemistry at the University of Bristol. I work on wound healing at the cell level.
What type of science communication do you do?
I do a mixture. I’ve organised and helped with science workshops in schools, given talks at events, volunteered at festivals, and more recently I’ve been writing for a science blog I set up with a fellow scientist, Emily Coyte.
Who is your main audience?
Everyone and anyone – it depends what I’m doing, and I like to present to a variety of audiences. The blog is aimed at the general public, at those with an interest in science. This year I gave a talk on my research at an event called Skirting Science which was aimed at girls aged 13-14.
How did you get into it?
It all started with becoming a STEM Ambassador through STEMNET – this is a volunteering scheme that links teachers to scientists, which has provided me with endless opportunities to go and speak to children and adults alike about my research. From there it just snowballed – I started out by helping at local science festivals on stalls, and before long I was volunteering for more and more school events and national festivals. Now science communication is a real passion of mine.
Why do you do it?
Because I get excited by science and science communication is a great outlet for that. I just want to tell everyone about it.
Why do you think science communication is important?
I think that science in the real world can be very different to how you learn it at school – I want to show people the relevance of what they learn, and also tell them what it’s actually like to be in science. It’s also important for my work, as people always ask interesting questions that make me think about the research in a different way. Sometimes scientists get tunnel vision with their research and I think it’s good to talk to the public about it.
What do you love about science communication?
That genuine look of fascination that people get, even if you’ve only managed to get it out of one person. A couple of years ago I was volunteering on a stall at a science festival held in one of the shopping centres here in Bristol. I was showing some movies of human cells moving around, and someone who was just passing by with shopping bags suddenly did a double take and came over to talk to me about it. We ended up talking for half an hour about cells!
What has been your favourite project?
That’s a tricky one to answer – I’ve enjoyed all of them for different reasons. I really loved helping out with a workshop myself and some colleagues took to the British Science Festival last year. The theme of it straddled science and art. Secondary school children had some microscope slides of human organs to look at under the microscope, and we asked them to draw what they saw using whatever they wanted – crayons, paint, and collage, whatever. The idea was to do something creative while learning about the body, which in the end seemed to work really well.
I’ve also really enjoyed writing for the blog – whenever I get inspired by something I can just sit down and research and write about it for hours.
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
Other than the blog, nothing solid at the moment (very open to suggestions though!).
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Grab every opportunity, and network as much as you can, as you’ll learn so much from those that already do it. It’s a continuous learning process; I don’t think anyone is good at it straight away and it takes practise.
Don’t underestimate how useful it is helping out behind the scenes of events too. I probably learned the most from spending a week helping out at Cheltenham Science Festival as a general volunteer. I got to do a bit of everything, from moving furniture to helping out with the tech for events, but I also really got a feel for how those types of events are run and got to meet a lot of the speakers, who were willing to chat about their experiences. Above all, it was a lot of fun.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone – one of the most useful things I did recently was performing at Science Showoff – an open-mic night for science communicators that you can sign up to do. It was frightening just putting myself out there like that, but it gave me a real confidence boost.
Also, think about using social media such as Twitter to network. A lot of opportunities for me recently have come from there.