Alexandra Feachem and Tim Minchin

Speaking to… Alexandra (Sasha) Feachem

“I never thought, when I started my career in science journalism back in 1997 that I’d be able to combine my slightly worrying obsession with celebrities and Heat magazine, with a respected and bona-fide career in science communication…but slightly strangely I seemed to have managed it!”

 

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Alexandra (Sasha) Feachem

Alexandra Feachem with Brian Cox and Robin Ince
Alexandra Feachem with Brian Cox and Robin Ince

Name?

Alexandra (Sasha) Feachem

Where are you based?  

BBC Broadcasting House

Who do you work for?

Producer, BBC Radio Science Unit.  Producer of BBC Radio 4’s “The Infinite Monkey Cage” presented by physicist Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince.

What type of science communication do you do?

I produce Radio programmes for BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service, including documentaries and magazine programmes, although my main responsibility these days is the  science/comedy panel show “The Infinite Monkey Cage” for BBC Radio 4.

Who is your main audience?

“The Infinite Monkey Cage”  actually attracts a much younger audience than is normal for Radio 4. We know from emails, letter and twitter that lots of students listen, school age and university and lots of people who say they wouldn’t normally listen to a science programme, which is always nice to hear.

How did you get into it?

I did a degree in Zoology and then went to live in the USA for a few years, and was lucky enough to get an internship on the science desk at National Public Radio in Washington DC. It was a fantastic training ground, and from there I was lucky enough to get my first position at the BBC.

What do you love about science communication?

Learning new things every day, the people I meet and work with,  and the variety. I never thought, when I started my career in science journalism back in 1997 that I’d be able to combine my slightly worrying obsession with celebrities and Heat magazine, with a respected and bona-fide career in science communication…but slightly strangely I seemed to have managed it!

Why do you think science communication is important?

Because science underpins virtually every aspect of our lives, and if you want to have an opinion on the issues that effect your daily life, its good if it can be the best-informed one possible!

What has been your favourite project?

Infinite Monkey Cage of course! But I was also the producer responsible for Big Bang Day on Radio 4, back in 2008 to mark the switch on of the Large Hadron Collider. It was a project that took several years to plan, and meant I spent a lot of time at CERN just outside Geneva. It was one of the most challenging and interesting productions I’ve ever done, and to get such amazing access to such a monumental scientific achievement is one of the highlights of my career. In fact, it was working on this, with Brian Cox that led to the idea of The Infinite Monkey Cage, as we ended up meeting many of the comedians and celebrities who are now regular guests on the programme. Until then, we hadn’t realised how many of them had a genuine enthusiasm and passion for science, or even, in several cases, had studied science at university. Several of them featured in programmes that were broadcast as part of that day eg. Ben Miller who got most of the way through a PhD in quantum physics, and Dara O’Briain, Cosmology graduate.

Have you got any new science communication projects coming up? 

I’m currently working on a documentary for Radio 4 on the science of crying, and plotting and planning the next series of Monkey Cage, which will be back in June.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Get as much experience as you can of the technical side of things…particularly if you are interested in Radio or Television. Any work experience, or internships that you can do to get you the technical training is invaluable. And listen to/watch or read as much science output as you can, across all genres to really be familiar with what makes a good story and the creative and interesting ways you can cover it.

You can follow Sasha and The Infinite Monkey Cage on Twitter at @sashafeachem and @themonkeycage and listen to all the shows Sasha produces on BBC Radio 4.