“it’s fun. I’ve put on a neuroscience nightclub and developed a zombie festival. I regularly hear things that blow my mind, and get to share them with others. Why would I do anything else?”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… David Robertson
Where are you based?
Who do you work for?
What type of science communication do you do?
It’s hard to say! My current job is ridiculously varied. I’d say my main remit is to develop events and small displays that provoke people to talk about the latest in science and where it’s going. It’s part journalism, part pot-stirring!
Who is your main audience?
Most of what I do is targeted at an adult audience, probably on the younger side of the age spectrum. But working in a major museum means there’s a big mix to cater for.
How did you get into it?
I moved straight into research after my degree, but always worked little side jobs that had more of a communication focus. Eventually I snapped and decided to move halfway round the world to do an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial. That led to a foot in the door with an utterly unique project, LottoLab, in the Museum. When that project ended, I found myself in the job I have now!
Why do you do it?
I was first driven by my environmentalism. I felt like it was urgent that more people could understand the damage that’s happening to our world, and science has informed a lot of what we know about this. But now I think more broadly that getting people to question, and scrutinise, and dig into stories, whether they’re about science or not, is a valuable way to spend my time. And it’s fun. I’ve put on a neuroscience nightclub and developed a zombie festival. I regularly hear things that blow my mind, and get to share them with others. Why would I do anything else?
Why do you think science communication is important?
Because science has enriched my life. I can probably make lots of more important arguments than that, but really, I think it’s important because science is important to me. I walk through the world seeing patterns and puzzles and mysteries waiting to be solved, and it feels so positive. Science communication is a way of sharing some of that experience and hopefully tapping into that feeling in others.
What do you love about science communication?
There’s a moment I look for in science communication. It happens to me, and I love seeing it in someone else. It’s when something – a fact, an image, an object, a video – totally shatters a lazy assumption about the world. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field image is a good example. It stunned me. In that moment my perspective on the universe changed forever. Neuroscience has been throwing these up quite a lot recently for me. Creating those moments for other people is hard, but phenomenally rewarding.
What has been your favourite project?
Tough one. The ZombieLab festival at the Science Museum was by far the most grandiose, but it was such hard work that I don’t think I can call it my favourite! I think the best single event I’ve worked on was one of the LottoLab Lates. We had a Mongolian throat singer performing live, followed by the world DJ scratching champion, each with their music split and thrown across a huge speaker array – and all our visitors were participating in a real neuroscience experiment at the same time. It was crazy, ambitious, but it worked thanks to a pretty amazing group of people.
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
Nothing I can share… My mind’s always buzzing with ideas, but as far as a proper pipeline goes, it’s all at the Museum for now. I do have a few little things I’d like to try back in Australia though…
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
For me, there were two crucial things that got me into science communication. One is that I’ve really tried to pin down why I want to be a science communicator. I know what drives me and I can use that to guide what I do. The second thing is saying yes a lot. It’s an ethos that very quickly opens up neat new experiences, friends and pathways. Then, when you say yes to something and realise it matches up with what drives you, you’ll be able to grab it with both hands!