“I’ve managed to travel to some great places and been exposed to some great scientific research.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to…Minna Kane
Where are you based?
Currently, Boston, MA but I’m about to move to the DC Metro area. I also work on projects in the UK.
Who do you work for?
I’m a freelancer so I’ve worked for different people over the years including the BBC in the UK and NOVA in Boston.
What type of science communication do you do?
I produce science documentaries both in the States and UK. I’ve also done bits of voice-over work and recently presented a show for BBC Learning. Prior to TV I used to work in healthcare communications (PR and advertising) and the writing skills I developed there have allowed me to carry out other short-term projects (alongside TV work) for companies like Thomson Reuters.
Who is your main audience?
My TV work has a mainstream audience which includes both adults and kids. My writing work tends to be specialist.
How did you get into it?
Straight after completing my BSc I joined the graduate scheme at Weber Shandwick. After a couple of years working in healthcare communications, I decided I wanted to pursue TV. As I had done my BSc at Imperial, I knew about their Science Communication course and thus enrolled (I chose this over the Media Production course as I wanted to get a broad understand of science communication along with studying completely new areas for me, such as the history and philosophy of science. I then tailored my practical modules to TV and radio). As part of the course I did work experience at an independent production company and they offered me a job as a researcher. I’ve now been working in TV ever since.
Why do you do it?
I enjoy what I do and love the variety and flexibility it offers. Also, I’ve managed to travel to some great places and been exposed to some great scientific research.
Why do you think science communication is important?
When I was at school I used to enjoy science but hated the rep it had: “it was too hard”, “geeky”, “elitist”, etc. I always thought if there was a way to break away from this more people would feel they “could” like it and realise their potential in the subject. I still believe this and am yet to really fulfill this in my own work (though it is a goal of mine). Nowadays I also think having dialogue with the public is important as they fund lots of science research.
What do you love about science communication?
I enjoy learning new things and as every project is different I am constantly doing this. Depending on what you want to do in this sector there is also an entrepreneurial element – if you have a great idea, there is funding there to support you accomplish it.
What has been your favourite project?
There are a couple of things that stand out for me. I really had fun presenting the show for BBC Learning – it was nice being on the other side of the camera as I got to enjoy the experiences the production team had set up for me (such as driving at Silverstone Racetrack). Also, when I first moved to Boston I worked on the first series of the NOVA show “Making Stuff”. It was hard work as I had lots of responsibility and it included lots of travelling. Despite this it was fun and a great way to see parts of the States (and the down day and evening drinks in the Bahamas wasn’t bad either).
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
Yes, I am currently partnering with Leeds University, the Society of Dyers and Colourists, and Rainbow Winters (all in the UK) on a project about Britain’s colour heritage. The subject is so broad but we’re focusing on pigments and dyes and it is great because it intersects science, art and textiles. I’m very excited about it for a number of reasons including the fact it is something different from what I’ve done before.
I’ve also just finished filming on a show for the second series of “Making Stuff” which will be aired on PBS NOVA in Oct/Nov.
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Get stuck in – there is no excuse really as you can blog, create videos for YouTube, and make podcasts all from the luxury of your home (these are all great ways to showcase your talent if you’re new and looking to break-in). If you think you know what area of science communication you want to pursue try and get work experience in it and volunteer at science festivals if that’s your thing. To me, all this should be a given and so the best piece of advice I can offer is to network. This comes in all shapes and doesn’t have to be daunting! In this freelance industry you often hear about jobs through your network – most of the work I get is through referrals – so be sure to do the best job you can and get on with people. If you don’t personally know anyone in the field you want to enter, find someone and drop them an introductory email. You will probably be surprised at how willing they are to offer advice and they may be your lead to a great job. Even though I had been working in the UK before moving to the States, I didn’t know anyone in TV here so I bit the bullet and just dropped someone an email and they led me to someone else and so and so on.
You may also want to consider an MSc Science Communication course. I did the one at Imperial and really enjoyed it. These courses tend to be good as you meet lots of like-minded people, they help you get work experience, and the people you meet (both on the course and at work experience) all become part of your network. However, these can be expensive so don’t feel this is the only route. I have met many great science communicators who didn’t do one of these courses and they are extremely successful.
You can follow Minna on Twitter at @MinnaKane