“you can’t inspire interest if you’re faking it yourself. Excitement is contagious.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Natasha Bray
Natasha Bray (Tasha)
Where are you based?
The University of Manchester
Who do you work for?
Doing a funded PhD means I am working for my supervisors, the University, my funding body (BBSRC) and ultimately, UK taxpayers. Also, since I want to get the best out of my PhD, I guess I work for myself too!
What type of science communication do you do?
Bits and bobs. I write articles for a neuroscience blog called The Brain Bank. I’ve also given a few workshops and talks to local schoolkids, both by myself and in groups with other neuroscientists from my lab. Earlier this year I tried my hand at science stand-up comedy and survived to tell the tale.
Who is your main audience?
Obviously workshops with schoolchildren have to be aimed at certain age groups, while some of the material I had for Bright Club science stand-up was a bit more ‘adult’, which was an interesting contrast. The blog, on the other hand, is hopefully for anyone that takes an interest. I think neuroscience is so popular these days because so many concepts are relevant to anyone that has a brain.
How did you get into it?
Sarah Fox started the blog and reached out across the Faculty for more people to contribute to it. I sit a few metres away from her desk so I took the opportunity. The school workshops have mainly been organised through STEMNET (www.stemnet.org.uk), which links up local schools with scientists and provides loads of resources.
I was almost literally roped into doing the science stand-up as I was very nervous. Bright Club is a UK-wide phenomenon that gets academics out of their comfort zone by making them take their research much less seriously for 8 minutes.
Why do you do it?
A number of reasons. I started because I wanted to articulate to my less science-y friends why I love neuroscience. And, I’ll be honest, I reckoned it couldn’t hurt the old CV. The more I did it the more I realised how much fun it is. Now I think of science communication as a hobby.
Why do you think science communication is important?
Science has an almost unparalleled ability to change our world for the better, so it’s only right that everyone gets clued up about it, especially when they’re paying for research through their taxes. Science communication is also an important skill for scientists. You only have to sit through a few rubbish science talks to realise that the scientists who get their work noticed – and funded – are the ones who can communicate their findings clearly to people outside their bubble of research.
What do you love about science communication?
At the moment I find writing for the blog makes a great break from writing like a scientist within the limits of my PhD topic.
The best thing about communicating science to kids is when they come up with an inquisitive question that reveals they totally get what you’re on about and that they want to find out more. Perhaps unsurprisingly the best part of doing the science stand-up was getting laughs – it’s an absolutely intoxicating feeling.
What has been your favourite project?
I’d probably say the science stand-up, because although I adore watching live comedy I would never have the guts to try ‘real’ stand-up. Bright Club is a safe place for first-timers and developing the material with people from different academic backgrounds was brilliant fun. Because I was talking about my own research it felt more personal and it has transformed the way I talk about my work since.
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
Aside from continuing with the blog, I’m thinking of joining Twitter so I can share stuff that interests me. And my thesis will technically count as a science communication project!
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Accept that some things will take practice. Find other like-minded people doing, or wanting to do the same thing. If you don’t find an idea fun or interesting, scrap it; you can’t inspire interest if you’re faking it yourself. Excitement is contagious.