“Do it because you love it. Enthusiasm is the most connective form of communication.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Stephen McGann
Who do you work for?
Freelance – so that means everybody. I’ve just finished working as an actor on a BBC TV series called “Call the Midwife.” I play a doctor in the early years of the NHS, which can involve communicating quite graphic medical detail for a general audience. This feeds into my sci-comm interests rather nicely. I wrote about these experiences for the Imperial College Sci-com blog Refractive Index.
Most recently, I’ve been developing corporate communication skills training for a business in the Middle East, whilst planning the next stage of my academic studies in the field of Science Communication. Also, I’ve just begun collaboration on an great new theatre science project with a children’s theatre group in Essex.
What type of science communication do you do?
As much as possible! It’s such a diverse field, and I like to experience as many channels of science communication as I can. I enjoy STEM print journalism, and spent some time writing for the BBC Online Technology website. Also, my past experience in Arts media has given me some useful insights into live presentation, interview skills, radio and TV, narrative structure, and PR. I enjoy using these media as a means to communicate complexity in a connective, engaging way.
Who is your main audience?
All of us. Like many, I’m sceptical of the idea of some generalised non-science ‘public’ . The best sci-comm I read or watch is multi-layered – allowing for concurrent access points for audience comprehension and appreciation at different levels of expertise. For instance, the night sky is awe-inspiring to the youngest of minds. Yet it is also full of complex physics. Both things needn’t be mutually exclusive in a good communication. Drama understands this layered narrative. Good Sci-comm does too.
How did you get into it?
Like all the best things I’ve done – Circuitously! I am what might charitably be described as a mature *cough* student. I returned to STEM education ten years ago, after many years spent in screen and theatre Arts. My undergraduate degree was in computer science, followed by an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London. I was driven by a lifelong interest in the popular view of science, and felt that my communicative work experiences might have something to offer.
Why do you do it?
Because I believe there has never been a more important time to engage with complex scientific issues as a global citizen. Science is ours. It belongs to all of us – not simply to an imagined elite. It brings enormous societal benefits. It saves lives. Yet this power entails a collective responsibility to understand, explain and listen. This can require some intimidating multi-disciplinary skills – yet there can be few more useful vocations in the 21st century.
What do you love about science communication?
Its breadth. It is a field which embraces science education, exhibitions, policy, journalism, history, broadcasting, philosophy, documentary, sociology, PR. An enormously varied and vibrant world.
What has been your favourite project?
At Imperial I worked with two fellow students on a project to construct a hoax scientific documentary. This aimed to demonstrate how easily our personal human biases can be manipulated – despite scientific background or training. It was enormous fun to be so duplicitous and unethical for the sake of research!
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Do it because you love it. Enthusiasm is the most connective form of communication.
You can follow Stephen on Twitter at @StephenMcGann or read his blog The Theatre of Reason