Tag Archives: blog

David Gregory-Kumar

Speaking to… David Gregory-Kumar

David-Gregory-Kumar-science-communication
David Gregory-Kumar

“It’s never the same day twice.”

 

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… David Gregory-Kumar

Name?

David Gregory-Kumar

Where are you based?

Birmingham

Who do you work for?

The BBC

What type of science communication do you do?

I cover Science and Environment issues for BBC TV, radio and online usually based here in the Midlands. So my job is to either find science stories that aren’t being covered elsewhere or to add expert commentary to science stories that are in the news.

Who is your main audience?

In terms of numbers the biggest audience I broadcast to will be those watching BBC Midlands Today at 1830 on BBC One which can get close to a million people on a really good day. But for me any one watching or listening is important.

How did you get into it?

I was a physicist but I’d always been interested in journalism. While I worked on the research for my PhD I managed to freelance a few pieces for the science sections of some newspapers and after I finished my research I did some work for BBC Radio 5 Live. Then I got this job.

Why do you do it?

It really is the best job in the world. I love science and I love explaining how it works to a general audience. And the tools I have at my disposal to do that have grown thanks to evolving technology. So we can create better tv and radio reports, go live from places it would never have been possible before and back it all up with more detailed analysis on my BBC blog.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Because there are big decisions made using science and research and we need to explain them clearly. We’ll shortly see the start of a badger cull and it’s vital to explain the science behind it to our viewers and listeners. Especially as both sides of the debate over culling turn to science to back up their arguments.

What do you love about science communication?

It’s never the same day twice.

What has been your favourite project?

It’s always fun to report from a big lab be it CERN or T2K in Japan.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

This summer we’re looking to return to CERN and ask where they go next after discovering the Higgs.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Be yourself.

You can follow David on Twitter at @DrDavidGK

Paul Stevenson

Speaking to… Paul Stevenson

Paul-Stevenson-science-communication
Paul Stevenson

“Make sure it’s enjoyable to you. If it’s not, it probably won’t be to anyone else.”

 

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Paul Stevenson

Name?

Paul Stevenson

Where are you based?

Guildford, Surrey

Who do you work for?

University of Surrey

What type of science communication do you do?

Mostly giving talks and writing a blog.

Who is your main audience?

To be honest, I don’t really know who reads the blog. From some of the comments or re-postings, I know it at least includes some combination of other lecturers, also PhD students, undergrad students, and people with a general interest in science who come via internet searches.

For the talks, that varies depending on who invites me. It ranges from schoolkids either via schools or science centres, up to retired people, who seem to run a lot of events.

How did you get into it?

I suppose it was always something I thought was a good idea, but it was only when I started working at the University of Surrey, in 2000, and I got talking to Jim Al-Khalili. At the time, he was not as famous as he is now, but had already done a lot of outreach activity which had led to his first book. He encouraged me, and has provided plenty of help and guidance along the way

Why do you do it?

Lots of reasons: it’s fun to get out of the University and go and talk to people. Science is often misunderstood, but there’s a lot of appetite to understand it better, and to the extent that I can help, I’d like to try. I think it’s good to tell people what taxpayers’ money is spent on. Also, I think you have to be a bit of a show-off and like to get up in front of people. I always did amateur dramatics and things like that as a kid.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Though I do think it is the right thing to do to make sure taxpayers know what their money is used for, I think the most important thing is to try to get people to understand science, and scientific theories of the world and universe, better. Appreciating that there are ways of thinking about problems that means you can arrive at solutions that are likely to work and likely to be true and general is a powerful and amazing thing that has not always been part of human endevour. It doesn’t have to be part of all of it, but I think it’s important to share that it’s there.

What do you love about science communication?

Partly the showing-off in front of people, also the immediate interaction, the conversation and the feedback, which is much slower in my research job which works more on the timescales of writing research articles, sending them off, having them reviewed, all of which takes weeks or months. Except research conferences, which work a bit the same way as much science communication.

What has been your favourite project?

That’s quite difficult, as each one is quite different. I have enjoyed some of the things I’ve done where it’s not been me talking, but arranging events, but I suppose the taking part is a bit more fun for me. It was awesome to speak at the Royal Institution (thanks to Jim Al-Khalili for inviting me). That was years ago, now, but something I’ve enjoyed doing recently was Bright Club, which was a kind of stand-up comedy club for academics. If you search for Guildford Bright Club on the web you can find my sets.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

My main research areas is nuclear physics, and I’m planning to write a smart phone/tablet app that lets you explore lots of cool things to do with nuclear physics in what I hope is a sufficiently fun way to get people to engage with it. I spent most of my childhood in my darkened bedroom programming computers, so though I don’t do it so much now, I think I could write a nice app successfully.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

It depends a bit what stage you are at in your academic career. If you are like me, and didn’t really start doing it until you were a lecturer, then it’s quite easy – more so these days since university departments actively encourage it and usually have someone to help, so talk to them and volunteer to talk to school kids. Don’t fret when your first one comes up and give it your best shot.

If you’re a PhD or undergrad student, look out for opportunities at your uni, and also get involved with the appropriate professional society (e.g. Institute of Physics for me or other physicists). You can get in touch too with the British Science Associations, who do lots of great outreach activities and are happy to enlist the help of volunteer students. Starting to write a blog is an easy way in. Try to give it a personal flavour, so talk about yourself and your non-science interests a bit, without being to angsty, and talk about science issues that interest you. Don’t stray too much from your comfort zone – at least at first – blog about life as a student, and the pitfalls of textbooks or lecturers – things like that. Talk about the eureka moments when you understand some concept. Don’t make it too much of an exercise. Above all, make sure it is enjoyable to you. If it’s not, it probably won’t be to anyone else.

You can follow Paul on Twitter at @gleet_tweet.

Kate Whittington

Speaking to… Kate Whittington

Kate-Whittington-science-communication
Kate Whittington

“Just get out there and DO IT! Seriously. No excuses.”

 

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Kate Whittington

Name?

Kate Whittington

Where are you based?

Hertfordshire

Who do you work for?

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), Kew Gardens.

What type of science communication do you do?

At BGCI I work as an education communication intern. As a whole, BGCI aims to raise awareness of the importance of plants in supporting human-well-being, and to ensure that no plant becomes extinct. The education division provides advice, tools and training for other botanic gardens, museums or science centres to develop effective outreach programmes. I spend my time sourcing news stories, disseminating information about project activities, and increasing and interacting with our followers on social media sites. So I guess in a way I’m more communicating about science communication itself and ways in which to engage local communities, but I do also get to write blog posts about more general news items relevant to BGCI and their conservation work.

In my spare time I also write a blog on my personal website, mainly covering topics relating to ecology, conservation, and our relationship with the natural world.

I have also done some work in wildlife illustration and hope to keep building on this to incorporate more of my own illustrations into my written work.

Who is your main audience?

At BGCI it’s mainly aimed at people working in botanic gardens, museums or science centres to provide support and ideas for developing educational outreach activities. As the largest plant conservation network in the world, the audience is pretty broad! BGCI are involved with a lot of different projects, including “INQUIRE” which is a European initiative to promote “inquiry-based science education”, providing tools, advice and training for educators.

On my personal blog I aim to write for fellow science enthusiasts and anyone else curious about the natural world.

How did you get into it?

Well, out of the entirety of my 4 year undergraduate degree (Environmental Sciences with a Year in North America at the UEA & the UBC) my favourite module was Science Communication – something I’d never considered before, but once I had a taste I knew it was what I really wanted to get into… However, short of doing a masters in science communication or perhaps a journalism course (neither of which I could afford), I had no idea how to get started in the field.

I spent a couple of years since graduation deliberating over what path to take, I took some short courses – one in freelance writing with the Field Studies Council, and another in The Art of Natural History Illustration at the Durrell Conservation Academy in Jersey. Keen to gain experience in as many forms of communication as possible, I even ended up providing the voice-over for an audio tour of Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park!

Giant Scops Owl Sign
Giant Scops Owl Sign

Having always enjoyed drawing I thought I may as well give it a go in my spare time while I was looking for work so I applied for an interpretive signs internship with Endangered Species International and, when they saw some samples of my “artwork” (merely some amateur sketches in my opinion!) they took me on as an illustrator. I produced 11 watercolour illustrations of native Philippine species to be displayed on a trail through Mount Matutum Protected Landscape. The trail will be guided by members of the local indigenous B’laan tribe and aims to teach visitors and locals the importance of this habitat for a number of unique and threatened species.

Once I had my website set up for my art portfolio I decided I’d give blogging a go on the side and that’s now become my main focus. Shortly afterwards I got the internship at BGCI and here I am… For 5 months at least anyway, then it’ll be back to the job hunting!

Why do you do it?

Because I can’t not do it! I think the realisation that I really wanted to work in science communication came when I had graduated, moved back home, and was no longer surrounded by people with the same love of science that I have… I needed to find an outlet for those occasions when I’d hear some really cool science news story, or find out about some weird and wonderful creature and excitedly try to tell someone, only to be greeted with a blank, confused or disinterested expression. Fellow science-enthusiasts may know the feeling – it seems ridiculous, impossible even that someone could not find this stuff fascinating!  So I wanted to be part of the sci-comm community and do my bit to spark curiosity in others, and to promote not only the wonders of science but its importance to society.

Why do you think science communication is important?

When you think about it science is engrained, in one form or another, in pretty much everything we do, but sadly it sometimes gets overlooked or taken for granted. That’s why I think it’s vital to try and make scientific advances and discoveries relevant to people’s every day lives. It’s no wonder that so many scientific and educational organizations have been in uproar over plans to remove climate change and environmental/sustainability topics from the national curriculum – encouraging an inquisitive attitude in children is the first step in generating the inventors and scientific pioneers of the future. The sense of wonder and constant questioning of the world around us that we all possess in our youth shouldn’t be dulled or be trampled out as we grow up, it should be nurtured.

I also think it’s important to make things more transparent so that science doesn’t seem like a lofty, inaccessible sphere. I think things have come a long, long way on this front  already, and activities like crowd-sourced science and campaigns for open access are breaking down these perceived barriers, making science something that is available and relevant to everyone.

What do you love about science communication?

The thing that struck me most when I first dipped my toe in the vast (and initially quite intimidating) scientific blogosphere is that – everyone is so welcoming! There really is such an incredible sense of community between those practicing science communication. This means that there are also SO many great nuggets of advice and opportunities to get your work out there. I met lots of new people at Nature’s SpotOn conference last October and everyone is just so enthusiastic about communicating science, and doing it well. And when you follow lots of blogs and delve into the realms of twitter sci-comm you find such an incredible variety of cool and original content crossing all fields of science and for every kind of audience.

When (I’m being positive here) I eventually manage to secure a career in science communication I will consider myself so lucky as, to me, there really is no career more exciting, challenging and rewarding than communicating the many wonders and benefits of science to humanity. I have always been determined to find a job in which I’m constantly learning and improving my skills in whatever I’m doing, I can’t stand the thought of my work-life ever becoming a stagnant – so, since science is always evolving, science communication is a perfect match!

What has been your favourite project?

Narra Tree Sign
Narra Tree Sign

Well there’s only really been one official “project” that I’ve been involved in, and that’s the illustration work I did for Endangered Species International. I guess some people might not consider wildlife illustrations as a kind of science communication – but in a way you’re still aiming to inform, entertain and inspire people on a scientific subject. The interpretive signs trail was quite close to my heart as, when I was younger, I always envisaged myself doing hands-on conservation work in the mountains tracking wolves or something! So an opportunity to support such a great grass-roots organization, which works for the benefit of both indigenous people and their native wildlife, was a really rewarding experience. I was very proud recently when I was emailed some photos of my paintings of a giant scops owl and a narra tree (the national tree of the Philippines) on signs in the rainforest on the other side of the globe! I really hope I can visit the site in person one day.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

Yes – I am very pleased to have recently been invited to blog for Nature Education’s Scitable network, writing explanatory blogs on environmental topics ranging from biodiversity to climate change, to green technology. I’m really excited to have a new platform to communicate science and to continue honing my writing skills, this time with a slightly more educational rather than entertainment focus (but hopefully a mix of both!)

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Just get out there and DO IT! Seriously. No excuses. There are so many free and easy to use channels – start a blog, a podcast, youtube videos. Get on twitter and follow all the hundreds of incredible science communicators out there! As I’ve said, they’re a welcoming and encouraging bunch that I have always found eager to help the next generation of sci-commers. And there are a wealth of articles from top science communicators giving advice on good science writing and/or how to get started. At the end of the day everyone’s working towards a common goal – to celebrate our most brilliant minds, exciting innovations and wonders of the natural world.

I underwent a long period of “imposter syndrome” (which to be honest I still battle with!) which held me back from even daring to write a blog on my personal website, let alone put myself forward for anything else. And now I’m kicking myself for not starting years ago, while I was still at uni and surrounded by interesting stories and people.  But once I started I was fortunate and grateful enough to have my second ever blog post picked up by Scientific American’s Incubator blog as part of blogs editor Bora Zivkovic’s “weekend picks”. This gave me the encouragement I needed to continue, feeling that I must be on the right track.

I referred to myself for a long time as an “aspiring science writer” until I found this brilliant (and much welcomed) comment from the inspirational Ed Yong:

  • If you could give aspiring science writers only one piece of advice, what would it be?

“You are not an aspiring science writer. You are either writing and are thus a science writer. Or you are not writing and are not a science writer. So, write. Write, write, write. WRITE. You will continue to suck until you get enough practice that you don’t. You will continue to go unnoticed until you do enough that you aren’t.” http://www.scilogs.com/communication_breakdown/ed-yong-interview/

Can’t argue with that!

I still worry that maybe I should at least have a masters, if not a PhD, to be talking to people about science, but from what I’ve learnt so far (and I really hope I’m right) the best thing you can do to get good at communicating, is to get out there and do it…lots! After all, the scientists are the ones doing the science (and that’s probably a good thing since I was always terrible when it came to any kind of maths or statistical analysis) – all I’m trying to do is translate their incredible work into something more manageable for a non-scientific audience. I’ve also asked the opinion of a few people in this field and the consensus seems to be that, whilst qualifications like a masters in science communication, or a PhD certainly help, they’re not necessarily essential as experience is almost equally as important (provided your work is of good quality, obviously!). And you can gain experience via a range of other routes such as internships, writing your own blog, volunteering at museums or science festivals, etc…

As for paid roles – I’m afraid I can’t offer any advice on that since I’m still looking myself! But I’m sure all this voluntary stuff will pay off eventually… 😉 In the meantime I’m just doing what I enjoy!

You can follow Kate on Twitter at @WhittingtonKate

Haylie Gillespie

Speaking to… Hayley Gillespie

Haylie-Gillespie-science-communication
Hayley Gillespie
© Cole Weatherby

“don’t waste any opportunities! And be friendly”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Hayley Gillespie

Name?

Hayley Gillespie

Where are you based?

Austin, Texas, USA

Who do you work for?

Art.Science.Gallery.

What type of science communication do you do?

Right now I’m primarily working on science communication projects that engage people in the sciences through the visual arts. The arts are a great way to get people into thinking about science in a non-traditional way. Did you know, for example, that some of the earliest depictions of human embryos were seen by the public not through anatomist Emil Zuckerkandl’s academic work, but through Gustav Klimt’s paintings in the early 1900s? (If you like this story, check out Eric Kandel’s book The Age of Insight).

I started doing this type of science communication on a blog I founded in 2011. My work on the blog inspired me to open my own art gallery that curates exhibits of science-related art, provides science communication training for scientists and offers fun science classes for everyone! We also want to provide a space for art-science collaboration of all kinds, so bringing artists in to learn more about science and scientists to learn more about art, and hosting public lectures are all a part of our mission.

I also founded a working group about the endangered salamanders I study called Euryce Alliance, because communication with other scientists about the work you are doing in your field is also very important. I’m also teaching a course in field ecology and natural history at Southwestern University because it’s very important to participate in training new generations of scientists and teach them good communication skills.

Who is your main audience?

My projects through Art.Science.Gallery. have three main audiences: the general public, scientists and artists. We want to create a space where people from all backgrounds can discover both art and the natural sciences through new lenses.

How did you get into it?

I’ve always been an artist – there are a lot of artists in my family – but I’ve also known since I was in preschool at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History that I wanted to be a biologist. I was a biology major in college with minors in environmental studies and fine art. I just finished up my PhD in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 (where I studied endangered salamanders)! So, I’ve spent my whole life doing both art and science, though not necessarily at the same time. In graduate school I helped start a public lecture series run by graduate students called Science Under The Stars with the goal of creating opportunities for young scientists to gain experience speaking about science for general audiences. Now that I’ve graduated, I can’t stay away, so Art.Science.Gallery. is now producing pre-lecture slideshows of science-related for the lecture series. It’s really fun!

Why do you do it?

1) it’s fun and 2) it’s important (see next question).

Why do you think science communication is important?

It’s so important that we have science communicators in the world because no matter what your background, profession, or belief system, we live in a universe that is governed by natural and scientific principles. No matter who you are you have the right to understand how your own body works, how the Earth supports life (including your life!), how important technologies in your life work, and how to solve problems that affect you. We are not all born with a gift for mathematics, or scientific research – but that doesn’t mean we should be left to fear or loathe science. Science is fun, and very important! Also, public funding of science (and art) have been dwindling in the US, and so it is critical that there be people out there who appreciate the importance of science so that it continues to be taught and funded. And, if you are a scientist and your work is funded in part by the taxpayers in your country – you owe it to them to let them know the fascinating things you have discovered (and they are probably not going to read your academic article). Science communication is a very important part of the equation.

What do you love about science communication?

My particular flavor of science communication combines by love of science and art. It’s fun to tell people what you’re passionate about, and it’s rewarding to know that it increases science literacy and empowers people at the same time. And I get to do this for a living!

What has been your favourite project?

Charles-Darwin-science-communication
Charles Darwin
© Hayley Gillespie

Taking the leap of faith to open Art.Science.Gallery. has definitely been rewarding, but my favorite project so far is probably The Darwin Day Portrait Project. The project is a series of collaged portraits of great naturalists, starting with Charles Darwin. A new portrait in this series is created each year in celebration of Darwin’s birthday (Feb 12th). I design and direct the project, and visitors to the Darwin Day celebration at the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin, TX help me collage images of biodiversity taken from magazines and field guides onto the portrait. Then I take the portrait back to my studio and finish it up so that it’s ready to show in the museum. It’s so fun interacting with the visitors and helping them create art – while teaching them about natural history. The children are usually the most

excited about gluing a picture of an animal or plant onto the portrait, and the parents get absorbed in flipping through the National Geographic magazines we often use for collage materials. You can see a video about the 2012 portrait of Charles Darwin here.

Jane-Goodall-science-communication
Hayley Gillespie and Jane Goodall
© Hayley Gillespie

The 2012 portrait is now on loan to the Texas Memorial Museum where visitors can come back and see the project they helped to make. The 2013 portrait is of primatologist Jane Goodall, and I recently got to meet this great naturalist and show her the portrait – which she signed! It was fabulous!

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

As a matter of fact we are about 11 days into a crowd-funding project for Art.Science.Gallery. to raise the funds we need to evolve from being a “pop-up” gallery (being guests in other spaces) to having our very own brick-and-mortar gallery space! Everyone who joins our community gets some really great science-art thank-you gifts that have been contributed by science artists, and everyone will get their name incorporated into a unique piece of science art that will be on display in our gallery forever! We are seeing a great response from our community and have raised nearly 30% of our goal with about 30 days left to go before our May 9th deadline. Having our own gallery space will allow us to significantly increase the number of science communication workshops and art-science classes we are able to offer, and it will also give us much more freedom to curate our own exhibitions and work with more science artists. We’ll also get to have a permanent space in which to interact with our community and keep sharing the science we love!

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

We need more science communicators in the world! My advice would be – especially if you are in the academic sciences – please seek all the training you can get in science communication! Learn how to interact well with the media, learn how to speak for a public audience, start a blog for your thesis or research or lab group, learn how to make great data visualizations. Write “lay summaries” of your research papers and put them on your blog if a publisher won’t accept them as “supplementary information”. Collaborate with other creative and passionate people! You don’t have to do it through art like I do – find your own interests and do your own thing. But don’t let anyone tell you it’s a waste of time! Even chance encounters doing everyday things can lead to interesting conversations with others about science (I recently had an hour-long conversation about science and endangered species with a total stranger in an auto shop) – don’t waste any opportunities! And be friendly.