Tag Archives: freelance

The perks and perils of freelancing and top tips to help 

Greg Foot
Image courtesy Greg Foot

By Greg Foot, Freelance Science Presenter on TV, Online and On Stage. 

The sand between your toes, a cool cocktail within arm’s reach, the copy for that Wired feature flowing easily in the sun… Ah Freelance Life. Perfect huh?!

Yer right! But with more and more of us contemplating going it alone, what are the realities of Freelance Life and what Top Tips would freelancers give to get closer towards that holy grail combo of ‘do what you love’ and ‘work/life balance’?

This is a distilled and condensed summary of the ‘Going it alone’ session I had the pleasure of pulling together a panel for and chairing at the Science Communication Conference this year.

Joining me on the panel were Ed Yong (a freelancer who writes features for Nature, Wired, Scientific American, New Scientist & blogs at Not Exactly Rocket Science hosted by National Geographic), Timandra Harkness (a freelance radio journalist, contributor to various newspapers, & also a live show presenter) & Ellen Dowell (a part-time employee at Imperial College’s National Heart & Lung Institute, a part-time employee at University of Surrey, plus a part-time freelancer whose work includes curating Einstein’s Garden at Green Man Festival). 

The audio from the full session is below, courtesy of Julie Gould at the brilliant Speaking of Science. It’s well worth a listen – as well as giving the story of each of panelist’s route into freelancing it was also a real laugh and included tips that didn’t make my list below such as the genius suggestion of Skyping in a clever mash-up of neat shirt and PJ bottoms… Winner.

As we covered so much in the session, and time is of the essence for a juggling freelancer (juggling work not juggling… oh you know what I mean), I’ve pulled out The Top 5 Perks of Freelancing, The Top 5 Perils of Freelancing, and The Top 5 Tips For Making Freelancing Work For You.

If you only have time to read one quote, make it this one:

‘Freelancing is like the final scene from Braveheart…
where he’s on the table screaming FREEDOM while being disemboweled’

Ed Yong Continue reading

jason-g-goldman-science-communication

Speaking to… Jason G Goldman

“As a writer, you can’t really ever see the reaction of your audience to the things you think are really cool. You can’t hear them laugh at your jokes and bad puns. But you can when you’re giving a talk, and as a writer, that’s invaluable.”

jason-g-goldman-science-communicationThis is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Jason G Goldman

Name?

Jason G. Goldman

Where are you based?

Los Angeles, California

Who do you work for?

I’m freelance at the moment. My regular gigs are a blog with Scientific American, a roughly fortnightly column with BBC Future, and just a few weeks ago I began writing a weekly column at Conservation Magazine. I also contribute pretty regularly to the blog at Nautilus Magazine, and I’ve been writing for the Advances section of the Scientific American print magazine for the past few months. The last couple years I’ve also been an Associate Editor at ScienceSeeker, where my main responsibilities have been to coordinate the weekly selection of editors’ picks and to cat-herd the editors themselves. While there I also oversaw the first “ScienceSeeker Awards.”

What are the ScienceSeeker Awards?

It was a contest in which people nominated their favorite blog posts that were written in 2012, and a group of judges selected the best. Winners received small cash prizes. Read more here and here. In the future, the ScienceSeeker Awards will actually be combined with the Open Lab project. More info on that will come soon, I think.

What type of science communication do you do?

Primarily writing. I also take a lot of photos (for fun), and enjoy when I can use one of my own photos to support my writing, but I identify mostly as a writer. Video and youtube are fascinating for me, but for now I’m still in the thinking-of-ideas phase. I’m so used to writing 800 or 1000 or 1500 word articles. Could I translate those skills to writing a 3-4 minute video script? My friend Joe Hanson says I can. I’m still experimenting. And as for what sorts of things I write, I like to write about things I find cool or interesting or surprising, and I like to draw connections between current events and the scientific literature. It’s what Ed Yong has called the “wow” beat. I’ve also gotten the chance to do a few radio and TV interviews, and those are always really, really fun. So is giving talks. As a writer, you can’t really ever see the reaction of your audience to the things you think are really cool. You can’t hear them laugh at your jokes and bad puns. But you can when you’re giving a talk, and as a writer, that’s invaluable.

How would you translate the written word to the screen?

On-screen visuals become more important. While words – that is, what you say – also matter a great deal, you can say less and communicate the same ideas because you can use imagery to do part of the work. At least, that’s my intuition. As I said, this is something I’ve only just begun to think deeply about.

Who is your main audience?

Anyone who will listen to me long enough to learn something! It’s so hard to get a sense of who your readership is beyond metrics like what sorts of browsers they use and what search terms they used to land on your piece. I try to assume that my readers don’t necessarily have a scientific education beyond the high school level, but I also think its important not to patronize them. There’s an important difference between a reader’s intelligence and his or her knowledge. You don’t want to underestimate their intelligence, while also not overestimating their knowledge. I do know that students sometimes use my writings in their school research, so I try to keep that in mind with my writing. My blog (and other writings) is family friendly.

How important is it to use metrics to understand your audience?

I think it’s good to start with at least having a sense of who your intended audience is. Are you writing for other scientists? For people within your own field? For kids? Families? Practitioners of some sort? The question of whether your actual and intended audiences overlap actually coincide is a separate one. I’m not certain that traditional web analytics can be all that useful for that sort of question, but there are other ways to find out who your audience is: you could just ask them, you could try to see who is sharing your work on social media, and so on.

How did you get into it?

I was reading science blogs back in a time when you could just about read every new blog post written about science every day. I realized that I wasn’t necessarily reading what I wanted to read. There were some excellent psychology or cognitive science blogs that occasionally covered animals (like Dave and Greta Munger’s excellent Cognitive Daily), and there were some great animal- or biology-focused blogs that occasionally covered behavior or cognition. Around the same time my own research interests were changing. My masters research involved conducting MRI studies of reading and dyslexia, but what I really wanted to do was investigate the evolutionary and developmental origins of the mind. So I thought, “hey, I can totally be a science blogger.” I used the fact that I was increasingly reading more in the animal cognition literature as an excuse to write blog posts about papers. Thus was The Thoughtful Animal born, on WordPress, in January of 2010. It wasn’t my first blog, but it was my first science blog. In March of that year I was invited to join Scienceblogs.com, and that was the start of my realization that I could perhaps leverage my “writing about science in my so-called free time as a graduate student” into a career.

Was it difficult to start writing about the science, or did it come naturally because of your interest in it? 

The difficulty for me wasn’t in writing about science, it was writing about science in an accessible, engaging way. It was in learning what are the sorts of details that are worth including and what are the sorts of details you can leave out. Do your readers want to know the intricacies of the statistical tests that were used in a given experiment, or only what the take-home message was? Should you describe every control condition? (Part of figuring this out is knowing who your audience is; see above) The next step, for me, was to begin to figure out how to infuse narrative into my writing. That is an enormous challenge itself, and it’s one I’m constantly trying to work on. That is, how to tell a story about the science rather than simply describing the science.

Why do you do it?

It’s fun. I really enjoyed research, but as I progressed in grad school I began to realize that the academic life wasn’t necessarily for me, for many reasons. In science, you really have to push hard on one particular question (or set of questions) for at least a few years at a time before switching gears and exploring other questions. But as a writer, I can jump into an entirely different set of questions every couple days. I also think that science communication simply really important. More on that in the next question.

Why do you think science communication is important?

David Attenborough recently said in an interview, “You can’t operate as a sensible voting member of a democratic society these days unless you understand fundamental scientific principles to a degree.” Indeed, the communication of scientific ideas to diverse audiences is critical for shaping policies in areas ranging from species protection and restoration to sustainable agriculture, fisheries management, energy use, and dozens more. For some people, perhaps learning more about the animals we share our planet with can be an entry point into understanding that science is both important and interesting.

What do you love about science communication?

It’s a constant challenge. Forget the fact that you need to understand the nuances of the research you’re trying to explain, or that you need to figure out an interesting, engaging way of explaining it. Both of those things are fun challenges to negotiate, but then there’s the part where the science communication ecosystem is evolving. The technologies we’re using today are going to be obsolete soon enough and we’ll have to learn something new. Science communicators working in a world fueled by YouTube and Instagram, powered by smartphones and tablets, have to think creatively about how to leverage the web and other technologies to construct their narratives and to deliver them to their audiences. Science writing is no longer limited to blog posts, feature articles, or books, but also occurs in the form of Facebook status updates and tweets. The so-called “death of print” has meant that science magazines exist both as print and digital entities. Blogs increasingly look like magazines. Some of the best (and worst) examples of the e-book “revolution” are science-based. And science writing – that is, the use of text – is but one part of a broader science communication ecosystem, and increasingly appears alongside photography, graphics, comics, videos, podcasts, animations, and mobile apps. It complements interactive media like timelines, maps, and games, and shows up even in museum or zoo exhibits. It might be becoming harder to actually make a sustainable living doing this – that’s what I’m told, at least – but it seems like there are more opportunities to actually communicate science than there perhaps have been ever before.

Do you think the world of science writing is doing well to keep up with this technological revolution?

Absolutely! There are a lot of very clever people who are experimenting, tinkering, figuring out how to leverage every new technology for science communication. It’s very exciting to watch and to participate in it where I can. Even just a casual perusal of The Atavist‘s offerings is a testament to the innovation in science communication. I’m a big fan of what they do. There’s also a great deal of more informal science communication that’s thrilling to watch. The official twitter account of the Mars Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) has nearly 1.5 million followers! The National Zoo’s Panda Cam is still going strong. These are different forms of science communication than your more traditional books and magazine articles and even blog posts, but they are science communication efforts nonetheless.

What has been your favourite project?

I’m really enjoying my new column at Conservation Magazine, it’s given me a chance to take a bit of a contrarian perspective on some big, thorny, controversial issues in conservation (like trophy hunting, for example). My sense of accomplishment was perhaps biggest as the result of serving as guest editor for the 2010 edition of Open Lab, the annual anthology of the bets science writing online. After nearly a year of effort, the feeling of holding The Open Laboratory 2010: The Best Science Writing on the Web – made of actual, dead trees – in my hands was pretty nice.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I’m always, always pitching new stories to my editors. I’m excited about organizing ScienceOnline Brain, a psychology- and neuroscience-focused ScienceOnline conference, which will take place in summer 2014 in Los Angeles.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

There is at least one different path for every science communicator out there. The most widely-applicable advice is perhaps also the most obvious: read a lot, and not just science, and not even just non-fiction. And write a lot. Get started with blogging. Those early days in the relative obscurity of WordPress may seem tough – and they will be – but nothing is more important than simple practice. “Practice,” as a dear friend of mine likes to say, “makes better.”

Okay, one more thing. I think watching movies is useful too. Movies are arguably one of the most popular and successful forms of narrative storytelling in our culture today, so its worth paying attention to things like structure and rhythm and scene-setting while watching movies, and even TV shows too.

You can keep up to date with Jasons’ many activities via his Twitter feed at @jgold85 or visit his website.

Speaking to… Hayley Birch

“When I finished my degree, someone suggested I should try to combine my love of writing with my love of science. I guess it worked out.”

Hayley-Brich-Science-Communication
Hayley Brich

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

Name?

Hayley Birch

Where are you based?

I work from a studio in Bristol.

Who do you work for?

I’m self-employed, mainly, although I also have a regular writing job with the Science Communication Unit at the University of the West of England

What type of science communication do you do?

Writing and editing for books, magazines and websites, and curating and organising science-inspired performances for arts events.

Who is your main audience?

I write mainly for adult audiences but I’ve also organised events for children and families. I really enjoy writing for a non-scientific audience – I’ll often try to imagine I’m writing for my mum, who would claim she knows nothing about science, and aim to keep her interested. There are a couple of publications I write for that are more specialist but if it’s going online I always bear in mind that anyone could read it.

How did you get into it?

I did a degree in biological sciences at Warwick University but there wasn’t one particular area that I wanted to pursue – I was interested in all of it – and I didn’t want to spend my life in a lab. When I finished my degree, someone suggested I should try to combine my love of writing with my love of science. I guess it worked out.

Why do you do it?

It’s a way to keep learning new things every day. You speak to people doing the most bizarre and fascinating things, and you never get bored. I love writing, but I probably spend less than 5% of my time actually doing it. The rest of it is research, so I might spend days learning about a new way of making energy or theories of dreaming, and only a few hours writing it up. So you have to enjoy the whole process, not just the writing.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Why is it important for people to understand anything? Science? Politics? Music? Economics? Obviously I realise communicating about science has benefits for those I’m communicating to, but I try to not to think about it as this “worthy” pursuit. Otherwise you have this perspective that people should be paying attention to you for their own good. That’s not the way to think about it. You have to remember you’re competing with all these other aspects of culture, so you have to make science interesting and accessible enough that people want to pay attention on their own.

What do you love about science communication?

I think I already answered that, but I do love it when I get into a conversation with a reader or an audience member who comes from a completely different perspective. They might be a basket weaver or a gardener and they’ll come up with an idea that would just never have crossed my mind, about something I’ve written.

What has been your favourite project?

That’s a ridiculous question, so I’ll choose the one I’ve most recently been working on. I’ve just arrived back from Green Man Festival in Wales, where for the past few years I’ve managed a solar-powered stage called the Solar Stage. I book the acts, which are all science-inspired, and make sure everything runs like clockwork (it never does) on the festival weekend. This year we had a cappella sea shanties, falconry, a theatre performance about memory loss, and Johnny Flynn playing a song about Einstein.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I’m just starting work on a big feature about marathon running – at the same time as training for my second marathon in April next year.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Explore all the possibilities. You might think all you want to do is write, but my master’s in science communication really opened my eyes to everything else going on in this area – that’s why I’ve ended up getting involved in these interdisciplinary projects. You can be really busy if you have lots of different skills.

You can follow Hayley on Twitter at @gingerbreadlady

Oliver-Marsh-Science-Communication

Speaking to… Oliver Marsh

“I’m one of those people that loves an audience. The bigger the better. And I also quite like science. Speaking more specifically as a sociologist of science, I’m reacting against the idea that science communication should involve listening only to scientists and translating their work for public consumption.”

 

Oliver-Marsh-Science-Communicatio
Oliver Marsh

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

Name?

Oliver Marsh

Where are you based?

University College London

Who do you work for?

In science communication I have precisely zero employers or overlords, and the pay to match.

What type of science communication do you do?

I talk about the bits of science that overlap with social and political issues, mostly through (semi-)humorous blog posts and stand-up comedy.

Who is your main audience?

For stand-up, a wide variety of people who share a sufficient affection for science to come and hear people make jokes about it – which seems (on purely anecdotal evidence) to be mostly students and researchers. For the blog, well, I’d love to know. At the moment I can limit it to ‘people with internet’.

How did you get into it?

I originally took a broad undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences, always intending to go into science communication. While flitting my way through my degree I realized I was considerably better at the bits involving science-society relationships than the bits involving labs and hypotheses and maths. So I ended up doing a masters degree in History and Philosophy of Science and a PhD in Sociology of Science, and my communication ambitions changed accordingly. The advantage is that my hobby now ties into my research and vice-versa (I use ‘advantage’ in a very broad, double-edged, two-faced sense here).

Why do you do it?

I’m one of those people that loves an audience. The bigger the better. And I also quite like science. Speaking more specifically as a sociologist of science, I’m reacting against the idea that science communication should involve listening only to scientists and translating their work for public consumption. If the public are really to ‘understand’ how science works (and especially how science can affect them) then they need a broader picture from other commentators, and also to understand the nuances of things like expertise, risk, and modernity. Sociologists know rather a lot about this stuff, but they tend to talk in rather complicated terms of ‘power structures’ or ‘reflexivity’ or similar. So they need a translator too. And I find that quite fun.

Why do you think science communication is important?

For pretty much all the standard reasons: to encourage young people (especially from under-represented demographics) to go into science, to allow busy people to more easily fill gaps in their knowledge, to help people be more informed about living life in a science-heavy world, to tackle misinformation and annoying stereotypes, and so on. But those tend to focus on the ‘science’ side of the coin. I also think it’s important to draw out the many possible ideas of ‘communication’, and create situations where science-based conversations can happen between a wide array of people. Science as an institution can be remarkably good at ignoring or sidelining voices which aren’t sufficiently ‘scientific’. Considering the impact science has on everyone, I’d argue that proper conversation needs to replace different camps shouting past each other. If climate change sceptics won’t believe the data, don’t just direct them to more data.

What do you love about science communication?

It’s full to bursting of the most interesting conversations. I might go to a stand-up show to perform my material about media reportage of science, but I’ll leave having listened to seven or so other sets on anything from nanoparticles to sanitation in Africa. The line between ‘communicator’ and ‘audience’ can be wonderfully blurry.

What has been your favourite project?

My blog SidewaysLookAtScience has become a major part of my life, somewhat like raising an attention-seeking and overly verbose child. Volunteering at the Cambridge Science Festival was also a joy, I’ve rarely seen such a build-up of concentrated enthusiasm in one place. The nice thing about those sorts of public engagement is you get to encounter the emotional response of an audience much more than when there’s an internet standing between you and them.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I’m just starting work on two short plays about the genesis of Einstein’s relativity theories and Schrödinger’s take on quantum mechanics. The idea is to use physical theatre to try and illustrate the development of their theories, alongside more dialogue-based scenes to show how those theories were part of their personal life stories and the historical period they lived in. Also featuring jokes, hopefully. With any luck they’ll be trialled somewhere in London by mid-2014 and be ready for the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

It’s becoming a really huge and diverse field, so have a think about your specific skills beyond the broad ‘I’m personable and like science’. Do you have a flair for the visual (perhaps film work or similar), is your writing more suited to page or stage, that sort of stuff. Keep practising whatever form of communication you’re interested in, it’s a skill and must be developed and maintained accordingly. Also get involved with any projects or groups you can, whether a local science museum or a particular blog network, and do that as early as possible (like, now). And network lots. Every Twitter interaction or pub meet is a potential science communication project just waiting to happen. And, often enough, quite fun too.

You can follow Oliver on Twitter at @Sidewaysscience

Katherine Harmon

Speaking to… Katherine Harmon

“Again, basically all of the above. It is also amazing to get to spend so much of my days learning about new things and always needing to deepen my understanding of others.”

 

Katherine-Harmon-science-communication
Katherine Harmon

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

Name?

Katherine Harmon

Where are you based?

Longmont, Colorado

Who do you work for?

I’m freelance–as of just five months ago. I’m currently a contributing editor for Scientific American, where I was an associate editor before going full-time freelance. I also write for WIRED, Gourmet, Nature, and others. I recently finished my first book, which will be out this October. It’s a nonfiction book about octopuses called Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea (Current/Penguin).

What type of science communication do you do?

Journalism

Who is your main audience?

Generally the science-interested. Although I always hope that my work will also reach folks who didn’t think they were interested in science, health or a particular field and turn them on to it–even if just a little bit (even if just for the duration of the story).

How did you get into it?

I’ve always hoped to write as a career, but I didn’t consider journalism until a couple years out of college. I wound up (happily) in science journalism by getting an internship at SciAm in the last semester of my master’s program (at the Missouri School of Journalism). As I was going through J school, I knew I was interested in “explanatory” journalism–and for that I figured either science or business journalism would be a good fit. Most of my family was much more into science than I was when I was growing up, which helped give me a comfort level with the subject even if I didn’t have the formal academic training. Although now I do wish I had taken more science and statistics in school.

Why do you do it?

Aside from always loving a challenge (switching gears from learning about how a new vaccine works to brushing up on the latest early human ancestor controversy in one day keeps one on their toes), I think there is a lot of good to be done by helping to bring more science and health information to more people. Huge issues of our day, such as global climate change and the current health crisis in the U.S., are at stake, and if people aren’t well informed about these issues, our future is going to be even more challenging. The hope is that by covering these topics responsibly, we can help create a better-informed public discussion and hopefully better policy. Additionally, being able to convey the “wow cool!” in a new scientific discovery, be it a crazy new species of spider or a new insight into how to study earthquakes, to readers is an absolute joy and huge honor.

Why do you think science communication is important?

See above. Also, I hope that it will help more people see that “Science” isn’t just some mysterious back-lab process but a way of looking at the world that we can each use (regardless of training) to better understand our world (from what to buy at the grocery store to what’s “out there” in the night sky).

What do you love about science communication?

Again, basically all of the above. It is also amazing to get to spend so much of my days learning about new things and always needing to deepen my understanding of others. And once the writing, editing and revision process comes along, I look at it as, essentially, problem solving, which helps even when I’m feeling uninspired to turn a project into a fun puzzle.

What has been your favourite project?

This is a tough one. I tend to get excited about just about every story germ that crosses my path (which means I have a hard time taking it easy). Of course my book was a huge, engaging and challenging project (especially since I had nine months to research and write the darn thing–while working full time as an editor at SciAm). I also will always have a special place in my heart for a newspaper feature I wrote in graduate school called “Murky Waters” about management challenges along the Missouri River. I was flattered that my editor gave me a Sunday front-page feature for a story about sediment (okay, it was a relatively small town). Plus I actually got a few awards for it, which was surprising and really nice.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

There is my book, Octopus! coming out October 31, 2013 (from Current/Penguin). And I am working on a couple related pieces for national magazines that I’m excited about. I am also starting a small side project about the microbiome for another national outlet. And I’m hoping to be able to start on another book proposal soon!

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Take some stats classes! Read as much good writing as you can. But also save time for quiet, creative reflection of your own–I’m not great at always doing this, but it never fails to offer fresh perspectives for a story (whether that’s a better analogy or a better structure altogether).

You can follow Katherine on Twitter at @katherineharmon or see what she’s up to on her website

Carrine Piekeman

Speaking to… Carinne Piekema

“As a neuroscientist my work focused on one or two tiny parts of the brain; since becoming a science communicator, I have been immersed in topics ranging from quantum biology to geology and from cosmology to engineering and everything in between.”

Carrine-Piekema-science-communication
Carrine Piekema

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

Name?

Carinne Piekema

Where are you based?

In the UK.

Who do you work for?

I am a freelance science communicator, so have worked for quite a few different outlets – the BBC Radio Science Unit and FQXi (http://www.fqxi.org/ – a US-based physics funder) have been my most frequent. Being freelance makes my work really varied and interesting, though it is still sometimes hard to predict when I’ll have several jobs on the go at once or when I am a lady of leisure!

What type of science communication do you do?

I write, but my main passion is creating audio packages and radio documentaries. I love using different voices and trying to create soundscapes to help explain what are sometimes incredibly complicated topics – the nature of time, the workings of the brain, for instance – to allow them come to life for my audience. For me, the quickest and most enjoyable way of learning something new is by making it a good story. I am a devoted fan of the American radio programme Radiolab which manages to narrate the most amazing and engaging stories to create that sense of wonder and discovery that is at the centre of so much good science.

Who is your main audience?

That completely depends on which organisation I am working for. Sometimes it is the highly general, domestic UK audience of BBC Radio 4, sometimes the global, multicultural background of World Service listeners; on other occasions, my audiences are much more specialist and consist mainly of experts in fields I am reporting on. Having that spread of audiences makes every project an individual challenge and requires very different approaches. I love that variation.

How did you get into it?

For most of my adult life, I was a research scientist, studying how our brains fuse together the different aspects of our memories and how this might go wrong in different neuropsychiatric diseases. But even during my PhD, one of the things I enjoyed most was talking about the science and explaining it to my parents, friends, actually to pretty much anyone who wanted to listen! During my postdoctoral position, I started writing about different aspects of science for the first time and was fortunate enough to get some of my articles published.

While the discovery of science is exciting, the everyday life of a scientist can be quite strange – uncertain, lacking in routine, tedious at times – and I started to realise that I actually enjoyed explaining science more than producing it myself.

So, after a lot of thought, I decided to leave the relative safety of my 7-year scientific career behind to become a science communicator. Several months of work experience at the Science Media Centre in London set me up perfectly for a place on the Science Media Production course at Imperial College London and the course turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences of my life. While it was initially hard going back to being a student after working life (I hadn’t written an essay or taken an exam for years!), I look back on the year with great pleasure as I had such fun learning the practical and theoretical mechanics of making science films and audio. Undoubtedly, it has been the pivotal point of my career as a science communicator. Being taught how to communicate my personal, hard-won understanding of the scientific process is invaluable to me every day in this job.

Why do you do it?

Being allowed – even expected – to digest and understand new ideas in wildly varying fields of science all the time is possibly one of the most rewarding experiences you can expect from a job. As a neuroscientist my work focused on one or two tiny parts of the brain; since becoming a science communicator, I have been immersed in topics ranging from quantum biology to geology and from cosmology to engineering and everything in between.

Why do you think science communication is important?

There are so many reasons why science communication – and not just science communication, but good science communication – is critical and, while all have their merits, probably the most important one for me is that there is an unparalleled beauty in understanding the world around you. Sure, you can enjoy a walk in the woods just for what it is, but isn’t it all the more incredible if you realise that every single living being in that forest, including the trees and the plants, are made up of the same basic building blocks as we are? And isn’t it fascinating to know that we are happily carrying at least 500 different species of bacteria in our guts and that without them we couldn’t exist? Science is not something separate to our everyday existence. If I can help bring a little bit of that wonder to my audience, I think it is a job worth doing.

What do you love about science communication?

One of the things I really love about my work is that whenever I report on a topic outside of my direct scientific expertise, I have to go through the same process as my listeners and readers will have to go through. Working for the Foundational Questions Institute, where I report on all matters physics and cosmology, has especially been fun as I have managed to get a much better grasp of how the physical world around us might actually work. It was so exciting to go from a state of complete ignorance about, say, quantum physics and string theory, by talking directly to scientists doing potentially ground-breaking research on this topic, to comprehend how the physics of black holes might actually reveal some of the secrets of what happened during the Big Bang. Understanding the world a little better makes life more fun – and sometimes more confusing too (I won’t get into the podcast I did on the birth of time and multiple universe hypotheses!).

What has been your favourite project?

I have enjoyed most of my projects because they have all been very different.  If I had to pick one, I think I would have to say that the original ‘Music to Deaf Ears’ documentary I made during my Masters at Imperial College comes high on the list. It was my first long feature, has some wonderful characters in it and, with the help of one of the auditory neuroscientists I interviewed, I was able to create a representation of what deafness actually ‘sounds’ like. It was a wonderful learning experience, both in terms of the topic as well as in developing my skills as an interviewer and radio producer.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I have my ongoing collaborations, but on top of that I have a lot of recordings lying around – wonderful material collected in Iceland, a fabulous rambunctious interview with Brian Blessed on what it is like to be at high altitude, and a little personal project called ‘Sounds of the Everyday’ – all of which I am looking forward to editing and putting up on my audio blog as soon as time allows.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Practice, gain experience, think about different platforms (radio, print, online etc.). Ask people for help. I have found that the science communication world is very open to helping others out. Many of them will have gone through the same process as you are going through and people are more than happy to give you advice. And practice telling stories. One of my first courses on my MSc at Imperial was about how to read film and, while it might have felt initially incongruous on a science communication course, I came to see how it was just one of several ways we were being shown about the different tools that can be used to convey meaning.

You can follow Carinne on Twitter at @CarinneP