Tag Archives: freelance

Frank Swain Credit studyshots.co.uk

Speaking to… Frank Swain

Frank-swain-science-communication
Frank Swain
Credit studyshots.co.uk

“Someone once told me: “The only reason to be a writer is because you can’t help it”, I think that sums it up.”

 

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

Name?

Frank Swain

Where are you based?

Right now, no place. I’ve just finished a running a journalism training project in London, I haven’t decided where to live next.

Who do you work for?

Whoever will pay me. Being a freelancer means you don’t really get to be fussy. I’m lucky to have supportive editors at Wired, New Scientist, Slate and the Guardian, and many other great outlets, who continue to employ me.

What type of science communication do you do?

I write, I speak, on occasion I’ll do some broadcast work. The hourly wage of each increases respectively, but so does the difficulty in securing a commission.

Who is your main audience?

It depends on who I’m writing more, but “science-interested public” covers it mostly.

How did you get into it?

I’ve always written – I ran a blog for years and before that I was publishing a paper-and-glue zine. Eventually, to my surprise, people started paying me to do it.

Why do you do it?

Someone once told me: “The only reason to be a writer is because you can’t help it”, I think that sums it up.

Why do you think science communication is important?

I think science deserves a place in the centre of of our culture; we’re immersed in the products of science so it’s essential that we have a public who are engaged with science and can take part in the discussions and decisions of how we allow it to shape our lives.

What do you love about science communication?

Love might be an overstatement. It’s the most enjoyable way I’ve found to get paid, yet.

What has been your favourite project?

A trip to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, USA, to meet the people who disarm and disable stray chemical weapons. A really smart, compassionate group of people.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I’ve always got a dozen projects on the back burner, but whether any of them will ever see the light of day is another question. I’m working on a few unusual ones right now – a fictional science column, and something I call an anti-blog. The goal is to learn a bit more about writing by breaking all of the rules…

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Work like a dog and build up a body of work. Shamelessly self-promote. Get to know other people in your chosen field. And never, ever work for free.

You can follow Frank on Twitter at @SciencePunk or visiting his website.

Terry Harvey-Chadwick

Speaking to… Terry Harvey-Chadwick

Terry-Harvey-Chadwick-science-communication
Terry Harvey-Chadwick

“My dream would be for a scientist, at some time in the future, to relate how this person (me) came to their school and ignited their interest and enabled them to start a career in science.”

 

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Terry Harvey-Chadwick

Name?

Terry Harvey-Chadwick

Where are you based?

Seascale, in Cumbria. Right in the shadow of Sellafield, in fact.

Who do you work for?

Anyone who’ll book me. I’m a sole trader.

What sort of science communication do you do?

I call it Fun Science. It mainly consists of my two science shows, The Fun Science Show and The Fire Show, and various STEM-based workshops that I offer. The Fire Show which has, incidentally, been booked for the young people’s programme at the British Science Festival this year, is mainly aimed at upper primary and lower secondary school pupils. It’s basically a collection of some of my favourite classroom demonstrations, but all put together into a themed show. It has proved extremely popular in schools, and even in a short run of theatres and community centres to family audiences around Cumbria. The Fun Science Show is all about using common household objects to demonstrate sometimes complex scientific principles. In many ways it’s like a 45 minute science busking session, but the audience love it because it gives them ideas for things they can do at home. My workshops range from making bath bombs to building towers using spaghetti and marshmallows, which are all common STEM activities often used by science clubs. However, there are an awful lot of schools who don’t have science clubs and have never seen things like these shows and workshops, so it’s a good introduction into STEM for many. The main thing is that they have an experienced qualified science teacher (I still work supply) coming to them doing unusual science activities that the children love, and are often talking about for weeks afterwards. A lot of people make the mistake of going into schools and saying they are there to make science fun. I profoundly disagree with that statement, used by teachers and science communicators alike. I believe that science IS fun. I am there to show that to my audience. I don’t shy away from the fact that, for many people, science is also very hard. But what fun is an activity without an element of challenge? When, at the end of a show or workshop, I get people coming up to me and saying they found it difficult, but they were enjoying it so much they could not give up and eventually succeeded, that is what it is all about for me.

Who is your main audience?

Primary school-aged children, although adults and teenagers all like what I do as well.

How did you get into it?

I was a secondary school science teacher and took voluntary redundancy from my last school a couple of years ago. I used the money to start SV Educational Services and started by offering science parties in the local area. I then developed my two science shows and put together some workshops and used my local primary school to test them. With some good feedback in my pocket I offered my services to schools in Cumbria and things are developing from there.

Why do you do it?

I just love science and want to let everyone else know how fantastic and amazing it is. I concentrate on relatively simple science demonstrations and workshops, things that the children can relate to and that most primary schools will have the resources to take further, if they want. Many of my demonstrations from The Fun Science Show are things the children can do at home, and I get a lot of feedback from schools about how their pupils have gone away and tried them for themselves. The fact that I have enthused them to do that gives me a warm glow. I hope that enthusiasm will motivate some children to experiment further. My dream would be for a scientist, at some time in the future, to relate how this person (me) came to their school and ignited their interest and enabled them to start a career in science.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Science is more important now than ever. It has solved many things and brought some even greater challenges for humanity in the future. The fact remains that our future will be technological and science driven and it’s important that our children grow up prepared to live in such a world. All children learn the basics of science in school but it’s important that people are kept up to date with the latest issues that will affect them. Science communication has such a broad remit, from explaining the latest issues, how science and scientists work, to enthusing school children to be interested in science. Almost everything we use today has been created by science and, at the very least, it’s important that people have an appreciation of where all these gadgets have come from and why we are able to enjoy such a good standard of living.

What do you love about science communication?

Watching the excitement of the faces of children and adults alike as I show them how to use common household objects to demonstrate sometimes quite complicated scientific principles. It’s great when they realise that science doesn’t always have to be done by brainy people in white coats. They can do it too.

What has been your favourite project?

I don’t really have a favourite current project. Although the next question will deal with my favourite project that is coming up.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

Yes.

Oh, alright then. I have two new projects in the pipeline. They both combine my two favourite subjects: history and science. In my company name, SV Educational Services, the SV stands for Science Viking. I’m also a professional historical interpreter specialising in Vikings. I’m now broadening my period and developing a monk scribe (who cannot write very well) character to present the history and science of ink. The second new character is a medieval alchemist, a contemporary of Paracelsus, to present a history of chemistry. One of my skills is to seamlessly break in and out of character to highlight differences between the mind-sets of historical and modern people. I do a lot of work in schools and museums as a Viking, and I have found that people like to have the comparison during my “performances”.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

I think you need a passion for your subject, imagination and good people skills. If you’re going freelance, like I did, don’t sell yourself short when deciding on your fees. But, at the same time, make sure you gain plenty of experience by volunteering. I volunteered at The Big Bang Festival and found it invaluable. Talk to as many people as you can. Everyone is really helpful to newcomers. The main thing is, don’t give up. It will take two or three years before you get well known enough to be able to make a decent living out of it.

You can follow Terry on Twitter at @ScienceViking66

Sarah Cosgriff

Speaking to… Sarah Cosgriff

Sarah-Cosgriff-science-communication
Sarah Cosgriff

There are still many ways to communicate science that I want to try!”

 

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

Name?

Sarah Cosgriff

Where are you based?

Warwickshire.

Who do you work for?

Freelance.

What type of science communication do you do?

All sorts – I present, podcast and occasionally write.  I also run a postgraduate event called PG TalkFest which involves postgrads presenting informally to other postgrads – the aim is to give them some experience before presenting to the public.  I’m also a STEM ambassador so I go into schools to talk about science and careers.

Who is your main audience?  

I’d like to think that it is anyone – some of what I do is for the science community and I also communicate to a general audience of all ages. It really depends on what I’m doing.

How did you get into it?

It was one of those by chance things – I went to a careers evening at my university and someone talked to me about their career in science communication. Before that point I thought it was mainly media but it turns out it was a much bigger world than I thought! Some months after that, I left my PhD and realised that I wanted to become a science communicator. I started looking for opportunities.  I started off by getting in touch with a science communication group called EUSci in Edinburgh for podcasting and I’ve been a correspondent for them since. Around the same time, a contact emailed me asking me to fill in a spare slot for Science Showoff, and my presenting has gone from there. Since, I’ve been taking up opportunities as I go and I learn more and more about what’s out there.

Why do you do it?

I really enjoy it – I particularly love presenting. I think it’s great that I get to talk about the stuff that I’m interested in. I also find it really rewarding – to be able to increase someone’s interest in science is a great feeling.

Why do you think science communication is important?

I think it’s really important for the public to understand what research has been done and why as it will affect them. Science can be sometimes seen as a bit scary. The sort of comments I get regularly from people are “I was never good at science at school” or “I’m not clever enough to understand that stuff” when I mention my biology background. If a person feels this way, they may feel reluctant to read science stories which may affect them. I also think that science is misreported a lot – luckily there are great science writers out there who want to correct this.

What do you love about science communication?

I really appreciate the creative side of science communication – every time I do something, I think of ‘how can I get this across to the audience?’ and really challenge myself in the different ways I could do it. On top of that, I get a great feeling from someone who says to me ‘wow, that is interesting’.

What has been your favourite project?

I think it’s been PG TalkFest – I’ve set up a place where other people can practice speaking and it’s wonderful to see how they do it. I feel that I’ve been able to pass on my presenting experience but have also learnt from the presenters.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

In a few days I’ll be doing an ecology workshop in a school, the following week I’ll be doing a Cafe Scientifique in my area and I’m trying to get into festivals. I’m also planning to put together an interview I conducted with an PhD student a couple of weeks ago. There are still many ways to communicate science that I want to try!

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

There are so many different ways in which you can do it, so you’ll be able to find something that suits the amount of time you have and the kind of person you are. See what is already out there – on the internet or maybe where you work – and just give it a go! Also try to get some contacts by attending events or follow people on Twitter. I was able to start presenting thanks to a contact I had.

You can follow Sarah on Twitter @Sarah_Cosgriff 

Speaking to… Virginia Hughes: Science and stories

science-and-stories-science-communicationThis feature podcast is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Virginia Hughes.

Scientific papers don’t seem to attract many readers outside the sphere of science when it comes to science communication. Yet the discoveries recounted in these papers play a pivotal role in some science-fiction stories, and these are read by people from all over the world.

What if scientists were to tell their stories, as just that, stories? Would they be able to reach a wider audience? Would their work be more accessible?

When we read dry, factual arguments, we read with our shields in hand. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story we drop our guard. We are moved emotionally, and are drawn into the story-tellers’ world.

I’ve been joined by Virginia Hughes, a journalist from Brooklyn, New York City, and in this podcast we discuss science and stories.

Here is Virginia’s blog post Why more scientists should tell stories.

Learn more about what Virginia gets up to in her Speaking to… interview

Fran Scott

Speaking to…Fran Scott

“I never quite know how to describe my job. Sometimes I call myself a Science Demonstration Developer, other times a Science Translator. Recently, I was referred to as a Professional Experimenter, which I quite like the sound of even though I don’t technically ‘do’ experiments.”

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

Fran-Scott-science-communication
Fran Scott

Name?

Fran Scott

Who do you work for?

I’m freelance, so that means who I work for changes from one day to the next. At the moment I have approximately six employers including CBBC, Radio4Extra, The National Schools Partnership and an independent television production company called 360 Production. In the past I’ve done work for (amongst others) BBC Learning, BBC Vision, Dorling Kindersley and Horrible Science.

What type of science communication do you do?

I never quite know how to describe my job. Sometimes I call myself a Science Demonstration Developer, other times a Science Translator. Recently, I was referred to as a Professional Experimenter, which I quite like the sound of even though I don’t technically ‘do’ experiments. But names aside, my general role involves designing science demonstrations. You know when you see a try-at-home activity in a book, or a visual demonstration of a scientific idea on television…that’s what I do. People come to me with a science idea that they need explaining to their audience, and then it’s up to me to design a demonstration that (hopefully) helps that idea make sense.

Anyone who works in Science Communication will know that there are a lot of what I call ‘the classic demonstrations’ out there, and sometimes I do end up using these (usually with some sort of modern twist), but what I really like to do is come up with brand new demonstrations. My current favourite is lighting hydrogen rockets with my finger.

Working in this field for a number of years now, I have built up a reputation for not only being able to explain science in novel ways, but for also being a stickler for the facts. So I’m now also often asked to consult on passages for books or scientific resources, or to write explanatory scripts for television shows.

Who is your main audience?

It really depends. I most enjoy working for an audience who think they have no interest in science. You then have to work pretty hard to make everything as exciting, fun and clear as possible; which no matter how many re-edits you have to do, just makes you a better communicator in the end. It’s difficult when sometimes you only have three sentences to explain a complex idea, but I like that challenge. I like the challenge of stripping out all the jargon, and just saying what is actually happening. I’ve found over time that this approach works best for those who a new to science (children or non-science adults), so I do tend to work with this audience the most.

How did you get into it?

To be honest, I never realised there were actual jobs in ‘Science Communication’, for many years I didn’t even know the term! I had resorted to the fact that I’d only get to ‘play with science’ in my days off. All that changed, when in my final year of University some of my friends took me to the Science Museum in London. That was it. For the rest of that year I took monthly trips to the capital, heading straight to the Museum, harassing them to give me a job. The staff there (particularly Anthony Richards; Head of Interactive Galleries) were incredible. They gave me tours, advice and then, once I’d got through my finals, a job!

While at the Science Museum I used my time wisely, testing explanations on the public seeing what made the penny drop and what left them puzzled. Many lunch hours were spent down in the Museum’s workshops, where the exhibits are built or (constantly) being mended. I’d also use my weekends and holidays to do work experience in other areas I was interested in.

Since being a kid and reading (badly) the News autocue at National Museum of Film and Photography (now the Media Museum) in Bradford, I’d always wondered how people got to work on TV, or even got to write a book; both sounded like fun, and the jobs obviously existed, but how on Earth did you get to do that? With a whopping five weeks holiday a year, I thought I’d try to find out.

I wrote letters and sent emails to anyone who had inspired me in the past. Nick Arnold (the author of the Horrible Science books) was one such person. I wrote to him thanking him for writing the series and asking for work experience; to this day Bulging Brains is the most cleverly written neuroscience books I’ve read, and I’ve read a few! He wrote back with a (paid) job offer, helping him research the books. I was absolutely over the moon.

It then transpired that the sister of my flat mate of the time knew Jamie Rickers, who at the time was presenting ‘Prove It!’ on children’s ITV, which I watched religiously for ideas. Armed with his email address, I wrote (another) begging letter. This time I got a reply (my first from the TV world). Jamie was lovely and although ‘Prove It!’ was no longer in production, he offered me two weeks (unpaid, of course) work experience on GMTV Kids. Wow.

Those two weeks were the opportunity I never ever thought I would get. I worked my socks off. Every day I was the first in and last to leave, I made hundreds of cups of tea, I bought the team biscuits, cakes and doughnuts I couldn’t really afford, I hosed down far too many gunge-covered overalls, I deep-cleaned the kitchen, I went on six prop shopping trips a day and I enjoyed every single second. There was a thrill about the studio, about being part of something that people around the country were going to watch.

GMTV Kids offered me a job. It was difficult to choose between that, and the Science Museum. I chose the Science Museum. Yes, I loved working in TV, but I loved working with science more. But I now knew that I wanted to work in Science TV.

I applied for every BBC Work Experience placement I could, multiple times. I emailed the Producer of every children’s science programme who’s name I could find in the credits (once I learnt the secret of the BBC email addresses). The annoying thing was I only ever heard of the programmes after they had been made, and at that time many of the children’s science shows weren’t getting a second series commissioned. I just kept on missing the boat. But I carried on doing work experience.

But, after a tip off from my friend Greg Foot (who’d I’d met during one of my work experiences), I heard of a brand new children science show that was being made for CBBC, by an independent production company called September Films. I went for interview and got offered a job as a Runner. Despite all the advice, persuasion and logic, I left my permanent job with a lovely pension, sick pay and holidays, for a six-week job with a drastic pay cut.

On day three of this job, whilst delivering the tea to the Series Producer (who’s now a good friend), I saw he was looking up ‘How to Make Giant Bubbles’, I mentioned that you just need glycerin, and offered to go and buy some. He asked me how on Earth I knew that. I told him. From then on I was banned from making tea.

The programme was ‘Richard Hammond’s Blast Lab’, and it was a fantastic spring board for me. As the only scientist on the team I was given a complimentary amount of responsibility. I designed all the in-studio science games, oversaw the explanatory graphics, briefed the presenters and also designed some of the larger science stunts. I even ghost wrote and advised on the accompanying book and science kits.

That was 5 years ago. Since then, I’ve just made sure I’ve stock checked each year, looking at what I’ve done, and what I’d like to do. I’ve concentrated on what I’m good at, and what I enjoy the most. I’m extremely happy with the jobs I have at the moment. Yes, it’s taken time, but if it was easy everyone would do it.

Punching-table-science-communication
Punching table credit Jonathan Sanderson

Why do you do it?

Like I’ve said even if I didn’t do this as my job, I’d be doing similar sort of things in my weekends and holidays anyway.

However, over time I’ve also realised that I’m (hopefully) encouraging others who are in a position similar the one I was in when a child. In that I loved making things, testing things and so I thought I loved science. But, looking at adult scientists, they all seemed a little bit, well…strange! They didn’t seem fun, or even to enjoy what they were doing, and this was not the type of person I wanted to grow up to be. The only exception to the rule were the presenters of How2 (a popular children’s television show) who seemed to not only know their science (and general knowledge) but also know how to have a good time.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m completely ‘normal’, or that I don’t have my quirks, but by actually doing science, enjoying it and showing the fun things you can do with it, I hope to show those younger Frans out there that you can do science, without the posh accent, white coat and bad hair cut. And that being ‘brainy’ and ‘fun’ are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

What do you love about science communication?

When I was growing up I often said that I was born approximately 300 years too late, as I always thought I would thrive in the days of the Enlightenment. A period where Scientists (even though they didn’t have that name yet!) would spend their days ‘tinkering’ on machines, apparatus they had built themselves, testing, probing and investigating the world around them; what I call ‘playing with science’.

Throughout my MSci (in Neuroscience) I slowly realised that a career in the lab (well, in a Nottingham Neuroscience lab anyway) was not quite like this anymore. So, I set about just doing what I love; building stuff, and just generally ‘playing with Science’. People then started to pay me for doing this.

So what do I love about my job? Well, everything! I am one of the lucky ones who actually gets paid to do what they freely do in their days off.

What has been your favourite project?

I’d have to say my favourite project has been my recent work with CBBC; I’m the off and on-screen Science Consultant for a new children’s science entertainment show called ‘Absolute Genius with Dick and Dom’. Not only do I think it’s fantastic that Science is being paired with well-known and well-loved names such as Dick and Dom, but also (on a rather selfish note) I love the fact that I don’t have to ‘hand-over’ my demos. In the past I’ve designed demos and then briefed the presenters on how to perform them, which, depending on the concentration span of the presenter, had varying success. Though, of course, I was more than willing to do this, after-all that was my job! But demos are like naughty children and if given any opportunity to misbehave, they will. And so relying on others to perform your well-designed demos was always difficult as there was so much that could potentially go wrong.

With my recent CBBC projects, I see the demos through to completion, designing them, but also presenting them. I love this, as I know all the bases I need to cover to ensure the demo performs to its maximum potential. On the other side of the coin, if something does go wrong then it’s completely and utterly my fault, as there is just no one else in the equation. But I like that sort of pressure.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Science Communication is a vast field so as with anyone, I can only advise from my own experience, therefore I can only really help those wanting to go into science television.

My first tip would be try every route you can. Yes, apply for the BBC science department, but also apply to every independent production company that makes programmes you like.

Science at the BBC is difficult to get into, during my time there I was the often the only non-Oxbridge graduate, and the only one not to have done some sort of Science Communication course, but don’t let that stop you. Being different, taking a different route, isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I like to think of myself as refreshingly different. What you need to do is show a company why they should employ you, even though you’re not their stereotypical employee. Show initiative, be confident (but not arrogant), be brave, send cheeky emails. Find out names, people respond to other people; application forms don’t. And remember, if you don’t ask, you’ll never get.

Independent production companies have a much more open door, but staff turnaround is high. Sending them just one email isn’t going to get you anywhere. Send one every month, or better still pay them a visit. Someone will, eventually, give you an opportunity.

When you do finally get that opportunity, work your socks off. Show that you will do anything. Never, ever complain. There are thousands of other people who would love that opportunity, just remember that. Television is hard work, if you don’t like working hard, it’s not for you.

If you want to work behind the scenes, then just work hard, really hard. Getting ‘in’ is the difficult part. Once you’re in just make sure you do a good job and you’ll be fine (as long as you can cope with 6-week contracts, intermittent cash-flow and 14hour days). Research what you’re doing. If you don’t understand something; look it up. Acronyms are used far and wide and can be intimidating, a quick google will keep you up to speed. Or, better still, find yourself a mentor, someone who won’t judge you if you ask (what you think is) a stupid question. Buy books, read them, read them again, make fact sheets, read them; the more you know about everything, the better you’ll be at the job.

What if you want to work in front of camera? Ah, well that’s different. In a normal job, if you work hard and are good at what you do then eventually you will progress through the ranks. Television presenting is different; there are absolutely no guarantees. You can go for hundreds of screen tests and get nowhere. Yes, even Brian Cox was refused entry onto our television screens for years (and years!).

If you do want to go into Science presenting, I would say that the best route, the way things are going, is to stay in Science. It may seem silly advice, but the media is increasingly wanting actual practicing scientists to communicate it. Even if the show they’re presenting is not in their field of expertise, the fact that they do have an area of expertise is an instant tick. So, if you want to be a science presenter, find the science you enjoy, do that as your actual job; get job security (well, you have to admit by comparison even a 3-year contract is massively secure), the sick pay, the holiday pay and then try and enter the presenting world as a ‘tv’ outsider. Make sure the contributor- heavy programmes like Horizon and Bang Goes the Theory know who you are (new presenters are often found by being a contributor first) then wait. And by ‘wait’ I, of course, mean constantly self-promote (horrible word isn’t it?); go to development meetings at different production companies every week, forge relationships with Producers on ‘The One Show’ and ‘BBC Breakfast’ ensuring you’re their go-to science expert, present at every science festival that will have you, make a showreel, make a better showreel, write a blog, get on twitter, write hundreds of programme treatments, become a STEM ambassador, be willing to help any Researcher/AP/ Producer that calls you up (for free, of course), know of every single science programme out there, know who produces it and make sure they know who you are. But through all of this never, ever describe yourself as wannabe tv presenter. You are a scientist. Let the Development Producers come up with the idea that you’ll be good in-front of camera, even though we both know that’s what you actually want to do.

If, like me, you want to work in science tv, but also thought you’d give presenting a try then my advice would be choose who you tell. Every man, woman and dog wants to be a presenter it seems and if you confess that you too belong to that tribe then you may not be taken seriously in any behind the scenes role. I have two different groups of tv contacts, those that know me as an Researcher/ AP/ Consultant and those that know me as a presenter. A lot of the people I have worked for in the past do not even know of my in-front of camera work. I knew that they would have made (incorrect) presumptions about my commitment to the job if they knew of my presenting credits, so I chose not to tell.

But as always, whatever job you get, do the best work you can. If you don’t pull your weight behind the scenes, then you’ll never get recommended for presenting work. And enjoy it, after all that’s why you didn’t want a 9-to-5 job in the first place.

Friction-science-communication
How strong is friction? Credit British Science Festival

You can follow Fran on Twitter at @Frans_facts or visit her website here.