Tag Archives: journalism

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

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

Colin Stuart

Speaking to… Colin Stuart

“network your backside off, particularly if you’re just starting out. The amount of opportunities that have come my way because of a Twitter conversation or a chance meeting in the pub etc is pretty high”

 

Colin-Stuart-science-communication
Colin Stuart

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

Name?

Colin Stuart

Where are you based?

London

Who do you work for?

and myself

What type of science communication do you do?

A mixture really. I am part presenter, part writer. At the Observatory it is face-to-face communication – presenting planetarium shows, showing people the stars and planets through telescopes, running interactive school workshops and teaching adult evening courses about the latest developments in astronomy. On the freelance writing side it ranges from “typical” science journalism, through to writing educational resources for charities and then onto books.

Who is your main audience?

I wouldn’t say I have one. Over the course of a week I could be singing nursery rhymes about the planets to five-year-olds in the planetarium or speaking to the retirees who often come along to the adult evening courses. I could be writing an article for a specialist science website, but equally I could be writing a feature for The Guardian or New Scientist aimed at the general public.

How did you get into it?

I did a degree in astrophysics and I got to that point in my studies that I think a lot of people get to in the middle of their second year: what am I going to do next? I’d always loved astronomy since I was a kid but by that point I’d realised I no longer wanted to be a researcher. I thought about other ways that astronomy could feature in my career without having to be a research scientist and I’d always been quite good at public speaking and writing so I thought maybe I could do that. I honestly had never heard of the term “science communication” before. But when I thought about what that sort of stuff might be called I googled those words and a whole host of information poured out. I found the Science Communication MSc at Imperial very quickly and within a few days set about getting the sort of experience that would make sure my application was successful. Part of that was volunteering at the Observatory and that has led on to a part time job there.

Why do you do it?

For the love of it (most of the time!). Astronomy has always been my passion and passion can be infectious. I wanted to share my love of the universe with others and get across that sense of awe and insignificance that astronomy is so good at delivering. At the same time it keeps me honest. My job forces me to keep up-to-date with the latest research and I get to talk to some of the scientists doing some really cool research. Basically I get to geek-out on a daily basis and get paid for the privilege.

 

Why do you think science communication is important?

Well first there are the clichés. That science is funded by taxpayers and so taxpayers need to be engaged in science. That our world is becoming increasing scientific and so people need to be more engaged with science and perhaps we can inspire the next generation of scientists by grabbing their attention early. Those things are all true in varying degrees. But the more I do science communication the more I think that the answer is because it is real. Particularly for my line of work in astronomy, we’re finding out the ways in which our universe really works and often that is so far removed from our everyday experience of the daily grind. Science communication, done well, can offer the same escapism as novels or movies with the added bonus of being real. If that doesn’t sound too pretentious! That’s certainly what got me hooked as a kid. I could read story books, but I could also read equally exciting books about the planets and their moons but the latter stories weren’t make-believe.

What do you love about science communication?

The fact that I get to immerse myself in science every single day. And the fact that you can often see the effects of a job well done. If a kid gasps during a planetarium show because you’ve shown them something that’s blown their mind or when an adult laughs at one of your jokes – I’ve been doing it five years but that still gives me a buzz. I also love the fact that I am always learning, about astronomy but also about ways to communicate. I am a much better presenter and writer than I was five years ago, but I know I’ll go on improving because there is always something to learn or another way to look at things. I also still love getting my head around a new concept, just as I did at uni.

What has been your favourite project?

That’s a tough one. What I do can be so varied that it is hard to compare projects, but I think it was writing my first book. As as writer I have always dreamed of having a book out there on the shelves and that’s nearly a reality as The Big Questions in Science is published soon. It is co-written with two good friends – Hayley Birch and Mun-Keat Looi – and it tackles twenty of the biggest unanswered questions in science today detailing the efforts of extravagant millionaires, biologists, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, philosophers, explorers and engineers to push the boundaries of our knowledge. My chapters tackle concepts like dark matter, dark energy, exoplanets, antimatter, parallel universes, time travel, alien life, black holes, wormholes and quantum physics and so it was really fun to write.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I am currently trying to get a kids book on astronomy off the ground, so watch this space!

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Work hard, the competition is becoming increasingly fierce. Love what you do, you’re going to be spending a lot of time doing it so you better enjoy it. Practice, a lot. You might think you are good, and you might be, but you can always be better. Lastly, network your backside off, particularly if you’re just starting out. The amount of opportunities that have come my way because of a Twitter conversation or a chance meeting in the pub etc is pretty high. There are plenty of opportunities out there if you do enough digging.

You can follow Colin on Twitter at @skyponderer or find out what he’s up to on his website.

Jack Croxall

Speaking to… Jack Croxall

Jack-Croxall-science-communication
Jack Croxall

“Learning and communicating things about how the world works is an incredible way to spend your life, I find I’m surprised and fascinated by something every day.”

 

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

Name?

Jack Croxall

Where are you based?

A small village in rural Nottinghamshire, it’s lovely!

Who do you work for?

Myself! I’m a science writer and an author, but I’m also the co-creator and editor of Unpopular Science, a website which aims to share and discuss the science stories which missed the front pages with anyone and everyone.

What type of science communication do you do?

I write a lot of short articles for Unpopular Science and other media outlets, but I’ve recently got into writing/presenting little videos and have even tried my hand at radio a couple of times. I think a science communicator should always be attempting to gain experience in a variety of mediums so he/she can reach as many people as possible. Science is for everyone, not just scientists; the best communicators will use a variety of platforms to connect with as wide an audience as possible.

On the author side of things, I have recently released my debut novel Tethers.The book is a Victorian adventure story that sees two teenagers, Karl and Esther, drawn into a treacherous conspiracy. That conspiracy has been engineered by a group of scientists who have discovered something with world-changing potential, and the novel asks the question, just how much does the justification of ‘the greater good’ allow a scientist to risk.

Who is your main audience?

We try to make Unpopular Science as accessible as possible, which means keeping things fun and simple, as well as clarifying any jargon. We try to include links and facts at the end of our articles that may interest anybody involved in the specific field we are talking about, however. As for Tethers, the genre is young-adult fiction, but, to me, that does not mean that only teenagers are welcome. The novel has a variety of themes and characters of different ages and so I would hope that anyone, young or old, would find something to enjoy amongst its pages.

How did you get into it?

I started writing science stories for student publications and blogs whilst I was an undergraduate. I quickly worked out it was something I enjoyed immensely, so, after I graduated, I sorted myself out with some work experience at BBC Factual. That cemented my desire to become a science communicator and so I enrolled on a postgraduate course to learn more. There I met Charlie Harvey who I eventually set up Unpopular Science with.

Why do you do it?

Quite simply, because I love it. Learning and communicating things about how the world works is an incredible way to spend your life, I find I’m surprised and fascinated by something every day. On top of that I feel as though I’m doing something worthwhile and important, and I’ve met some truly wonderful and remarkable people along the way.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Science is a hugely important aspect of our society and no one owns the right to scientific knowledge. A science communicator’s job is to bridge the gap between the public and experts in a specific field, essentially helping to share the knowledge around so we can all benefit from it.

What do you love about science communication?

I’ve already written that I love learning fascinating new things, but I love it even more if I can be the one to inspire that reaction in other people.

What has been your favourite project?

Probably writing Tethers. I had to learn a lot of new skills and do a lot of research to produce that book, and I am immensely pleased with the result. When I was younger and reading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (based around The Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics) I never dreamt that anyone would read a story that I wrote and possibly even enjoy it. So, when people write a review or get in touch with me, it really does make me so incredibly happy and thankful!

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

As well as continuing to work on Unpopular Science, I’m currently working on the second instalment of The Tethers Trilogy, but I’m also planning on making a few more videos.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Start practising and get on social media and start connecting and chatting with other sciency types! If you want a platform for your work, we consider articles from anyone, no matter what their experience level! If your work isn’t quite up to scratch, or it doesn’t quite match our ethos, we’ll let you know what you need to do to change it, or where you can take it if it matches another outlets brief better. So please, get in contact, we’d love to hear from you!

You can follow Jack on Twitter at @JackCroxall and Unpopular Science at @UnpopularScience

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

Khalil A. Cassimally

Speaking to… Khalil A. Cassimally

Khalil-A-Cassimally-science-communication
Khalil A. Cassimally

Write to make a difference (and remind yourself of this aim in hard times)”

 

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Khalil A. Cassimally

Name?

Khalil A. Cassimally

Where are you based?

Mauritius, a tropical island in the Indian Ocean!

Who do you work for?

I’m a freelance community manager and science writer although I’m currently attached to Nature Publishing Group (NPG) right now. I manage two science blogging networks: Scitable blogs from Nature Education, the educational division of NPG; and SciLogs.com, an international network by German publisher Spektrum der Wissenschaft and NPG.

What type of science communication do you do?

My job as a community manager is to enable bloggers to communicate science to as wide an audience as possible. This basically entails making sure that they have the appropriate tools and services to make their blogging as enjoyable as possible. And also work on strategies to actively get their content to lots of eyeballs.

As a science writer, I started by writing more about science that got me excited. The topics tended to be related to the biological sciences, especially biomedical science—no surprise considering that my academic background is in the biomedical sciences.

I’m now focusing more on science and science policy, especially in Africa. Africa is a giant that’s waking up and its contribution to our collective scientific knowledge is steadily increasing. But importantly, I also want to elicit attention on the various problems that many Africans face—problems that the developing world may have already solved. This disparity in how we put our scientific knowledge to use is, I think, unacceptable. I hope that if more people are aware of it, changes will happen. This is the main reason I am writing more about science and science policy in Africa.

Who is your main audience?

Scitable targets high school and undergrad science students as well as science enthusiasts. SciLogs.com’s audience spans from active scientists to science enthusiasts.

How did you get into it?

I started writing about science since I was 16, I think. A few years later, I joined as a blogger of a Scitable group blog. With time, I took on more responsibilities and there you go. I was really lucky to have Ilona Miko as my editor on Scitable. She really mentored me (still does) and gave me an opening in science communication.

I must say that it was not my intention to get into science communication full time. I initially wanted to be a scientist but after one year of full time research, it was pretty obvious that I was not enjoying doing research nor was I very good at it. Thankfully I was able to turn, what was until then a hobby, into a fulltime thing.

Why do you do it?

I started writing about science because I loved science and I liked writing. So writing about science seemed the natural thing to do. But as I did more work in science communication, I quickly realised that I was involved in a really decent endeavour that spanned way beyond my own life here…

Why do you think science communication is important?

… Pushing science to people has the potential to educate and sensitise them so that they can push policymakers to embrace policies that have a scientific grounding and promote continual scientific research for the good of humanity as a whole.

What do you love about science communication?

Knowing that every piece of writing I do has the potential to change and sensitise, change a mindset and who knows… elicit actual change. That’s the goal science writers should strive for, I think. Try to make a change.

What has been your favourite project?

I’ve enjoyed every project I’ve been involved in. But a real bright mind and I are currently working on an independent project that mixes science, journalism and underdeveloped and developing countries. I’m pretty excited about this.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I guess I already answered this question!

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Write to make a difference (and remind yourself of this aim in hard times).

You can follow Khalil on Twitter at @notscientific

Special Speaking to… Dr Phil Marshall (part 2)

Dr-Phil-Marshall-science-communication
Dr Phil Marshall

This feature podcast is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Dr Phil Marshall 

A few weeks ago I spoke to Phil about Space Warps, a new citizen science project that is on the look of out citizen scientists to help classify images that may or may not contain a gravitational lens.

This time, we’ll be hearing the second part of that interview, which delved a little deeper into his other science communication adventures, including blogging, open days, the USA and a hypothetical journalist.

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Open day whiteboard!

During the podcast he spoke about the white board on his door: this is what it looked like after the open day!

You can find out what is happening in the Space Warps project on Twitter at @spacewarps and you can follow Phil on Twitter at @drphilmarshall