Tag Archives: outreach

Professor Athene Donald

Speaking to… Professor Athene Donald

Professor-Athene-Donald-science-communication
Professor Athene Donald

“As one of the relatively few senior women physicists I feel it is important for new generations growing up to realise that it is possible to be a physicist and a woman; a woman with children at that. And it’s fun!”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Professor Athene Donald

Name?

Athene Donald

Where are you based?

Cambridge (UK)

Who do you work for?

University of Cambridge, where I’m a Professor of Experimental Physics

What type of science communication do you do?

My most regular activity is blogging: I have my own blog at Occams Typewriter but I also blog approximately monthly through the Occam’s Corner Blog on the Guardian Science Blogs and most recently at the new Institute of Physics Blog PhysicsFocus (where we are meant to post every few weeks). Of these it is obviously the Guardian site which is most generally going to reach the general public. I’ve also written a few one-off articles for the broadsheets.

However in addition I talk to schools, science festival activities and the like from time to time, limited by the state of my diary. I’ve also done occasional mainstream radio programmes – by which I mean, not specifically science programmes like Material World, but programmes such as Desert Island Discs, Start the Week, A Good Read, Woman’s Hour, Essential Classics and In Our Time. I love these opportunities to sneak a little science into general programmes, and judging by the emails I get afterwards, these often strike a chord. I feel really fortunate to have been given all these golden opportunities.

I think it’s through my blogging I’ve recently become identified as a ‘science communicator’ – it’s not a label I’d apply to myself particularly. I’m a practicing academic scientist who likes talking about what I do, not a full time communicator.

Who is your main audience?

That depends, as indicated above. For many of these it is for the general public. I do think it is really important to convey to them that scientists aren’t all like they imagine Dr Frankenstein to have been. We are ‘normal’ people to whom they can relate and who do things that genuinely are interesting, creative and important.

How did you get into it?

I suppose the first major activity was when I headed up the team of 4 of us who gave the Institute of Physics 1995 series of lectures. This was about polymers and was called Building with Snakes. It taught me a lot about how to avoid jargon and put ideas across in a clear and lively manner. But shortly after that I had a bad experience with the media after a poorly worded press release discussing a major grant on colloids. That certainly put me off for at least a decade! Since then I’ve had media training and feel a lot more comfortable doing this sort of work.

Why do you do it?

Because it matters. As one of the relatively few senior women physicists I feel it is important for new generations growing up to realise that it is possible to be a physicist and a woman; a woman with children at that. And it’s fun!

Why do you think science communication is important?

Many people feel that science is too difficult for them, yet it matters to them at a fundamental level and they may have to make decisions relating to science, whether they understand it or not (for instance MMR vaccinations as a specific example which is back in the news again). Scientists need to share their love for the subject and convey its relevance to everyone. This is the only way we have to help citizens make informed judgements about everything from climate change to health risks they may be taking.

What do you love about science communication?

It’s an opportunity to share the excitement, not only of the science itself, but of the scientific process. It’s a way of engaging with young and old that can be very stimulating. I am often surprised by the sophistication of the questions that I get asked.

What has been your favourite project?

My blog gives me enormous satisfaction. It gives me an opportunity to write in a style far-removed from that of scientific papers or grant proposals, to have fun with the written word in ways I had forgotten for many years. But I also believe it’s important to get stuff out for people to read.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

More of the same with nothing significantly different in planning, but in my experience one should expect the unexpected. Recently I recorded a brief bit of film for Flog It about the Young’s slits experiment (not sure when it will be broadcast) – you never know what opportunities may come your way, but you have to be up for them.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

If you’re interested in writing – do some. Starting your own blog is a good way to find out if you enjoy it and feel able to commit to it regularly. Get some media training if you’re more interested in oral communication; it will help you find out how to express complicated ideas in a sufficiently simple way. There are lots of opportunities to get involved eg through local science festivals, becoming STEM Ambassadors etc. Don’t just think about it – get going!

You can follow Athene on Twitter at @AtheneDonald

Theresa Liao

Speaking to… Theresa Liao

Theresa-Liao-science-communication
Theresa Liao

“Because I am involved in many different projects, I am constantly in gear-shifting modes, switching from one target audience to another.”

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

Name?

Theresa Liao

Where are you based?

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Who do you work for?

The Department of Physics & Astronomy, the University of British Columbia

What type of science communication do you do?

I work as a Communications Coordinator for the department, responsible for the department’s communication with the general community. This includes running the outreach program (summer camps, school field trips, national science contests, hands-on activities, etc), organizing public events and science conferences, help preparing professors’ research grants, and looking after the department’s website. In my personal time, I write on my blog Science, I Choose You with the focus on science and our society.

Who is your main audience?

Everyone! It really depends on the activity. Because I am involved in many different projects, I am constantly in gear-shifting modes, switching from one target audience to another. Personally, I like to write for a general audience, so you don’t need to have a scientific background to understand what I write 😀

How did you get into it?

I was one of those kids who just could not stop asking questions and taking things apart (I bet my elementary teacher didn’t like me very much :P). I studied biochemistry in undergrad because the thought of us consisting of biomolecules like DNA and proteins really fascinated me. I then went into a PhD program, thinking that I wanted to do research for the rest of my life. It was around the same time that I started volunteering for a Canadian non-profit organization called the Let’s Talk Science Program (LTS) at UBC – I visited schools and talked to kids about science, and that led to organizing bigger science events for the program.

One day, after I finished running a 300-people science challenge for UBC LTS, I realized I was really, really disappointed about the ending of the project. That got me thinking why I wasn’t doing science communication and outreach full. After a few months of very serious thinking, I went to my supervisor and told him that I wanted to wrap up my project as a MSc project (by the way, I already completed my qualifying exam and got my PhD proposal approved at this point…). I think I scared a bunch of people (sorry!!). After writing up my Master’s thesis and furiously looking for a job in “the real world”, I spent a year working as a research grants facilitator, and then got the job that I currently hold. I absolutely love my job! And I never looked back…

Why do you do it?

I really enjoy sharing science with others, much like musicians share their music and artists share their art. Sometimes I get so excited about it that I just can’t stop talking/thinking about it. I also feel like science is a cause that I am passionate about – I believe that everyone should have access to an understanding of science regardless of social status. That is why I work so hard for it.

Why do you think science communication is important?

We are surrounded by science – from medicine, technology, to our environment and the Universe. Yet we often overlook the role science plays in our lives when we make everyday decisions. I feel that science communication is not just about presenting people with scientific facts, but to reinforce the idea that science is about discoveries, about learning, about continuing asking questions without being afraid of doing so. And that is a process very useful for us in making decisions about ourselves and our future – and that’s why I think science communication is important.

What do you love about science communication?

By communicating science to others, I get to rediscover ideas I knew about and see if I really understand them myself. I absolutely love that experience.

What has been your favourite project?

My favourite project has been the Experience Science at UBC Day. On this day, students from inner city come on campus to participate in hands-on activities run by many other departments that we collaborate with. Many of these students don’t know anyone who graduated from a university, let alone a scientist. Through this event, they get to see the campus, chat with university students and professors, and get their hands dirty in science. I usually go over to visit them during lunch time to make sure things are running smoothly. One time a kid came by and said to me very loudly, “this is the best field trip EVER!” That made my day 😀

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I will be running my department’s open house in May (super excited!), and have been working on two other conferences and three other outreach activities, also in May (it is going to be a busy month…). I am also trying to start a Google+ group for Science Communication in Canada for those interested in networking. And then I am planning to take some courses in social media. And then …(hm, I can probably go on and on if I don’t stop now!)

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

There are many ways to share your passion for science. If you are hesitating, start with something small that you love doing (and do it now!) – it could be writing, painting, photography, or just chatting with people about science. You never know where it will lead to!

By the way, if you are in Canada and you love science communication, join the CanComm forum and list your blog on the Canadian Science Blogs list!

You can follow Theresa on Twitter at @TheresaLiao