Tag Archives: radio

Speaking to… Adam Hart

” I love talking about science, I enjoy the theatricality of giving talks and broadcasting work, even at the early stages, has taken me to fascinating people and places around the world.”

Adam Hart Science CommunicationThis is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Adam Hart

Name?

Professor Adam Hart

Where are you based?

Cheltenham

Who do you work for?

University of Gloucestershire

What type of science communication do you do?

All sorts! The last two weeks have seen me talking to various audiences about the cross-over between biology and engineering and insect pheromones; interviewing a developmental biologist for a Radio 4 documentary; helping to develop and plan an upcoming TV documentary I am doing; chaperoning undergraduate students in the Houses of Parliament learning about how science informs policy; analysing and planning ongoing citizen science projects with the Society of Biology (The Flying Ant Survey and Spider in da House); writing two magazine articles; assessing a CREST science project in a local 6th form; thinking ahead about National Insect Week and doing a local radio interview. Looking back through the diary that’s pretty typical and it can be a struggle fitting it in with university responsibilities, teaching and an active research programme. I’ve learnt to be very time efficient, I work well on trains and I have a very understanding employer! Continue reading

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

 

 

 

George-McGavin-science-communication2

Speaking to… Dr George McGavin

George-McGavin-science-communication
George McGavin
Credit BBC

“I’m 59 now, and I’ve been a full-time TV presenter for 5 years. I hope I can an extra 5, or 10 years more. Come on, Attenborough is in his 80’s, so if he can do it, then I can! I think I’ve got a few more years in me!”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Dr George McGavin

So lets go back a few years – what was it that sparked your imagination and lead you onto the career path you are on now?
Several reasons. One, I was always interested in the outside world, the world of animals and plants. As a young boy growing up in Edinburgh I had a pretty bad stammer, so the thought of doing something in languages was really not a good idea! I did enjoy english and art, but biology seemed to be what I was good at, so it seemed obvious that I would do a zoology degree at Edinburgh. I didn’t really think of any other career path.

So what happened after Edinburgh?
After finishing my undergrad at Edinburgh I went to the Natural History Museum and Imperial College to do a PhD. I had a very happy 3 years there, although it was hard work! In those days you didn’t do much in your first year, which you then regret as you only had 2 years to finish the PhD. I woke up a bit and started working like mad!

As you were at NHM, were you doing outreach too?
The outreach work really began when I was at Edinburgh during my final year. We had a scheme whereby all the final year students were attached to a primary school in Edinburgh. I thought that was really great; we would head out to the schools and I used to do all kinds of things with them as we had access to things that they didn’t – heads of animals, skulls etc. I remember I once did a rat dissection for a primary school and it caused huge alarm amongst the parents! They thought I shouldn’t show a dissection of a rat to young children (who were about 8 or 9). But the children loved it, they thought it was fantastic! There was one boy I remember, and I hope he’s now a surgeon, because he was fascinated, but kept fainting! He fainted the first time and the teachers took him out and said “oh no this is terrible we can’t have this!” but he was fighting to get back in saying “No I wan to be a Dr I want to be a surgeon let me back in!” and then he fainted again! So I hope he did become a surgeon in the end.

What is it about outreach that you like so much?
The reason I like outreach, and the reason I did it during my job at Oxford, is that outreach is incredibly useful to everybody. I think you owe it to your science and the people who funded you to share it! I certainly get a great joy form sharing my excitement for animals and ecology with as wide an audience as I can. I don’t care whether its 5 or 80 year olds, its the same deal. And it was because of this that actually resigned from my post at Oxford after 30 years in the world of academia!

What happened after you resigned?

Really I had been doing a bit if TV for about three or four years at the some time as my academic job and I began to realise that I could not do both at the same time – I need to direct my energy to one thing. The experience of what I had done gave me the push to take it on full time

I (never really) wanted to become a TV presenter. Some people thought I was absolutely mad to be giving up a tenure position at Oxford University, but it all happened quite quickly.

It was December 2007, and I was on the way home from a Friday of tutorials. At one point I realised that what was important to me was to share my excitement and my interest in the natural world with an audience. My thought process went something like this: in a tutorial class I would have an audience of 4. If I was on a cruise ship, which I would occasionally do, I would have an audience of maybe 400. But if I did this on TV I would have an audience of 4million. So, I went home that night and wrote my resignation letter. I didn’t even have a beer, just typed it out! And that was it. It was a little bit scary for a couple of weeks…

How did this transition go?

Yes you do learn as you go along and you get better at it but you need to have the ability to communicate in the first place  –

Being on TV is not something that you know how to do instinctively, you learn as you go along. I get tonnes of emails from individuals asking “how do I get on TV? What do I need to do to get on TV?” And I rarely, if ever, answer these questions because I think you need to become an expert in something, and then go onto TV.

When I was younger I would never have considered for a minute that I would ever be on the box. If you had said to me at 15 (when my stammer was rather bad), “George, you are going to be a university lecturer for 30 years, and then become a TV presenter.” I would have laughed in your face and thought the idea absurd!

I think these things just happen. Whilst being at Oxford I became known as someone with an expertise in bugs, arthropods etc. So when there were news items I would get calls for a sound bite. At first was very scary, but I eased into it. Then it grew bigger and I started doing local BBC radio things a lot. After that it escalated again: I was asked to be a scientific advisor to Sir David Attenboroughs’ Undergrowth series. I was simply blown away. The following year they asked me “Would you like to go to Borneo?” I thought it was the same deal, to be a scientific advisor for the programme. But this time it was to be ON the programme! So I said yes, of course. And the next years we did The Lost Land of the Jaguar, and The Lost Land of the Volcano, both of which were successful. After that, I decided I could make a career out of it!

Which TV programme has been your favourite to work on so far?
Well I hope it hasn’t happened yet; I hope I still have great things ahead of me! But they’ve all been interesting in their own different ways. I thought The Lost land of the Volcano was very very good. And The Dark, which we did last year, was also excellent.

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George McGavin
BBC: Strange Science of Decay

There was a programme I did in a glass box in Edinburgh which we just filled with food, and watched it decay over 8 weeks. That was called Afterlife: the Strange Science of Decay and that won 5 awards, it was a huge programme!

What was the scariest programme you’ve ever worked on?
Oh, thats easy. The scariest one I’ve ever had to do was last year when we made a programme with Dr Alice Roberts called Prehistoric Autopsy. It was scary because it was filmed “as live”, it’s been the biggest piece of TV I’ve ever done.

So we had three studio days with an 8 camera shoot and talk-back in our ears, as well as auto-cue on the camera. So even though it wasn’t actually live, it was filmed as live, so you were on camera the whole time. I had voices in my ears going “Right George, in 5-4-3-2-1 camera 2″ so then I’d turn to camera two and say my line. It was an adrenaline rush; I may have looked calm but beneath the surface it was pandemonium! That was a steep learning curve.

Had you had any training?
No, I hadn’t. I’m glad I got through it though, because it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Anything from now on has definitely got to be easier.

What is one of the best things about working in TV?
One of the great things about this job is that you get to go and see some great things, areas of the world and animals that you would otherwise never see. If I had stayed in Oxford I would have maybe had one trip a year, I would have had to apply for grants to get funding which can be nightmare.

When working with TV they’d say “Right George, we’re filming Orang-Utans in Sumatra. Could you be at the airport tomorrow morning  at 5am?” And off I go! I don’t have to organise anything, I just turn up.

I used to think it was glamorous, going off to Guyana, or Venezuela. But the reality is that the airports are hellish and flying is hellish. I look forward to the days that we can be virtually transported.

On top of that, I hate long haul flying, especially in economy: 8/10 hours in economy is not conducive to you feeling great the next day.

What’s it like to film in places like the jungle?

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George McGavin
BBC: The Lost Land of the Tiger

We’re not living it up in a hotel.

Filming  The Dark we spent a weeks in the jungle, and for one sequence we abseiled 150/160 feet into a crevasse in a Venezuelan tepui. We then spend 5 days in total darkness filming. It wasn’t comfortable: we were wet, cold, hungry etc, but the rewards! We filmed a new species of fish in the cave and a new species of cave cricket. It was an amazing experience.

I think audiences aren’t fooled by what they see. They want the real thing- the whole experience. They want to see you uncomfortable, cold, wet tired, hungry, bitten alive etc. That makes good TV.

So the perfect job for you then?
I think it is. I actually thought the museum job at Oxford was perfect for me: I’m doing teaching, research, going on the occasional trip, working in a fabulous museum. And then suddenly, at the age of 55 to get a second most amazing ob in the world doing TV presenting is amazing! I know that there are many people out there rather jealous. They thought “why should he get 2 brilliant jobs in his life?” I’m very lucky!

So, you’ve done live, TV, and writing! You’ve done a bit of everything!

I guess so. I think now I’ve written about 14 books, not all as sole author, some as a contributor or an editor. I’ve written a couple of kids books too. In fact, my new kids book comes out in October. Its a Bugs book, published by Walker Books. And it’s a beautiful pop-up book: as you open the pages scorpions and cockroaches appears out of the pages! So that’s aimed at young kids.

Which medium do you find the best at bringing across your ideas?

They’re very different animals. A text book I wrote called Essential Entomology took me a year to write, and it’s a very solitary existence. And even though I have a stammer, I’m a fair extrovert – I like being out there doing stuff! And I love a big audience, so my favourite is actually live talks.

The trouble with TV is you don’t have an audience. You have a camera man who is interested in the shots: is it over exposed? Then you have a director who is interested in other things, you’ve got a sound man whose merely there to make sure the words are intelligible, and there are no helicopters or dogs in the background.

But you do have to remember that you have a virtual one, which you can’t see. It’s very difficult to engage emotionally with an unseen audience. That’s why live stuff is so much more enjoyable because you can work the audience. It’s really a performance art: the best speakers you’ve ever heard are the ones that regard it as a performance.

It’s impossible to tell your audience, whether students or not, what they need to know in an hour. That’s what books, libraries and personal study time is for. What you’ve got to do in that hour is to fire them up, to inspire them, to make them excited and make them want to go and find out more! The best people on their back legs in front of an audience are the ones that make it fun, entertaining and exciting. There is no excuse for a dull lecturer who stands up and drones: you put people off.

Well we’ve all had one or two of those…
We’ve all had them, and it’s a great shame. Lots of universities tend to put that sort of person in front of the 1st years, and the inspirational ones in front of the older students. And that’s just the wrong way around! They should be putting the inspirational ones in front of the first years. By the time you reached your third year you should be self-motivated enough!

So that’s what you’re doing: you’re simply getting that fire going, which will hopefully blaze away for the rest of their lives. If you can get the fire going in an 8 year old, it will blaze away for the rest of their lives.

Do you think educating young kids in science is important?

I think education for young kids is very very important, as the name implies “Primary education” should be the most important education. I think between the years of 5 and 8 you’ll learn more than you’ll ever learn.

I think that the most inspirational teachers should be put in front of young kids, not the older ones; you need to catch them early. If you wait until they’re 14 or 15 then girls and boys and iPods become important and you might lose them.

So what else is next for you?
So there’s the children’s book in October.

I’m just finishing filming for a BBC 1 documentary on swarming animals which will be out this autumn . We filmed honey bees in California: I had about 80 thousand bees all over me. We filmed Bats in Austin, Texas where I was hanging at the top of a cave entrance with thousands of free-tail bats flying around my head and peeing in my face (great stuff!). We filmed reindeer, red crabs and much more.

I’m also working on a three part series coming out next spring which is called Planet Primate (or something like that). For this show we’ve been around the world filming lemurs, aye-ayes, chimps, orang-utans, macaques. We even got some behaviour that has never been filmed before, which is unbelievable. So that’s going to be a big series, and I’m hopeful that will be the biggest thing I’ve done yet.

Then, in three weeks time I’m off to film infant orang-utans which will be super cute, obviously! But that’s the bit that I’ll do the final part of the series, talking about the fact that although there are more than  600 primate species in the world, more than half of them are endangered. And there is only one species of primate that is doing well, and that’s us.

So it will be an eye-opener.
I think it will be quite amazing. Some of the behaviours we filmed won’t be able to go on the show as they are quite extreme. As the show will be an 8pm airing, on BBC1 when there will be young children watching it. So unfortunately some of it will have to become archive material, most of all the bit where a group of male chimpanzees rip a live monkey apart. Remove the heart and eat it whilst it was still beating.

That must have been quite frightening to watch?

I often get asked this. One instance people remember is when I crawl into a hollow log in a forest and it was about 80ft long, and full of scorpions, spiders, bits and pieces. And I wasn’t scared. The excitement of being there, the drama of being there and finding out what was in there was so high that you forget completely that there might be something in there that might kill you. So on the principle that great TV often involves the presenter being bitten or stung by something, it’s usually fine!

For those of us who would like to go into TV presenting, what golden nuggets of advice do you have?
I think someone like that is born rather than made, but you have to have  passion for what ever it is you are doing, whether its geology or particle physics. You need to be thinking you would rather be doing this than anything else in the world. And if you don’t have that I don’t think you can really start out in TV.

Anything else?

I’m 59 now, and I’ve been a full-time TV presenter for 5 years. I hope I can an extra 5, or 10 years more. Come on, Attenborough is in his 80’s, so if he can do it, then I can! I think I’ve got a few more years in me!

Jack Croxall

Speaking to… Jack Croxall

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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

Ben Valsler

Speaking to… Ben Valsler

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Ben Valsler

“I meet interesting people & visit interesting places, I get to learn new things without having to take an exam and I revel in the positive feedback”

 

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

Name?

Benjamin Valsler, but you can call me Ben.

Who do you work for?

I’ve recently started a new job as the Online and Multimedia Editor of Chemistry World, the magazine of the Royal Society of Chemistry.  Before that, I was a radio and podcast producer at Cambridge University’s Naked Scientists.

What type of science communication do you do?

So far, I’ve predominantly been involved in radio and podcasting, making magazine-style programmes and documentaries. I’m now doing more written communication (blogging etc), editing journalistic writing and producing short audio and video packages for online publication.

Who is your main audience?

I’ve produced content for a range of audiences. The magazine Chemistry World is distributed to RSC members, so the primary audience is people working in the chemical sciences. However, as online and multimedia editor, I will be reaching out to a broader, less specific audience, engaging through social media and the Chemistry World website.

How did you get into it?

Having recently graduated with a degree in Zoology, I was keen to do some travelling. I was teaching science in North East Thailand when I was given the opportunity to join some of my colleagues on the nightly “English hour” on Thai local radio. We had free reign to talk about whatever we wanted, as long as it was in English. I quickly realised that the topics I wanted to discus were the scientific topics I had been teaching.

With that epiphany, I then applied to do a Science Communication MSc at the University of West England in Bristol, and applied for the Association of British Science Writers Student Journalism Bursary to help with the costs. I was successful for both, and moved to Bristol on my return from Thailand.

Coincidentally around the time I finished my MSc course, a job came up at the Naked Scientists. I travelled to Cambridge for the interview, and just a few weeks later returned to take up the position.

Why do you do it?

There are a huge number of ways to justify communicating science. I’m sure you’re familiar with the arguments around improving scientific literacy, accounting for use of public funds in science and the slightly patronising “deficit model” idea that people would support science more if we told them more facts.

I have worked in South Africa throughout my time at the Naked Scientists, and been shocked to see roadside signs offering to “cure HIV with herbal tea”, and hear politicians broadly dismissing the AIDS epidemic. This put the arguments around improving scientific literacy in a new context for me. At the same time, the thirst for science in South Africa is huge, so there’s a positive and progressive feel, and it’s nice to be a part of that.

I have to confess, I mainly do it because I enjoy it. I meet interesting people & visit interesting places, I get to learn new things without having to take an exam and I revel in the positive feedback I get when I’ve shared something interesting or helped someone to understand something.

What do you love about science communication?

As a field, it inspires people to be creative, and often on a very tight budget. You meet people who communicate science because of their passion, not just because it’s a career.

What has been your favourite project?

Undoubtedly my work in South Africa, and in particular working with Professor Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand. Prof. Berger is a prominent anthropologist, and with him I’ve visited the cradle of mankind and held the skull of an early human ancestor. Very few people have these opportunities, and each visit has resulted in hours of engaging radio.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

As mentioned, I’ve recently started a new job as Online and Multimedia Editor for Chemistry World. It’s a brand new position, so I have a clean slate to start from. As such, I have plans for new video and audio series, webinars, interactive elements and much more.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

If you can afford the time and fees, a science communication MSc gives you an excellent grounding in the background and theory behind science communication, but it’s certainly not essential for a career in sci comm.

Take every opportunity you can get (and make your own!). If you have the chance, work with editors to improve your writing. If you’re interested in radio, record and listen to your own voice. Get used to how you sound and learn to control your rhythm and pace.

Consume science communication – listen to science podcasts, watch science TV, visit exhibits and see as many public events as possible. Find out what other people are doing well and doing badly, and then work that into your own ideas.

Talk to other science communicators about what works – we’re not always good at sharing our evaluations (when they even exist).

Mainly, enjoy it – enthusiasm is contagious.

You can follow Ben on Twitter at @BenValsler

Speaking to… Professor Jim Al-Khalili

Professor-Jim-Al-Khalili-science-communication
Professor Jim Al-Khalili

This feature podcast is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Professor Jim Al-Khalili

Professor Jim Al-Khalili is a bit of a specialist when it comes to balancing his time between research and doing plenty of science communication. I went to visit him at the University of Surrey for a chat to see just how he does it.

You can follow Jim on Twitter at @jimalkhalili and follow his many activities on his website.