Tag Archives: radio

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

Credit The Pod Delusion

Speaking to… James O’Malley from The Pod Delusion

The-Pod-Delusion-science-communication
Credit The Pod Delusion

“getting to interview David Attenborough was pretty damn exciting. (Also: terrifying)”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… James O’Malley from The Pod Delusion

Name:

James O’Malley

Who do you work for?

I’m editor of The Pod Delusion, but that’s just a time consuming hobby. My day job is at social audio start-up Audioboo. (The two are unrelated – The Pod Delusion is purely an out of work thing!).

What type of science communication do you do?

Any science communication is purely accidental! The Pod Delusion is a weekly news-magazine podcast and radio programme about ‘interesting things’. We cover everything from politics, to science, to culture – all from a pro-science, rationalistic point of view. So we’re a fairly newsy programme – and we like to examine claims, and tell interesting stories that our audience may have missed in the proper media. We have lots of scientists who contribute to the programme – as well as science being a focus, so inevitably many of the segments on the show are scientists talking about the latest developments in any given field.

Who is your main audience?

It’s hard to describe exactly – we seem to appeal to a wide range of people, but generally our listeners tend to be a clever bunch, who like learning about a wide variety of things. When we setup our interviews we tend to tell guests that our audience are “science enthusiasts, but not necessarily scientists” – so perhaps people who are on board with the idea of science being awesome, but not working in the field. Though we do get tweets from people saying they listen in the lab and stuff too!

How did you get into it?

It was fairly accidental. I’m a humanities graduate (I’ve got a Masters in International Relations) but I started attending Skeptics in the Pub meetings – and made friends there who were more into science. Some time later I decided I wanted to start a podcast but didn’t really know what to do – which I why I gave it the remit of being about “interesting things”. Then I recruited several of my friends from skeptic circles to contribute – so naturally the things we’d talk about would have a bit of a scientific slant. So we’ve only really focused on science a lot by accident!

Why do you do it?

It’s rewarding in itself – though time consuming for both me and our deputy editor, Liz Lutgendorff, we get to go to interesting things and meet interesting people – which we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do. It’s always cool too when you’re at an event and someone recognises you by your voice.

What do you love about science communication?

As I’m not a science communication insider I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this, though broadly I like the fact that you don’t need a certain qualification to be able to do it. All you need to do is be able to cite your sources, defer to evidence and get enthusiastic about cool things.

What has been your favourite project?

It’s hard to define as we don’t have discrete “projects”, but getting to interview David Attenborough was pretty damn exciting. (Also: terrifying).

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

Each episode of the show is a project in itself, so every Monday we essentially start afresh. More broadly though I recommend checking out Soho Skeptics, which we’re involved with – a new series of public talks and lectures and events advocating a scientific worldview.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

I’m genuinely not sure if I’m actually “in” science communication – though the obvious advice would be to get your work out there. The reason we’ve had success is because we’re publishing audio content every week. Don’t hide it away, revising it – just publish!

Follow The Pod Delusions’ activities on Twitter at @poddelusion

Alexandra Feachem and Tim Minchin

Speaking to… Alexandra (Sasha) Feachem

“I never thought, when I started my career in science journalism back in 1997 that I’d be able to combine my slightly worrying obsession with celebrities and Heat magazine, with a respected and bona-fide career in science communication…but slightly strangely I seemed to have managed it!”

 

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Alexandra (Sasha) Feachem

Alexandra Feachem with Brian Cox and Robin Ince
Alexandra Feachem with Brian Cox and Robin Ince

Name?

Alexandra (Sasha) Feachem

Where are you based?  

BBC Broadcasting House

Who do you work for?

Producer, BBC Radio Science Unit.  Producer of BBC Radio 4’s “The Infinite Monkey Cage” presented by physicist Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince.

What type of science communication do you do?

I produce Radio programmes for BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service, including documentaries and magazine programmes, although my main responsibility these days is the  science/comedy panel show “The Infinite Monkey Cage” for BBC Radio 4.

Who is your main audience?

“The Infinite Monkey Cage”  actually attracts a much younger audience than is normal for Radio 4. We know from emails, letter and twitter that lots of students listen, school age and university and lots of people who say they wouldn’t normally listen to a science programme, which is always nice to hear.

How did you get into it?

I did a degree in Zoology and then went to live in the USA for a few years, and was lucky enough to get an internship on the science desk at National Public Radio in Washington DC. It was a fantastic training ground, and from there I was lucky enough to get my first position at the BBC.

What do you love about science communication?

Learning new things every day, the people I meet and work with,  and the variety. I never thought, when I started my career in science journalism back in 1997 that I’d be able to combine my slightly worrying obsession with celebrities and Heat magazine, with a respected and bona-fide career in science communication…but slightly strangely I seemed to have managed it!

Why do you think science communication is important?

Because science underpins virtually every aspect of our lives, and if you want to have an opinion on the issues that effect your daily life, its good if it can be the best-informed one possible!

What has been your favourite project?

Infinite Monkey Cage of course! But I was also the producer responsible for Big Bang Day on Radio 4, back in 2008 to mark the switch on of the Large Hadron Collider. It was a project that took several years to plan, and meant I spent a lot of time at CERN just outside Geneva. It was one of the most challenging and interesting productions I’ve ever done, and to get such amazing access to such a monumental scientific achievement is one of the highlights of my career. In fact, it was working on this, with Brian Cox that led to the idea of The Infinite Monkey Cage, as we ended up meeting many of the comedians and celebrities who are now regular guests on the programme. Until then, we hadn’t realised how many of them had a genuine enthusiasm and passion for science, or even, in several cases, had studied science at university. Several of them featured in programmes that were broadcast as part of that day eg. Ben Miller who got most of the way through a PhD in quantum physics, and Dara O’Briain, Cosmology graduate.

Have you got any new science communication projects coming up? 

I’m currently working on a documentary for Radio 4 on the science of crying, and plotting and planning the next series of Monkey Cage, which will be back in June.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Get as much experience as you can of the technical side of things…particularly if you are interested in Radio or Television. Any work experience, or internships that you can do to get you the technical training is invaluable. And listen to/watch or read as much science output as you can, across all genres to really be familiar with what makes a good story and the creative and interesting ways you can cover it.

You can follow Sasha and The Infinite Monkey Cage on Twitter at @sashafeachem and @themonkeycage and listen to all the shows Sasha produces on BBC Radio 4.

Speaking to… Gareth Mitchell

Gareth-Mitchell-science-communication
Gareth Mitchell

To start the 2013 interviews, Speaking of Science is proud to have Gareth Mitchell, an expert in radio and science communication to be in the first audio podcast of the Speaking to… series.


You can follow Gareth on Twitter at @GarethM or listen to Click on the BBC World Service.