Tag Archives: research

Speaking to… Robin Ince and Trent Burton about The Incomplete Map of the Cosmic Genome

TIMOTCG-science-communication
The Incomplete Map of the Cosmic Genome

This feature podcast is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Robin Ince and Trent Burton about The Incomplete Map of the Cosmic Genome

Today’s feature podcast about science communication is with Robin Ince, “comedian, writer and that sort of thing” and Trent Burton founder of Trunkman Productions, who are the face and brains behind the new app The Incomplete Map of the Cosmic Genome. This app showcases a myriad of interviews with scientists and science communicators about what it is they do…..sounds slightly familiar…So I went to meet them in one of their pop-up studios at UCL to find out a bit more about the app.

It is a rather long interview, but super fun so stick with it!

You can find out more about the cosmic genome app on their website, or follow them on Twitter at @cosmicgenome

Natasha Bray

Speaking to… Natasha Bray

Natasha-Bray-science-communication
Natasha Bray

“you can’t inspire interest if you’re faking it yourself. Excitement is contagious.”

 

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

Name?

Natasha Bray (Tasha)

Where are you based?

The University of Manchester

Who do you work for?

Doing a funded PhD means I am working for my supervisors, the University, my funding body (BBSRC) and ultimately, UK taxpayers. Also, since I want to get the best out of my PhD, I guess I work for myself too!

What type of science communication do you do?

Bits and bobs. I write articles for a neuroscience blog called The Brain Bank. I’ve also given a few workshops and talks to local schoolkids, both by myself and in groups with other neuroscientists from my lab. Earlier this year I tried my hand at science stand-up comedy and survived to tell the tale.

Who is your main audience?

Obviously workshops with schoolchildren have to be aimed at certain age groups, while some of the material I had for Bright Club science stand-up was a bit more ‘adult’, which was an interesting contrast. The blog, on the other hand, is hopefully for anyone that takes an interest. I think neuroscience is so popular these days because so many concepts are relevant to anyone that has a brain.

How did you get into it?

Sarah Fox started the blog and reached out across the Faculty for more people to contribute to it. I sit a few metres away from her desk so I took the opportunity. The school workshops have mainly been organised through STEMNET (www.stemnet.org.uk), which links up local schools with scientists and provides loads of resources.

I was almost literally roped into doing the science stand-up as I was very nervous. Bright Club is a UK-wide phenomenon that gets academics out of their comfort zone by making them take their research much less seriously for 8 minutes.

Why do you do it?

A number of reasons. I started because I wanted to articulate to my less science-y friends why I love neuroscience. And, I’ll be honest, I reckoned it couldn’t hurt the old CV. The more I did it the more I realised how much fun it is. Now I think of science communication as a hobby.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Science has an almost unparalleled ability to change our world for the better, so it’s only right that everyone gets clued up about it, especially when they’re paying for research through their taxes. Science communication is also an important skill for scientists. You only have to sit through a few rubbish science talks to realise that the scientists who get their work noticed – and funded – are the ones who can communicate their findings clearly to people outside their bubble of research.

What do you love about science communication?

At the moment I find writing for the blog makes a great break from writing like a scientist within the limits of my PhD topic.

The best thing about communicating science to kids is when they come up with an inquisitive question that reveals they totally get what you’re on about and that they want to find out more. Perhaps unsurprisingly the best part of doing the science stand-up was getting laughs – it’s an absolutely intoxicating feeling.

What has been your favourite project?

I’d probably say the science stand-up, because although I adore watching live comedy I would never have the guts to try ‘real’ stand-up. Bright Club is a safe place for first-timers and developing the material with people from different academic backgrounds was brilliant fun. Because I was talking about my own research it felt more personal and it has transformed the way I talk about my work since.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

Aside from continuing with the blog, I’m thinking of joining Twitter so I can share stuff that interests me. And my thesis will technically count as a science communication project!

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Accept that some things will take practice. Find other like-minded people doing, or wanting to do the same thing. If you don’t find an idea fun or interesting, scrap it; you can’t inspire interest if you’re faking it yourself. Excitement is contagious.

Paul Stevenson

Speaking to… Paul Stevenson

Paul-Stevenson-science-communication
Paul Stevenson

“Make sure it’s enjoyable to you. If it’s not, it probably won’t be to anyone else.”

 

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

Name?

Paul Stevenson

Where are you based?

Guildford, Surrey

Who do you work for?

University of Surrey

What type of science communication do you do?

Mostly giving talks and writing a blog.

Who is your main audience?

To be honest, I don’t really know who reads the blog. From some of the comments or re-postings, I know it at least includes some combination of other lecturers, also PhD students, undergrad students, and people with a general interest in science who come via internet searches.

For the talks, that varies depending on who invites me. It ranges from schoolkids either via schools or science centres, up to retired people, who seem to run a lot of events.

How did you get into it?

I suppose it was always something I thought was a good idea, but it was only when I started working at the University of Surrey, in 2000, and I got talking to Jim Al-Khalili. At the time, he was not as famous as he is now, but had already done a lot of outreach activity which had led to his first book. He encouraged me, and has provided plenty of help and guidance along the way

Why do you do it?

Lots of reasons: it’s fun to get out of the University and go and talk to people. Science is often misunderstood, but there’s a lot of appetite to understand it better, and to the extent that I can help, I’d like to try. I think it’s good to tell people what taxpayers’ money is spent on. Also, I think you have to be a bit of a show-off and like to get up in front of people. I always did amateur dramatics and things like that as a kid.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Though I do think it is the right thing to do to make sure taxpayers know what their money is used for, I think the most important thing is to try to get people to understand science, and scientific theories of the world and universe, better. Appreciating that there are ways of thinking about problems that means you can arrive at solutions that are likely to work and likely to be true and general is a powerful and amazing thing that has not always been part of human endevour. It doesn’t have to be part of all of it, but I think it’s important to share that it’s there.

What do you love about science communication?

Partly the showing-off in front of people, also the immediate interaction, the conversation and the feedback, which is much slower in my research job which works more on the timescales of writing research articles, sending them off, having them reviewed, all of which takes weeks or months. Except research conferences, which work a bit the same way as much science communication.

What has been your favourite project?

That’s quite difficult, as each one is quite different. I have enjoyed some of the things I’ve done where it’s not been me talking, but arranging events, but I suppose the taking part is a bit more fun for me. It was awesome to speak at the Royal Institution (thanks to Jim Al-Khalili for inviting me). That was years ago, now, but something I’ve enjoyed doing recently was Bright Club, which was a kind of stand-up comedy club for academics. If you search for Guildford Bright Club on the web you can find my sets.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

My main research areas is nuclear physics, and I’m planning to write a smart phone/tablet app that lets you explore lots of cool things to do with nuclear physics in what I hope is a sufficiently fun way to get people to engage with it. I spent most of my childhood in my darkened bedroom programming computers, so though I don’t do it so much now, I think I could write a nice app successfully.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

It depends a bit what stage you are at in your academic career. If you are like me, and didn’t really start doing it until you were a lecturer, then it’s quite easy – more so these days since university departments actively encourage it and usually have someone to help, so talk to them and volunteer to talk to school kids. Don’t fret when your first one comes up and give it your best shot.

If you’re a PhD or undergrad student, look out for opportunities at your uni, and also get involved with the appropriate professional society (e.g. Institute of Physics for me or other physicists). You can get in touch too with the British Science Associations, who do lots of great outreach activities and are happy to enlist the help of volunteer students. Starting to write a blog is an easy way in. Try to give it a personal flavour, so talk about yourself and your non-science interests a bit, without being to angsty, and talk about science issues that interest you. Don’t stray too much from your comfort zone – at least at first – blog about life as a student, and the pitfalls of textbooks or lecturers – things like that. Talk about the eureka moments when you understand some concept. Don’t make it too much of an exercise. Above all, make sure it is enjoyable to you. If it’s not, it probably won’t be to anyone else.

You can follow Paul on Twitter at @gleet_tweet.

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.

whiteboard-science-communication
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

Credit NASA

Speaking to… Dr Phil Marshall and the launch of Space Warps!

galaxy-science-communication
Credit NASA

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

Today sees the launch of a new citizen science project called Space Warps! I spoke to Dr Phil Marshall from the astrophysics department at Oxford University to find out a little more.

Apologies for the not so great sound quality!

Also, keep your eyes and ears peeled for some more science communication from Dr Phil Marshall.

You can find out what is happening in this project on Twitter at @spacewarps

Sarah Fox

Speaking to… Sarah Fox

Sarah-fox-science-communication
Sarah Fox

“Being a researcher requires you to delve deeply into a single subject. I love the way blogging allows me to do exactly the opposite and flirt with a huge range of different subjects.”

 

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

Name?

Sarah Fox

Where are you based?

The University of Manchester

Who do you work for?

The University of Manchester/GlaxoSmithKline

What type of science communication do you do?

At the moment I’m completing a Ph.D. project exploring how Alzheimer’s disease changes the way our brains store memories. So I spend most my time analysing huge data files and shouting at computers. But, in my free time I manage and contribute to a popular science blog ‘The Brain Bank‘.

Who is your main audience?

My intention has always been to reach out to anyone with an interest in science. So, I try to make sure our blog is accessible to readers of all backgrounds.

How did you get into it?

Ph.D. courses at Manchester are great for encouraging sci-comm activities. My first experience was during a seminar series where we wrote lay abstracts explaining our research. I really enjoyed the deviation from rigid scientific writing; that and my abstract won me a box of Maltesers. So I guess you could say it was a mixture of passion and Operant conditioning which drew me to sci-comms.

Why do you do it?

Being a ‘bench scientist’ can leave you feeling a bit blinkered to the real world. I find the more time I spend obsessing over minute scientific details the more detached I become. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t even own a TV. Science communication gives me an excuse to re-engage with the real world and an opportunity to see my work through new eyes. It helps me relax and feel like part of the bigger picture again, if only for a short while.

Why do you think science communication is important?

I think science communication is a two way street. Since the public help fund our research it’s important they stay informed about what we’re doing. And, since we know what can happen when things get misrepresented, it’s important that research is disseminated by the people who know the most about it: the scientists themselves. Scientists also benefit from this relationship since public engagement gives them the opportunity to see their work as part of the bigger picture and understand the wider issues in their field.

What do you love about science communication?

There are so many things I love about sci-comms, but I think two of the best are:

1)      Being able to be creative: Sci-comms, especially running a blog, means you can really experiment with things. Once the pressures of finishing my studies are lifted I hope I can spend more time experimenting with blogging styles and different methods of communication.

2)     Covering a huge breadth of knowledge: Being a researcher requires you to delve deeply into a single subject. I love the way blogging allows me to do exactly the opposite and flirt with a huge range of different subjects.

What has been your favourite project?

A couple of years ago I became involved in a project designed to foster a link between writers and scientists. This led to the publication of an awesome little book which re-imagined a number of scientific breakthroughs, ‘eureka moments’ as short fictional narratives. This gave me the opportunity to work alongside some wonderfully talented writers and ultimately see some of my writing in print! I think short fiction offers a brilliant way to disseminate science without making it too technical. On the side, I’m playing with this style of writing myself and hope to introduce more of this to the blog in the next year or so.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I’m lucky to work with a talented and dedicated team of writers, we’ve recently been brainstorming and are looking to make some big changes to the Brain Bank. But, with so many of us approaching the end of our studies free time is a big factor, so watch this space.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

If you’re interested in writing, my top tip would be to start your own blog. It’s free, simple and gives you the perfect platform to play around and perfect your style.

You can follow Sarah on Twitter at @FoxWoo84