“Do stuff that scares you, and don’t be put off by the fact it’s scaring you.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Emily Coyte
Where are you based?
The lovely city of Bristol, England
Who do you work for?
I work as a teaching assistant in Biochemistry at the University of Bristol, where I graduated from. I help first year students in Biochemistry practicals, keeping them safe and enthusiastic about what they’re doing. Between practicals I give tutorials, maintain our interactive online laboratory manual eBiolabs and stay on top of all the marking! When the students are on holiday, I do various jobs such as developing new practicals and improving existing ones, and I’ve just finished constructing a massive scale-model of DNA to go in the teaching labs!
What type of science communication do you do?
My day job is a form of science communication. My goal is to make sure they understand the science, equipment and calculations to successfully complete the lab sessions. It’s especially lovely when I help a student understand about some aspect of their course they hadn’t considered before.
Beyond that, my main sci-comm love is writing. I have a science blog with a nerdy twist called Memetic Drift which I share with Becky Brooks, a biochemistry PhD student at the University.
I also volunteer and have interned with the science and discovery centre, At-Bristol. Over three months I helped to develop and evaluate new events, experience behind-the-scenes workings of a science centre and even try out presenting in the Planetarium.
Just recently I did Science Showoff, which combines science with stand-up comedy. That was a scary but really great experience!
Who is your main audience?
Memetic Drift is a reasonably casual science blog. I’m not a fan of audience categorisation and I personally don’t have a particular demographic in mind. For this blog, Becky and I just want people to have fun and learn some cool stuff about science, nature and being a scientist.
A popular set of posts of mine is: “Real life species that look like they could be Pokémon”. I love writing these posts because it gives me a chance to learn about and share some fascinating facts about the natural world and get my geek on about video games at the same time!
How did you get into it?
I’ve wanted to write for a long time, even before I was an undergraduate. It was only in the last couple of years that I’ve had the confidence to really put myself out there. Volunteering at science and nature festivals and going to workshop days like the BIG Little Event were really helpful opportunities in meeting people and getting inspired.
Why do you do it?
On a personal level, I write because it keeps me learning new things. I think the universe is too amazing to pass up the chance to learn about it as much as possible during our lifetimes. If people want to read the stuff I’ve found out – bonus!
Why do you think science communication is important?
It’s undeniable that humanity has been transformed by past scientific and technological advancements accumulating into the modern world we see today. The fact is so obvious it’s actually quite easy to forget, so many people don’t see scientific literacy as the important skill it is. However, new advances are always around the corner; the boundaries are always being pushed. Rightfully, there are debates about the directions we should or should not be taking, and scientists and non-scientists ought to be involved. I believe science communication is important because if done right, it helps these debates stay rational and focussed on the evidence rather than being overpowered by fear-mongering and dogma. That’s my hope, anyway.
What do you love about science communication?
To be honest, I don’t think the information gap between researchers and everyone else should exist, but we currently live in a world where it does. Hugely expensive paywalls on journal subscriptions and biased news articles can prevent people from getting all the information they need and deserve.
Perhaps one day this gap will be small enough to cross easily, but until then I think science communicators are working hard to provide the stepping stones.
What has been your favourite project?
Usually the one I’m working on at the moment! So right now I’d have to say Memetic Drift. It’s only a few months old but it’s definitely gaining momentum and it’s really exciting watching it grow into the fun science blog I’ve always wanted to have.
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
Nothing new planned at the moment – I’m keeping myself busy enough as it is. I’m always open to new ideas, though.
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Do stuff that scares you, and don’t be put off by the fact it’s scaring you. In terms of writing, just get yourself a free blog site and start. It’s really weird talking into a void at first, but push on and that void will fill! I’d recommend drafting up about three posts before you go “live” so that you kick off with a strong start and readers get to know what it’s all about right from the beginning. Good luck!
You can follow Emily on Twitter at @EmilyCoyte