Tag Archives: writing

Ben Valsler

Speaking to… Ben Valsler

Ben-Valsler-science-communication
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

Emily Coyte

Speaking to… Emily Coyte

Emily-Coyte-science-communication
Emily Coyte

“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

Name?

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

David Bradley

Speaking to… David Bradley

David-Bradley-science-communication
David Bradley

“I couldn’t find a lab coat to fit and this way I get to “experience” all kinds of areas of science rather than being focused on a single research niche.”

 

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

Name?

David Bradley aka sciencebase

Where are you based?

Just outside Cambridge, England

Who do you work for?

I am a freelance science journalist

What type of science communication do you do?

I write news, features and opinion pieces for a wide range of outlets as well as doing some public relations work independently of the journalis.

Who is your main audience?

I have a several audiences from specialists in particular scientific areas (chemists, spectroscopists, crystallographers, materials scientists)

How did you get into it?

I trained as a chemist, quickly realised I was rubbish at all that test-tube stuff, but was quite good at writing up my lab book. I graduated, worked in the US, then in a QA lab for a food company for a short time and then landed a desk job with the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1989. I started writing news articles freelance for New Scientist etc in my spare time, got head-hunted by Science magazine ended up freelancing for them and built up my portfolio of regular clients to the point where there were no longer enough hours in the day and I ditched the day job and went freelance full time.

Why do you do it?

Like I say, I couldn’t find a lab coat to fit and this way I get to “experience” all kinds of areas of science rather than being focused on a single research niche.

Why do you think science communication is important?

It’s part of the human endeavour, just as much as politics, law, art, music etc. Moreover, it’s the only endeavour that provides a rational way to investigate the world around us without resorting to magical explanations or being coloured by opinion and emotion (mostly)

What do you love about science communication?

Well, it’s earned me a living during the last quarter of a century, made me lots of friends I wouldn’t necessarily have met in any other walk of life, given me the opportunity to share my thoughts with the world and have them critiqued on occasion and also allowed me to put some of them into a neat little book – Deceived Wisdom – available now from all good outlets and for download from my website http://sciencebase.com/dw

What has been your favourite project?

Well, in recent years, getting the commission to write the book was exciting, during the writing I was waking up far too early each day, full of ideas and desperate to get them typed up.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I have several outlets for which I write regularly as well as my own site sciencebase.com and the PR work to keep me busy, but I’ve also been hiving off spare time to do more music (songwriting and recording). I am currently working up a demo of a song I wrote called Pale Blue Dot, which is a tribute to Carl Sagan and the Voyager spacecraft and its “thoughts” at looking back at its birthplace, Earth, as it speeds out of the solar system. You can listen to the demo on my SoundCloud page – https://soundcloud.com/sciencebase/pale-blue-dot – ends with a Voyager “sound” courtesy of NASA.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

The entry points have changed since I started, there was no web back in 1989, blogs are a relatively recent invention, although I’ve been “blogging” online in some sense since 1995 although it wasn’t called that then. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. In terms of broader science communication, there are lots of courses now that didn’t exist when I started, I think some very successful science communicators have been on those and gone on to greater things in the national media and elsewhere. But, fundamentally, it’s still all about people, talking to people, being interested, listening to opinions, networking, following leads…all the usual stuff of journalism.

You can follow David on Twitter at @sciencebase

Khalil A. Cassimally

Speaking to… Khalil A. Cassimally

Khalil-A-Cassimally-science-communication
Khalil A. Cassimally

Write to make a difference (and remind yourself of this aim in hard times)”

 

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Khalil A. Cassimally

Name?

Khalil A. Cassimally

Where are you based?

Mauritius, a tropical island in the Indian Ocean!

Who do you work for?

I’m a freelance community manager and science writer although I’m currently attached to Nature Publishing Group (NPG) right now. I manage two science blogging networks: Scitable blogs from Nature Education, the educational division of NPG; and SciLogs.com, an international network by German publisher Spektrum der Wissenschaft and NPG.

What type of science communication do you do?

My job as a community manager is to enable bloggers to communicate science to as wide an audience as possible. This basically entails making sure that they have the appropriate tools and services to make their blogging as enjoyable as possible. And also work on strategies to actively get their content to lots of eyeballs.

As a science writer, I started by writing more about science that got me excited. The topics tended to be related to the biological sciences, especially biomedical science—no surprise considering that my academic background is in the biomedical sciences.

I’m now focusing more on science and science policy, especially in Africa. Africa is a giant that’s waking up and its contribution to our collective scientific knowledge is steadily increasing. But importantly, I also want to elicit attention on the various problems that many Africans face—problems that the developing world may have already solved. This disparity in how we put our scientific knowledge to use is, I think, unacceptable. I hope that if more people are aware of it, changes will happen. This is the main reason I am writing more about science and science policy in Africa.

Who is your main audience?

Scitable targets high school and undergrad science students as well as science enthusiasts. SciLogs.com’s audience spans from active scientists to science enthusiasts.

How did you get into it?

I started writing about science since I was 16, I think. A few years later, I joined as a blogger of a Scitable group blog. With time, I took on more responsibilities and there you go. I was really lucky to have Ilona Miko as my editor on Scitable. She really mentored me (still does) and gave me an opening in science communication.

I must say that it was not my intention to get into science communication full time. I initially wanted to be a scientist but after one year of full time research, it was pretty obvious that I was not enjoying doing research nor was I very good at it. Thankfully I was able to turn, what was until then a hobby, into a fulltime thing.

Why do you do it?

I started writing about science because I loved science and I liked writing. So writing about science seemed the natural thing to do. But as I did more work in science communication, I quickly realised that I was involved in a really decent endeavour that spanned way beyond my own life here…

Why do you think science communication is important?

… Pushing science to people has the potential to educate and sensitise them so that they can push policymakers to embrace policies that have a scientific grounding and promote continual scientific research for the good of humanity as a whole.

What do you love about science communication?

Knowing that every piece of writing I do has the potential to change and sensitise, change a mindset and who knows… elicit actual change. That’s the goal science writers should strive for, I think. Try to make a change.

What has been your favourite project?

I’ve enjoyed every project I’ve been involved in. But a real bright mind and I are currently working on an independent project that mixes science, journalism and underdeveloped and developing countries. I’m pretty excited about this.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I guess I already answered this question!

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Write to make a difference (and remind yourself of this aim in hard times).

You can follow Khalil on Twitter at @notscientific

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.

Louise Walker

Speaking to… Louise Walker

Louise-Walker-science-communication
Louise Walker

“You won’t lose anything by trying.”

 

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

Name?

Louise Walker

Where are you based?

The University of Manchester, currently doing a PhD

Who do you work for?

Professor Woodman, Faculty of Life Sciences

What type of science communication do you do?

I write for a blog, and have also written several cell biology revision guides for the website fastbleep.com

Who is your main audience?

I aim to write for anyone who has an interest in science but doesn’t necessarily do science for a living or come from a scientific background.

How did you get into it?

I’ve always liked writing so it’s something I’d been planning on doing for a while. The blog came about because there were plans to have an official “Faculty of Life Sciences” blog. Those plans fell through but a few of us started up our own blog, and it’s still going strong. The Fastbleep writing came from me answering an e-mail for contributors which was sent around the Faculty.

Why do you do it?

Because I love writing, and science is a fascinating thing to write about. I also think it’s incredibly important to have scientific stories, practices and discoveries explained properly and clearly. Misinterpretation of science is at best annoying and at worst disasterous.

Why do you think science communication is important?

See above. I also think it’s important to dispel the myths that scientists are either all chronic nerds with no social skills, or else we’re all out to dominate the world. I think scientists tend to get a bad rap with the media and that’s unfair. It also means sometimes people mistrust the science being reported because they don’t trust scientists – for example the GM crop debacle and Climategate.

What do you love about science communication?

I get to talk about things which I find interesting! I also like to explain exactly why the work someone has done is important, even if it doesn’t seem so at first. People deserve recognition for their hard work and amazing innovations.

What has been your favourite project?

The blog experience in general has been an incredibly fun learning curve. Not only have I learned lots about writing and editing, but we’ve managed to work together to produce a successful group blog. I’m very proud of that.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I’m still blogging! I’m taking a little break from science communication as my thesis for my PhD is due in in September, but after that I’m looking for a job that involves plenty of science communication (any offers?).

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

The two “golden rules” are

1) Start a blog and

2) Get on Twitter.

Both of those are the best ways of getting your name out there. One of the other pieces of advice I’ve been given is “never say no”. Don’t decide against entering a writing contest because you think you won’t win, or not apply for a science communication job because you probably won’t get it. You won’t lose anything by trying and it’s all good experience.

You can follow Louise on Twitter at @thinkscientific