Tag Archives: youtube

KAtie-Mack-science-communication

Speaking to… Katie Mack

“I live-tweeted a meeting on dark matter at the request of that same colleague a few weeks later, and it just kind of snowballed from there.”

KAtie-Mack-science-communicationThis is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Katie Mack

Name?

Katie Mack

Where are you based?

Melbourne, Australia

Who do you work for?

University of Melbourne, School of Physics. I’m a postdoctoral researcher, studying dark matter and the formation of galaxies.

What type of science communication do you do?

Most of the science communication I do is via Twitter. I talk about a lot of different things: recent results in physics and astronomy, life as a research scientist, the joys and challenges of academia, stuff I’m working on, and science in general. Because it’s my personal Twitter feed, I also post about what I’m up to on any given day, which I hope keeps me sounding like a human being rather than just a science robot.

I also write blog posts and popular-level articles about science and the academic life, and give lectures, and do school outreach, and co-host an astro-chat YouTube series, and am now branching out to Facebook… I pretty much talk science whenever and however I can!

What do you think branching out to Facebook will add?

Twitter is a great way of connecting with people, but not everyone with an interest in science is on Twitter. I started the Facebook page to see if the science I share on Twitter would be of interest to Facebook users, and to allow for the possibility of longer discussions. So far, over 100 people have “Liked” the page. At the moment, I think most are people who already follow me on Twitter, but I think it’s a more accessible medium for some people and I think there’s a chance it’ll expand to a bigger following. It’s sort of an experiment at the moment!

Why are you increasing your online presence?

I really enjoy doing outreach and talking about science, and doing that online is something that feels pretty natural and non-intrusive. I also like taking on the role of a sort of resident expert on matters of physics and astronomy, and the bigger my online presence, the more opportunities I get to do that. Of course, I also think it’s important for there to be more female scientists out there as role models, and since I enjoy this sort of thing and find it helpful for other areas of my career, I might as well put myself out there as an example.

Why do you think social media is such a useful tool?

The interactiveness is really the key thing. There’s a real need people to be able to engage with scientists directly, as much as there is a need for outlets that simply present information. Social media is a great way to allow for two-way interaction, in a way that’s not too demanding of the scientist’s time. I don’t answer all the questions I get, but I can talk to people directly, get people’s opinions, and find out what kinds of concepts are confusing or most interesting to people. And the system of feedback (retweets, “favorites,” “Likes,” shares) makes it easy to tell what kinds of topics and modes of engagement are resonating with the audience. It’s great for honing communication skills.

Who is your main audience?

When I first got started using Twitter as a science communication tool, I defined my audience to be the sort of person who would seek out and follow an astrophysicist on Twitter. Basically, I mostly write for people who are interested in science but not necessarily educated in it at all. I try to keep the things I write accessible to people with a high-school level of education and no science background. In practice, I think a healthy fraction of the people who follow me on Twitter or seek out my other science communication work are either scientists (aspiring or established) or science educators, but I hope that what I put out there interests the general non-sciency public as well.

How did you get into it?

As for science writing and outreach, I got started in that while I was still in college. I’ve always loved talking about science to anyone who would listen, so talking at schools or writing for the popular press were fantastic things to get to do whenever I had the opportunity.

Getting into Twitter was originally an attempt to use social media as a professional tool. A colleague of mine did a lot of tweeting about conferences and seemed to get a lot out of it, and when I attended a talk of his at Cambridge and saw that he had put his Twitter handle on his title slide, I knew I had to try it. I live-tweeted a meeting on dark matter at the request of that same colleague a few weeks later, and it just kind of snowballed from there. When I saw that a lot of my followers were not fellow astronomers but actually just people who stumbled upon my feed, I realized I could do some very direct science outreach by answering questions and bringing my expertise to the public in an accessible way.

What impact do you think a tool like Twitter can have in science communication?

I definitely think the interactivity is key, as well as the casual nature of Twitter (for most tweeters). With Twitter, scientists can allow non-scientists to have a window into what they do on a daily basis, what they think about, and what their lives are like. Check out the @RealScientists Twitter account for a project based mainly on that concept. It can be a great way to humanize something that most of the public finds completely mysterious. And it allows the public to directly interact with scientists and ask them questions, which makes it possible for the public to have a voice in the communication and to ask about what they are most interested in exploring. It also opens up science communication for scientists who don’t have the time or inclination to get involved in more structured outreach projects — scientists can just pop over to Twitter from time to time without making a major commitment. In that way, it can be a lot more valuable than science communication that just relays facts — with social media, we can relay how science actually works, which is, I think, much more important.

Do you think science, and science communication could benefit more if more scientists use tools like Twitter?

I think so. Things like Twitter are a great way for scientists to connect with each other and to become better communicators, which is helpful just from a research science perspective. And the level of engagement social media allows makes it great for science communication. I don’t think it’s necessary for ALL scientists to use social media. Certainly some people just aren’t into it, and that’s fine. But I think it’s a more versatile tool than a lot of scientists realize.

Why do you do it?

I really enjoy it! There are few things more fun for me than talking about science to people who are genuinely curious. But I also feel that, as a publicly funded scientist, I have a moral responsibility to share my knowledge as openly as possible. Governments fund science because improving our understanding of how the Universe works is something that advances humanity as a whole, and if those of us doing this work just keep it to ourselves (or make it effectively inaccessible by only publishing for specialists), we’re hindering that process. I’m not saying EVERY scientist should do a lot of public outreach, since obviously some of us are much better suited to it than others, but I do think that those of us with a passion and opportunity for science communication really should do it as much as we can.

I should also mention that I think science communication helps my professional work in a number of ways. It definitely helps keep me up to date with the latest advances in a wide range of areas in physics and astronomy, which is crucial for me as an interdisciplinary scientist. It also makes me a better communicator, just by giving me a lot of practice explaining things in simpler and more creative ways than I would usually to do within academia. And it helps keep me enthused about my subject. Academia can be a bit hard on the ego sometimes, especially when you feel like you’re not making much progress, but with science communication, there are always enthusiastic people who are excited about what you have to say, and that makes it a lot easier to get through the tougher times.

Why do you think science communication is important?

It’s becoming more and more important for people to be scientifically literate, to make informed decisions in a democratic society. From climate policy to research funding, voters have to make decisions based on their understanding of the latest scientific consensus, and it’s important that they have access to not only the information but also the scientists who are experts in their fields. And that’s not even to mention all the benefits of scientific literacy in an increasingly high-tech society where an understanding of science affects the daily choices people make in their personal consumption and habits. I think it’s hugely valuable to de-mystify the process of science research and give people a direct line to professional scientific practice, so they can make more informed decisions in their daily lives.

What has been your favourite project?

I’ve been really enjoying doing the YouTube astro-chat series “Pint in the Sky” with my colleague, Alan Duffy. It’s super low-budget and all very haphazard and thrown-together, but making videos where we just talk science in a casual way is a lot of fun. We recently took a road trip out to Canberra for a National Science Week event and were lucky enough to get to interview Phil Plait (Bad Astronomer) and Henry Reich (Minute Physics), which was pretty amazing. We’re probably never going to get anywhere near their level of impact, but it was really inspiring to chat with them and other high-profile science communicators about why they do what they do and what kinds of messages work best.

How did the Youtube show “Pint in the Sky” get started?

My colleague Alan Duffy and I attended a one-day workshop run by the Australian Research Council’s Center of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO), on the topic of science communication via YouTube. The workshop went through a number of different ideas and techniques for doing sciency YouTube videos, but at some point Alan and I were chatting about it and realized we both had the same idea, that we could do some kind of low-key astro chat video series. We wanted to recreate the kind of casual science chats astronomers have when we gather for drinks at the pub during conferences. So we just decided to try it and see what happened! We’ve gotten a lot of support from CAASTRO, which has made a huge difference.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I have a few things I’m trying to get together, but nothing big on the schedule at the moment. Mostly I’ve been building up my online science communication presence lately, by adding a Facebook page and working on a personal website. And I’m always doing what I can on Twitter, of course!

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

* Be patient and keep at it. If you’re trying to build up an audience, that takes time, and getting good at science communication takes practice. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t seem like you’re making much of an impact right away.

* Know your audience. It’s important when you get started to know who you’re trying to reach, and to tailor your message accordingly.

* Let your passion shine through! Your audience is much more likely to get excited if you’re excited about the science and can communicate that passion.* If your outreach is on the Internet, interact with people as much as you can and don’t talk down to them. People can tell if you’re condescending, and it will make them less open to whatever you have to say. Try to keep things simple without dumbing them down. It can be a hard balance, but it’s worth working toward.

You can follow Katie Mack on Twitter at @AstroKatie to see what she’s been up to!

Joe-Hanson-Science-communication

Speaking to… Joe Hanson

 “science becomes infinitely more entertaining and valuable to people when they see that it doesn’t exist on some deserted island only inhabited by socially-stunted misfits in ill-fitting clothing, but rather that it connects to other things that they like, and that they don’t have to feel awkward or excluded by being “into it”.”

Joe-Hanson-Science-communicationThis is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Joe Hanson

Name?

Joe Hanson

Where are you based?

Austin, TX

Who do you work for?

PBS Digital Studios, and myself. And for that glow cloud, hovering outside of town, that no one is sure actually exists.

What type of science communication do you do?

I write and host (and sometimes film and edit) a YouTube series about science called It’s Okay To Be Smart, which is produced by PBS Digital Studios (our public broadcasting service here in the States). I try to uncover the amazing parts of everyday life as they relate to science. One week that might mean thinking about how much air there is around Earth, the next week it might be about superheroes and their animal counterparts. I also write an award-winning science-themed Tumblr, which is just like a normal blog, but with more animated GIFs and the occasional picture of Carl Sagan riding a dinosaur while holding a light saber. I also do the occasional bit of freelance science writing.

Who is your main audience?

I make stuff for curious non-scientists of all ages. But since I’m on Tumblr and YouTube, which are pretty young, most of my audience is 15-35. But I resonate with people from 8 to 80.

I try to reach out and grab people who might not think they want to read about science, and then politely trick them into doing so. That might mean using super-engaging photos and videos, or internet memes, or art as a hook. My driving principle is “science plus ____”. By that I mean that science becomes infinitely more entertaining and valuable to people when they see that it doesn’t exist on some deserted island only inhabited by socially-stunted misfits in ill-fitting clothing, but rather that it connects to other things that they like, and that they don’t have to feel awkward or excluded by being “into it”.

Of course it helps if I can do that while being funny, or poetic, or dropping in references to pop and internet culture, all while clearly explaining why things are awesome. Someone once said “Never underestimate their intelligence, and never overestimate their vocabulary.” That.

How did you get into it?

Circa 2009-2010, like many people in their late 20’s, I started a Tumblr blog, because our parents were getting on Facebook and we needed a place to be goofy and express ourselves without them judging us. I filled mine with my interests, which are science and art and humor and Neil deGrasse Tyson GIFs. I started adding little explanations and curating interesting science from around the web, and people really seemed to enjoy that.

All this time, I was finishing my PhD in biology, blogging while a gel was running, or researching a script instead of reading that paper that I brought home to read before bed. One day, I realized that I was a science communicator and that people were actually listening to me! So here I am, 9,000 posts later. PBS apparently liked what I was doing and asked me if I’d like to make a science show for them. I said yes approximately 1.3 seconds after they asked. It was only in my last few months of my PhD that this became something I could actually do for a living. It took a great deal of practice and commitment to get there, and I still look at myself as a new kid on the block, wide-eyed, occasionally tripping over my feet and wondering if I really belong. But everyone feels like that, of course.

I got a great amount of support, coaching and encouragement from the science online community, too. I owe my peers a lot.

Why do you do it?

Mostly because I can’t not do it. I was already the guy at parties saying “Hey, let me tell you about this cool article” or “Did you know that bees can see ultraviolet light? How cool is that?!” This usually ended with people giving me a funny look and excusing themselves from my presence. So I decided that I might as well do it on the internet, where I could reach even more people, and where I couldn’t see them walk away.

I genuinely enjoy teaching people how the world works, and I think that’s a large part of what any science writer does, even if they don’t think they do that. Mostly I’m just tired of hearing how “the general public”, whoever they are, don’t accept science. I think “science” needs to accept part of the blame there, because it hasn’t always done the best job of telling people why its likable. It sounds very lofty, but I really believe that by giving people a positive experience with science every day, I can help change how they view it, and how they experience it, even if it’s just a little bit. There are a lot of younger science communicators that feel this way, like many of my YouTube comrades, or even pages like IFLS. We are not afraid to cover the “wow beat”, as Ed Yong calls it. We understand that not everyone needs to understand the math behind quantum mechanics in order to understand that magnets work because of quantum mechanics. It’s a different kind of magic. Will we make a difference? Ask me in ten years when our audience has voted a few times.

Why do you think science communication is important?

We have less than two years until Marty McFly lands in his DeLorean (October 21, 2015). We officially live in the future. Quite frankly, a person can not be a fully engaged citizen of planet Earth today without some knowledge, awareness and interest in science. And it enriches our experiences in the world. As Richard Feynman said of flowers, “science knowledge only adds to the excitement.”

If we can break down the barriers of intimidation and education that contribute to some people’s distrust of science, then I think we’ll create a better future. Politics, policy, jobs, environment . . . all that dire stuff, but also happier humans, who enjoy simply knowing more today than they knew yesterday.

What do you love about science communication?

You remember the old cartoon scenes where a light bulb goes on above someone’s head when they have that “Eureka!” moment? Well, that happens in real life, only the light goes on in their eyes. Every teacher already knows this, but that moment is like the best drug, in that it’s addictive and makes you feel really good, but doesn’t ruin your life or take your money. I get to experience that every day, in so many ways, with so many people. It’s awesome. I really feel like I make a positive difference in people’s lives, through science.

What has been your favourite project?

Making YouTube videos has just been the most fun ever. There are no rules. I get to create exactly what I want to create, to tell the exact story I want to tell, in whatever way I want to tell it. Sometimes, other people even enjoy it! My favorite project just wrapped filming, and while I can’t say exactly what it is, it involves several famous scientists that have turned into bobblehead dolls and have been transported to modern times via a temporal wormhole.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I am amping up my YouTube series to a weekly show, which means lots and lots more science and lots and lots less free time for me. I have some pretty special episodes and projects in the works for that, but too early to say.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to start. Just start. Know that you will not be good when you start, and you will refuse to read your own writing a year later, on account of how much you hate it, because you were so bad. But that means you are getting better. Work every day, even if you’re just thinking about the project you’re working on. Reach out to our community and ask for tips and feedback. This has been the most welcoming and helpful professional community I’ve ever been a part of. Look for somewhere where no one is talking about science, or some subject that isn’t being covered in the right way, and do that. Write a lot. Read even more.

You can follow Joe on Twitter at @jtotheizzoe or see what he’s up to on YouTube or on his website.

NOTE: This interview happened before Joe’s A Very Special Thanksgiving video was issued, which proved to be both popular and controversial to many people. For those who thought it was controversial, Joe did write an apology and explanation behind this film. Because we’d already interviewed him we didn’t get the chance to discuss this with him, but hope to at a later date.

Speaking to… Catherine Ross from Head Squeeze

HeadSqueeze-science-communication
HeadSqueeze

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

Head Squeeze is a new science communication YouTube channel, exploring science, culture, and anything else cool that is discussed around the water cooler.

Working with people like Huw James, Fran Scott and many other talented science communicators and scientists, The Head Squeeze team put out a great variety of clips every week for the year of 2013.

By being on YouTube rather than on TV, it has a great ability to interact with it’s audience.

I spoke to Catherine Ross, the series producer, to find out a little bit more.

During the interview, Catherine mentions the new video with Martin Archer, asking whether or not Iron Man could really exist as Iron Man III is coming out this Thursday. Check it out!

You can find out what the Head Squeeze team are up to by following them on Twittter at @TheHeadSqueeze

Benjamin Connell

Speaking to… Benjamin Connell

“It’s a chance to share your amazement about the world, with the world.”

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

Benjamin-Connell-science-communication
Benjamin Connell

Name?

Benjamin Connell

Where are you based?

Cardiff

Who do you work for?

I’m currently doing a Post Graduate Diploma with De Montfort University in Leicester, long distance.

What type of science communication do you do?

I’ve made some Youtube videos of varying quality. I kind of lost momentum with that, but I was pleased with the level of production I got up to.

I have to explain what I do to my friends and family quite a lot, so that’s very face to face. I was the science advisor on a Dr Who themed creative writing course at Kilve Court, and I’ll be doing it again later this year.

Who is your main audience?

Anyone lay in the ways of science. Children in the case of the Kilve course, Family and Friends, the general public.

How did you get into it?

My very first Youtube video was made at the museum in CERN. They had an alpha particle gold leaf experiment set up that you could play with. That was one of my favourite experiments from A Level physics and to see it in action was great! I was so excited I felt I had to share it, so I videoed myself explaining it and put it on youtube.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Scientist fight a losing battle most of the time, to have their findings reach the public, without some kind of journalistic agenda attached to them, which can give the public false impressions. There’s a great need for people who actually understand science to report it, so that they can give the public faithful report on it.

What do you love about science communication?

It’s a chance to share your amazement about the world, with the world. Dancers, signers, creative types usually like to say, ‘hey look at this, look what I did!’. We don’t tend to think of scientists doing the same, some do, but it’s seen as special interest entertainment. I actually admire Wil.I.Am’s recent stated desire to make an X Factor style show for tech. Bringing an interest in STEM subjects into the mainstream can only be a good thing.

What has been your favourite project?

I really enjoyed entering the SciCast video competition in which I entered my video Friction. It was a great experiment, so simple and so effective. The same goes for Static. I love the simple ones.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

On Tuesday the 29th January 2013 (TONIGHT) I’m going to be on the Click BBC radio robots special. I’ll be building and programming a robot during the show, that should be fun!

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

I’ve always taken the amateur approach which is so easy these days! You can blog, make videos, sci-comm is fairly niche. It’s the sort of thing you get better at as you go, so don’t worry about being crap at the start.

You can follow Benjamin on Twitter at @FizzyMcPhysics.