“When I finished my degree, someone suggested I should try to combine my love of writing with my love of science. I guess it worked out.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Hayley Birch
Where are you based?
I work from a studio in Bristol.
Who do you work for?
I’m self-employed, mainly, although I also have a regular writing job with the Science Communication Unit at the University of the West of England
What type of science communication do you do?
Writing and editing for books, magazines and websites, and curating and organising science-inspired performances for arts events.
Who is your main audience?
I write mainly for adult audiences but I’ve also organised events for children and families. I really enjoy writing for a non-scientific audience – I’ll often try to imagine I’m writing for my mum, who would claim she knows nothing about science, and aim to keep her interested. There are a couple of publications I write for that are more specialist but if it’s going online I always bear in mind that anyone could read it.
How did you get into it?
I did a degree in biological sciences at Warwick University but there wasn’t one particular area that I wanted to pursue – I was interested in all of it – and I didn’t want to spend my life in a lab. When I finished my degree, someone suggested I should try to combine my love of writing with my love of science. I guess it worked out.
Why do you do it?
It’s a way to keep learning new things every day. You speak to people doing the most bizarre and fascinating things, and you never get bored. I love writing, but I probably spend less than 5% of my time actually doing it. The rest of it is research, so I might spend days learning about a new way of making energy or theories of dreaming, and only a few hours writing it up. So you have to enjoy the whole process, not just the writing.
Why do you think science communication is important?
Why is it important for people to understand anything? Science? Politics? Music? Economics? Obviously I realise communicating about science has benefits for those I’m communicating to, but I try to not to think about it as this “worthy” pursuit. Otherwise you have this perspective that people should be paying attention to you for their own good. That’s not the way to think about it. You have to remember you’re competing with all these other aspects of culture, so you have to make science interesting and accessible enough that people want to pay attention on their own.
What do you love about science communication?
I think I already answered that, but I do love it when I get into a conversation with a reader or an audience member who comes from a completely different perspective. They might be a basket weaver or a gardener and they’ll come up with an idea that would just never have crossed my mind, about something I’ve written.
What has been your favourite project?
That’s a ridiculous question, so I’ll choose the one I’ve most recently been working on. I’ve just arrived back from Green Man Festival in Wales, where for the past few years I’ve managed a solar-powered stage called the Solar Stage. I book the acts, which are all science-inspired, and make sure everything runs like clockwork (it never does) on the festival weekend. This year we had a cappella sea shanties, falconry, a theatre performance about memory loss, and Johnny Flynn playing a song about Einstein.
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
I’m just starting work on a big feature about marathon running – at the same time as training for my second marathon in April next year.
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Explore all the possibilities. You might think all you want to do is write, but my master’s in science communication really opened my eyes to everything else going on in this area – that’s why I’ve ended up getting involved in these interdisciplinary projects. You can be really busy if you have lots of different skills.
You can follow Hayley on Twitter at @gingerbreadlady