“We are fond of saying that science without communication is like art without an audience.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Jim Sutton
Where are you based?
Who do you work for?
What type of science communication do you do?
We work across science, engineering and technology – from the most fundamental physics research at the Institut Laue Langevin and NPL to new cyber security software or medical devices. From spin outs and start-ups with new ideas to multi-national organizations like Dell and Babcock. We also work with enabling and campaigning organizations like the Royal Academy of Engineering, Technology Strategy Board, STEMNET and General Lighthouse Authorities of UK and Ireland.
In terms of the activities we get involved in – it could be messaging and communication strategy, media relations, public affairs, corporate writing, making movies and writing bids and reports. Almost everything in fact apart from the direct public engagement activity that most people associate with the term “Science Communication”.
Who is your main audience?
It very much depends on the project – the target audience can sometimes be one minister or civil servant, it could be a niche industry sector or it could be the general public. An extremely important part of our process is helping people to identify what they want to say and to who in order to reach their objectives.
How did you get into it?/Why do you do it?
I joined Proof six years ago. Before that I was at a conventional consumer PR Agency and I came to the point in my life where I wanted to do something more interesting than help brand x sell more than brand y. I wanted to learn new things and help important work reach a wider audience who could take advantage of the discovery.
Why do you think science communication is important?
It is extremely important for scientists to engage with the public, the media and politicians properly. Climate Change and the MMR vaccine are the most obvious examples where we still haven’t got the message across definitely. Without scientists and technologists being prepared to explain their work valuable information, products and services cannot be used for the greater good. We are fond of saying that science without communication is like art without an audience.
What do you love about science communication?
In the past month we’ve had a conference call with the Director of performance of a national sports team, briefed ex cabinet ministers, had a local radio interview introduced by 30 seconds of the theme from Star Trek, been on a boat with The Times with the GPS turned off, talked to the British Embassy in Washington and started editing a movie about neutrons. This is a list off the top of my head and everyone of my colleagues could add many more examples of adventurous, exciting and seemingly unrelated exploits.
This not only brings it home to me that this is a great job, it is also Proof (if Proof be need be) of the vast array of things that science and engineering underpins. It is not a sector in itself. It’s ALL sectors. It is also hugely important to the UK economy and our quality of life.
It gets into everything that STEM, like sand or little hands.
What has been your favourite project?
I love all our clients and projects equally!
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Join networks like the CIPR, STEMPRA and IOP Communicators Group – become a STEM ambassador. Try to become adept at explaining complex topics in simple language without losing the fundamental points. Depending on which way you want to go with your career get work experience at a relevant place and keep trying! Getting journalism experience or volunteering for the Science Media Centre or BA can also be very valued.