Tag Archives: blogging

Professor Athene Donald

Speaking to… Professor Athene Donald

Professor-Athene-Donald-science-communication
Professor Athene Donald

“As one of the relatively few senior women physicists I feel it is important for new generations growing up to realise that it is possible to be a physicist and a woman; a woman with children at that. And it’s fun!”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Professor Athene Donald

Name?

Athene Donald

Where are you based?

Cambridge (UK)

Who do you work for?

University of Cambridge, where I’m a Professor of Experimental Physics

What type of science communication do you do?

My most regular activity is blogging: I have my own blog at Occams Typewriter but I also blog approximately monthly through the Occam’s Corner Blog on the Guardian Science Blogs and most recently at the new Institute of Physics Blog PhysicsFocus (where we are meant to post every few weeks). Of these it is obviously the Guardian site which is most generally going to reach the general public. I’ve also written a few one-off articles for the broadsheets.

However in addition I talk to schools, science festival activities and the like from time to time, limited by the state of my diary. I’ve also done occasional mainstream radio programmes – by which I mean, not specifically science programmes like Material World, but programmes such as Desert Island Discs, Start the Week, A Good Read, Woman’s Hour, Essential Classics and In Our Time. I love these opportunities to sneak a little science into general programmes, and judging by the emails I get afterwards, these often strike a chord. I feel really fortunate to have been given all these golden opportunities.

I think it’s through my blogging I’ve recently become identified as a ‘science communicator’ – it’s not a label I’d apply to myself particularly. I’m a practicing academic scientist who likes talking about what I do, not a full time communicator.

Who is your main audience?

That depends, as indicated above. For many of these it is for the general public. I do think it is really important to convey to them that scientists aren’t all like they imagine Dr Frankenstein to have been. We are ‘normal’ people to whom they can relate and who do things that genuinely are interesting, creative and important.

How did you get into it?

I suppose the first major activity was when I headed up the team of 4 of us who gave the Institute of Physics 1995 series of lectures. This was about polymers and was called Building with Snakes. It taught me a lot about how to avoid jargon and put ideas across in a clear and lively manner. But shortly after that I had a bad experience with the media after a poorly worded press release discussing a major grant on colloids. That certainly put me off for at least a decade! Since then I’ve had media training and feel a lot more comfortable doing this sort of work.

Why do you do it?

Because it matters. As one of the relatively few senior women physicists I feel it is important for new generations growing up to realise that it is possible to be a physicist and a woman; a woman with children at that. And it’s fun!

Why do you think science communication is important?

Many people feel that science is too difficult for them, yet it matters to them at a fundamental level and they may have to make decisions relating to science, whether they understand it or not (for instance MMR vaccinations as a specific example which is back in the news again). Scientists need to share their love for the subject and convey its relevance to everyone. This is the only way we have to help citizens make informed judgements about everything from climate change to health risks they may be taking.

What do you love about science communication?

It’s an opportunity to share the excitement, not only of the science itself, but of the scientific process. It’s a way of engaging with young and old that can be very stimulating. I am often surprised by the sophistication of the questions that I get asked.

What has been your favourite project?

My blog gives me enormous satisfaction. It gives me an opportunity to write in a style far-removed from that of scientific papers or grant proposals, to have fun with the written word in ways I had forgotten for many years. But I also believe it’s important to get stuff out for people to read.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

More of the same with nothing significantly different in planning, but in my experience one should expect the unexpected. Recently I recorded a brief bit of film for Flog It about the Young’s slits experiment (not sure when it will be broadcast) – you never know what opportunities may come your way, but you have to be up for them.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

If you’re interested in writing – do some. Starting your own blog is a good way to find out if you enjoy it and feel able to commit to it regularly. Get some media training if you’re more interested in oral communication; it will help you find out how to express complicated ideas in a sufficiently simple way. There are lots of opportunities to get involved eg through local science festivals, becoming STEM Ambassadors etc. Don’t just think about it – get going!

You can follow Athene on Twitter at @AtheneDonald

welsh-train

Speaking to… Professor Jon Butterworth

Jon-Butterworth-science-communication
Prof Jon Butterworth

“Discussing my work with others who aren’t so expert reminds me how amazing physics really is. Also I love some of the questions I get, which are occasionally very thought-provoking.”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Prof Jon Butterworth

Name?

Jon Butterworth

Where are you based?

UCL (London)

Who do you work for?

UCL

What type of science communication do you do?

I am primarily a scientist rather than a professional communicator. But, I write for the Guardian and I also give public talks, school talks, and turn up on radio and TV occasionally.

Who is your main audience?

The interested general public.

How did you get into it?

Mainly driven by the public interest in the start up of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which I work on. One of the main stimuli was the “Colliding Particles” films, a project by Mike Paterson funded by STFC.

Why do you do it?

I enjoy it, and I think that the society that funds our science has a right to share in the joy of it.

Why do you think science communication is important?

It seems to me that intellectual understanding and exploration of the universe we live in is an essential component of a healthy and successful society. Also, see previous answer.

What do you love about science communication?

It’s easy for any job to become routine. Discussing my work with others who aren’t so expert reminds me how amazing physics really is. Also I love some of the questions I get, which are occasionally very thought-provoking.

What has been your favourite project?

Definitely my blog – I’m really grateful to the Guardian for the audience and freedom they provide. Also, Robin Ince’s End of the World Show was a high point.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

Yes. I’m supposed to be writing a book, amongst other things.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Be honest with yourself about why you are doing it. Know who you are talking to, and listen as well as talk. Just like any kind of communication really, I suppose.

You can follow Jon on Twitter at @jonmbutterworth

Professor John Hutchinson

Speaking to… Professor John Hutchinson

Professor-John-Hutchinson-science-communication
Professor John Hutchinson

“Don’t over-analyze your plans- just go for it! Take risks; make mistakes; be human; give your communication a personal spin.”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Professor John Hutchinson

Name?

Professor John R. Hutchinson

Where are you based?

The Royal Veterinary College, University of London, UK

Who do you work for?

Same as above (in Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences)

What type of science communication do you do?

General science communication (especially anatomy, evolution, biomechanics, zoology, palaeontology) but also communicating the research my team does (in those fields); online mainly but also in other formats including in person.

Who is your main audience?

People interested in nature.

How did you get into it?

I maintained an interest in biology since childhood; I followed in my father’s footsteps in terms of going into an academic, scientific career; I suppose just because it felt right and excited me most.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Science communication is important because without it, science gets overlooked even though it is probably the greatest human endeavour. Scientists tend to be too quiet and too reluctant to explain their technical work to the “outside world.” Yet our funding, our jobs, and our humanity depend on bringing the wonder of science to the rest of society.

What do you love about science communication?

Fun people, a change of pace from my normal research activities, and exciting new ways to test and refine my skills as a scientist and science lover.

What has been your favourite project?

In science communication, it would have to be my first experience explaining my work to the media – I published a paper in Nature in 2002 on T. rex and it was a huge media bonanza for over 2 weeks almost nonstop, and this ended up largely establishing my career. So I owe a lot to that experience, and learned immensely about communicating science from it.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

Tons! My team is on a roll lately, generating some of our best work since the early 2000’s. We have new, exciting papers being published this year and will be pushing hard to make them accessible to the public and sharing the joy of our research.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Start immediately! Don’t over-analyze your plans- just go for it! Take risks; make mistakes; be human; give your communication a personal spin. Get connected online (Twitter, and start a blog; minimally these things) and get involved, and figure the rest out as you go along. Listen a lot to the experts- there is a massive amount of helpful tips online. Read even more  obsessively and broadly to diversify and deepen your knowledge.

You can follow John on Twitter at @JohnRHutchinson and read all about his work on his blog What’s in John’s Freezer?