“Do it for the passion. I feel science communication demands a lot of creativity. If you have no passion chances are you will have pretty low levels of creativity.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Juliette Mutheu.
Where are you based?
Physically: Nairobi, Kenya
Mentally: Anywhere in the world where interesting things are happening J
Who do you work for?
The African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP)
What type of science communication do you do?
Well, as opposed to communicating basic science i.e. explaining to people how the malaria parasite develops and affects the body. I am now focusing more on communicating scientific research evidence; providing research evidence in a simple way and encouraging its use to inform action or also just gained/shared knowledge with no expected action.
Who is your main audience?
At the moment my major focus is policy makers, and then media, development partners as well as the general public-‘man on the street’. Providing them with well packaged information on issues on population and reproductive health, more specifically family planning.
How did you get into it?
I usually like to link it back to when I was doing my honours degree on population health and epidemiology at Monash University. I joined a radio station at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia, called SYN 90.7, a community radio station for students. At SYN a group of young researchers and medical students run a programme called DrWhat which really spoke about various health issues: the facts, the stats and the people living with these health problems. Basically, during the week, I was involved in research and on weekends I spoke about it; what scientific research evidence there was about the various diseases we were talking about, sharing the data and the knowledge I was acquiring which I was pretty sure was not being accessed by our listeners! The best thing about the radio show was being able to interview experts (doctors, researchers etc) as well as interviewing other people which at times included celebrities.
Why do you think science communication is important?
The type of science communication that I do I feel is important because it informs policies that play a role in improving the lives of citizens. Take for example population growth, research from various sources suggests that the population of Africa will grow from its current 900million or so people to about 2billion by 2050. Majority of the population is youthful and provides an opportunity for African governments to tap into this future large labour surplus. These governments can do so by adequately investing in sectors such as education, health, and creation of more jobs to build the capacities and opportunities for this large future workforce. Providing this needed evidence to support development and seeing policies begin to change is really exciting. As a researcher I felt as though with my research lens I was zooming into one of the worlds millions of problems and trying to really understand this one issue in great detail. As a science communicator I feel like I am bringing various sources of information together and then sharing it in a simple way and building on the quality of discussions people are having.
What do you love about science communication?
That it UPs the level of debate/discussions people are having. Engaging people in scientific research evidence leads to people having debates based on evidence as opposed to myths, old wives tales or speculations. I sometimes listen to people debating on something that I think could be answered by someone doing a research on that problem or perhaps finding out if answers to those questions are already available. I feel that Science Communication elevates discussions; as opposed to having a debate on the question/problem it allows people to have a debate on the available answers/solutions.
What has been your favourite project?
Not one but three. The DrWhat show on SYN 90.7 in Melbourne, Australia, the Science Café’s in Kenya and doing a stint as a science writer for the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, in Okinawa, Japan. They were all different in their own merit. The radio show and the Science Café’s happened before I did my masters in science communication at Imperial College, so they were more experimental and relied a lot more on raw enthusiasm and dedication. The science writing skills I gained from Imperial College London, has sort of challenged me to really think about issues as I write about them as well as thinking about my audiences and if what I am writing will make sense to them. The beautiful thing about writing is that it cuts across the board; one needs it in radio, TV, Web etc.
Audio: DrWhat show
Audio: Science Café’s on BBC
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
No not at the moment. I am on hiatus, almost like I have taken a break to build on the basics of science communication; improving on my writing, learning from others as well as just reflecting on the few things I have done and looking outwards and onwards.
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Do it for the passion. I feel science communication demands a lot of creativity. If you have no passion chances are you will have pretty low levels of creativity.
You can follow Juliette on Twitter at @JulietteJM