“It takes me all over the world, talking about stuff I love to talk about, that’s really exciting to me.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Huw James.
Where are you based?
Who do you work for?
I work for the people! I run my own business out of that there Cardiff in Wales. Have worked for many great people in the past though, all much nicer than my current boss.
What type of science communication do you do?
I do live interactive shows, writing, producing and presenting them. Have recently moved into some more TV and Radio work as well. If I was going to give my Science Communication a “type”, I’d say Progressive House or Nu-Disco?
Who is your main audience?
Main audiences are Secondary school students, mainly because that’s my favourite audience. I still do primary too though, and do a lot of family audiences at Festivals and the likes too. Becoming more often now, my audience is a camera lens or a microphone. But I doubt I’d ever leave live presenting altogether, you get an instant feedback from audiences that just aren’t there with any other media.
How did you get into it?
As most Welsh Sci-Commers, I went down the “experience” over “academia” route, and after Uni went straight down to Techniquest Science Centre (the longest running Science Centre in the UK) to hand in something that resembled a CV. Luckily, with a background in Astronomy and Space Science, they rang me before I could even get back on the motorway! From there I headed to Science Made Simple where I learnt a lot about the Dos and Don’ts of Sci Comm and how to manage projects and write shows.
I definitely think that route was right for me, but a masters route may be right for the next person, some people do it mainly because it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for them, and a challenge for the higher education system.
Why do you do it?
Honestly I do it to inspire people. Most of the things I do in a professional capacity is because I’m just an ordinary guy but I can do some amazing things. And the truth is that every ordinary people can do amazing things, everyone is special, the only difference is a mental blockade that stops people pushing harder for what they want. People regularly say “I can’t do that” when they really mean “well, I can’t really be bothered to do that”. Especially this new generation, there are so many that aren’t problem solvers. Would love to inspire more of them to be patient and achieve what they love.
Why do you think science communication is important?
Science Communication isn’t the only kind of communication thats important. People today need to be more informed on every level, about everything. Unfortunately, SO much goes on in the world today, its tough for someone to know everything.
I often describe Science Communication as one of the Welsh Valleys. Whenever anyone says “the valleys” to me, I automatically think of mine. But there are many valleys, and others will think of theirs. Whenever someone says Science Communication to me, I think of Live Shows in Schools and at Festivals. That arm is important to give teachers and parents something they don’t have time, energy and resources to do. We’re an aid to the curriculum, an aid to learning.
What do you love about your job?
I really enjoy the variety in it. Show Writing, Presenting, Script Writing, Travelling, Facilitating etc. It takes me all over the world, talking about stuff I love to talk about, that’s really exciting to me. But it also allows me to come back home too. And not just a house, to my home. A job that does all that and that you love, has to make you happy!
What has been your favourite project?
My favourite so far was one that actually didn’t get off the ground! Last year I put a team together to travel across the world for the Venus Transit. The project looked into the history and science of the transit and was going to use the CREST Awards to allow schools to interact with the field team, driving across the planet, and download science data from them. The schools would then compare their own data with the field team and schools across the world with the British Council Connecting Classrooms scheme to get a scientific map of the world. We would then live stream the Venus Transit back to the UK too. It was only a funding issue that stopped this from happening but I loved the idea of it, so much in fact I started a whole project based on the idea!
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
Wow, do I! My company recently split into 4 main projects specialising in 4 areas. HuwJames.Com is just me, my face that gets used and abused for TV, radio and training of people like FameLabbers and the likes. At the moment I’m filming Live Experiments along with a great cast for the new HeadSqueeze channel headed up by James May.
My biggest project up until now and the one Ive run for the longest and most known for is Science Junkie. We’ve recently announced that the Science Junkie project has done its time and will be splitting into 2 brands, mine of which will be Education Extreme. For Education Extreme we’ll be running the Extreme Sports Show from Science Junkie, a new Science Rocks event looking at the Science of Rock Climbing, and a whole host of new shows! Our new shows range from an Extreme Sports Water Edition I’m writing with freelance science communicator Julie Gould. An Extreme Sports Reloaded Show that looks at the science of Slacklining, Cliff Diving and many others. And we have other shows and workshops that should keep our extreme sports fans busy all day long!
Next up we have Anturus (Welsh for Adventurous). In this project we’ll be off on adventures and expeditions around the world and relaying all the information back to UK schools. I already mentioned the Venus Transit Expedition I set up last year that failed to get funding. It’s proper tough to get funding for expeditions nowadays but we think this project has real legs to it. The idea is that we design CREST Awards (run by the British Science Association) that link in to current trips we’re on. The CREST Awards let the school students collate data from the field team, collect their own data in their environment, and compare it to the field team and others world wide using collaborative projects like Connecting Classrooms (British Council). The last remaining explorers are the Field Scientists we owe so much to, this is a way of bringing their ideas to the classroom. We’ve got a trip to Scotland lined up for February so we should be launching our first CREST Awards soon after!
Finally, On-Show. This is a project where we put STEM and STEM Engagement on show. This is a production project which creates STEM shows for use in festivals and schools that look at STEM subjects and the processes behind them. And try to help up and coming STEM Engagers with training and courses to develop skills and techniques for speaking in public and writing and producing STEM shows. Run by myself and Rob Wix, there’ll be lots of exciting things coming out of this project, we’re working on a new Roadshow for Bosch at the moment as well as a few other ideas too. One of the most exciting things for me is the STEM Engager Quality Mark we’re developing, a way for Science Communicators to get recognition for their skills in the area.
So yes, lots of exciting things going on and thats just a few of them! You can get to all of the above stuff at www.totheblue.co.uk to find out more, or drop me a line with the contact bit on that page. I LOVE working with driven people and the Science Communication world has an abundance of them!
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
The main tip is to believe in yourself. Self Confidence is key. Not only in yourself but in the material you’re speaking about or conveying, and the opinions that you have. Science Communication as an industry can sometimes be a lonely world, mainly because it’s a small(ish) industry and two people very rarely share exactly the same ideology toward the industry or subjects but if you believe in yourself, others will to!
You can follow Huw on Twitter at @huwmjames or visit his website to find out what he’s up to.