Navigating a Career in Science Communication

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Andy Ridgway, a Senior Lecturer and member of the Science Communication Unit at UWE Bristol, delivered the last Monthly Employability Seminar, titled ‘Navigating a Career in Science Communication’ before the closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He has previously written for publications such as the BBC Focus magazine and New Scientist. This article is a summary of the session written by Joseph Myatt, a second year Biological Science student at UWE Bristol. 

The workshop demonstrated Andy’s appreciation for Science Communication, including the importance of approaching ideas creatively in order to translate the abstract science into everyday language. His passion for writing was also evident in that he continues to work as a freelance journalist, writing for various science publications in addition to his role as a Senior lecturer at UWE Bristol. This continued engagement with journalism has helped him to stay in touch with his interests as well as supporting student development. 

Andy presented himself as a true advocate for rethinking traditional ideas and embracing forward-thinking journalism; from his expressions, he showed a strong, clear moral compass. Andy also explained the importance of referring to reliable resources and making sure that, as a journalist, you communicate clearly to your audience but still keep the essence of the study you are referring to.  

We are all living in the age of communication. The internet, reservoir for the greatest collection of texts, data and ideas the world has borne witness to. Enabling the access to information 25 years ago only a library or professor would have been able to provide. Connecting populations, communities and individuals with previously unknown ideas. Communication of information is a cornerstone of civilisation. As Scientists and Theologians discover and hypothesise more about the universe around us, a greater importance falls on the shoulders of those who communicate these complex ideas to us.

The United Kingdom has a proud and nurtured history of communicating discoveries in the sciences. Michael Faraday, for example, was a key pioneering scientist who initiated the Christmas lectures at the Royal Institute, London in 1825, primarily to inspire children but also to communicate his research. Today, we have the internet, magazines, social media and television, which allows more people than ever before to access information online.  

‘Science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.’

Mark Walport

Science Communication has an impact on all members of society, whether it is by means of an interesting newspaper article or by providing essential information for decision makers of government policy. Science communicators, working for magazines, museums and in television, play key roles in the sciences, such as translating fresh science journals into an article in a different format that caters to the general public (i.e. non-scientists). They often take the notoriously difficult to understand scientific jargon, strip it back to the essential ideas and reconfigure, and present the information in a simple yet powerful and meaningful way.  I’m sure many of us in the sciences at university watched Bill Nye, Brian Cox or Carl Sagan when we were in school and nudged us towards inquiry into the sciences.

One of the key issues that has been widely debated in this field is poor journalism. One example mentioned by Andy was the controversial, although disproven, publication and reporting of a link (i.e. association) between the Mumps, Measles and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. The incorrect published data still has negative far-reaching effects despite being disproven. This reinforced Andy’s point that as Science Communicators, our work should be based on sound and statistically significant research as there can be unintended consequences, in this case being people not taking the vaccine, from the published work. Many of us would agree that journalism should therefore be viewed with an open mind, seeing both the good and bad, potential positive and negative consequences whilst ensuring we produce sound articles that benefit society. 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

In our journey through education, it is difficult to know what we want to do and our academic adventure often leads to unexpected destinations. Andy is a prime example of this. After a degree in Biology and Economics, he started writing for the BBC Focus magazine and described his experience with this magazine as his ‘most enjoyable work’. As students, we are given many options to choose from, which can become a problem where fear of choosing the wrong pathway can arise. However, Andy’s story can re-assure many people, especially students, that you will eventually find your way onto the right path. The key is to keep pursuing, reflecting and persistently aiming to obtain the career you desire. 

‘You’ll be fine. Feeling unsure and lost is part of your path. Don’t avoid it. See what those feelings are showing you and use it. Take a deep breath. You’ll be okay. Even if you don’t feel okay all the time.’

Louis C.K.

If you are considering a career in Science Communication or interested in this topic, these are the key messages that Andy shared from his session: 

  • Start your own blog. This can help you develop communication skills as well as build yourself a profile. Future employers will see this and will hopefully be impressed by it! For instance, your blog could be about Science; perhaps you could report on some of the latest science news. It could also be related to a completely different interest you have, e.g. baking, swimming, music or anything else. There is always a way to ‘sciencify’ any topic and put your own spin on it to keep you and your viewers interested. 
  • Go on a Placement year or Summer Internship. Going on a placement can be a great way to get experience in Science Communication and work out whether it is for you. Contact a Science Centre, Website, Podcast etc. and see if you can spend some time learning and gaining experience  from them. It could be only for a week, or even just a few days; a little exposure can give you a feel for what that type of work it is and whether it is for you! 

NB: Internship opportunities available at UWE Bristol through the UWE Internship Scheme (Follow this link for details)

  • Further Study. Doing a short course or further studies could also help advance your career pathway in Science Communication. There are several short courses in Science Communication and you also have the option of postgraduate study, such as an MSc, MRes or a PhD at UWE. These courses will help you develop the skills you need and the opportunities to start forming the connections in this industry. 

‘Ask yourself if what you’re doing today will get you closer to where you want to be tomorrow.’

Anonymous

Thank you for reading! We hope you enjoyed this article. 

Written by Joseph Myatt, Biological Science  (See profile on LinkedIn)  

Article edited by Dr Emmanuel Adukwu and Jessica Griffith 


From the editors: We are pleased to receive our first article written by an undergraduate student and we welcome contributions from staff, students and anyone who would like to contribute to our content about careers in the Sciences and STEM get in touch via email – ScienceFutures@uwe.ac.uk . You can also Connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter

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