As 2018 draws to a close, it’s over 15 years since we launched our first postgraduate programme in Science Communication. Today, we’re delighted to be launching our latest offering, designed to meet the needs of students wherever they are based. As our MSc Science Communication and Postgraduate Certificate in Practical Science Communication grow in numbers year on year, we’ve become more and more conscious that science communication is a growing field, both in the UK and internationally, but not everyone who would like to develop their expertise is able to travel to Bristol to study with us.
Over the last three years we’ve provided two, entirely online, CPD courses in science communication, which have provided training to over 100 students around the globe. Drawing on the learning we’ve gained from delivering these courses, we are pleased to offer the next generation of science communication students the chance to study for a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Science Communication, without ever visiting our campus here in Bristol.
The programme has been designed to provide students with an applied and practical introduction to the science communication field, alongside the opportunity to develop their understanding of science communication research and techniques. The programme is intended to appeal to students with interests in face-to-face science communication (such as festivals and museums), science communication in digital environments, as well as the written form. A final research skills and project module will also equip students with key skills in science communication research and evaluation techniques. Students will leave the programme with all of the skills necessary to both convey and communicate scientific concepts, and assess the impact of that communication. Thus, the programme will appeal to recent graduates and those already working in the field alike.
One unique aspect of this programme, for UWE Bristol, is its entirely online delivery format. This will allow students, wherever they are based, and alongside other commitments, to undertake a UK science communication qualification. Students will also be able to direct their learning towards topics and examples of relevance to them, in their home and working environments, as well as cultural contexts, and even though it’s online, we’ll be using the latest techniques to help them to network with our staff, as well as each other.
In developing this new programme we’ve worked with staff throughout our team, as well as having input and insights from our current postgraduate students and stakeholders who are working in the field. The stakeholders we spoke to, many of whom are already employing some of our past graduate students, commented on the contemporary relevance of the programme, the connection of assessments to real situations students will face in their employment contexts, and the opportunities for students to build portfolios and practice in a varied way.
We’re now recruiting students who would like to start this programme in January 2019, you can contact Jane.Wooster@uwe.ac.uk for further information and find out more on the programme here. We are also able to offer discounts to students who have previously studied an online CPD course with us.
Emma Weitkamp & Clare Wilkinson, Co-Directors of the Science Communication Unit
The early part of the summer of 2018 saw the UK facing a heatwave and a lack of rain affecting many parts of the country. In some areas dairy farmers hit by a lack of rain needed to supplement grass-fed cattle with silage (normally used in the winter months). Many UK residents however remained unaffected, and may have enjoyed the stretch of BBQ weather and the certainty of being able to leave the house in their shorts without a brolly or jacket to hand! There are those who find it hard to believe that the UK, which is perceived as a wet and rainy country, can be severely affected by drought and water scarcity.
The UK is reliant on rainfall to fill its reservoirs which provide water to homes and businesses across much of the country. Industries such as farming and horticulture as well as the environmental sector are effected by drought and water scarcity. Summer water shortage as a result of a lack of precipitation can also be accompanied by high temperatures – a heatwave – which affects many sectors including fire services and medical settings, as vulnerable people can be susceptible to dehydration or heatstroke. These phenomena are nothing new, with drought and water scarcity being evidenced in the UK for as long as records of precipitation and river flow have been kept – well into the early 1800s. Recent droughts in 1976 and 1990 are still alive in the memories of many. With climate change, extreme weather events are more likely in the future and, as such, drought and water scarcity awareness is important to encourage people to embrace water-saving behaviour changes, and understand that this is something that affects the UK.
‘About Drought’ is a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded project designed to maximise the impact of UK research on drought and water scarcity, and to engage diverse stakeholders and publics with the outputs from the UK Droughts and Water Scarcity Programme. As part of the project, a series of films will be produced aiming to debunk some common misconceptions about drought and water scarcity. This first film in the series introduces the viewer to people with expert knowledge on drought and water scarcity in the UK and the effects it can have.
The winner of the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) 2018 Max Perutz Science Writing Competition has been announced. The competition, now in its 21st year, was open to all PhD students funded by the MRC and entrants were tasked with writing about their own research, explaining to non-scientists why their research matters in just 800 words. Since the competition started in 1998, more than 1,000 researchers have submitted entries and taken their first steps into science communication.
This year’s winner is Natasha Clarke of St George’s, University of London with her article: ‘How artificial intelligence, and a cup of tea, could help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease’. Briet Bjarkadottir, of the Nuffield Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health at the University of Oxford was the runner up with her article: ‘Stopping the conveyor belt – cancer and fertility’. Fraser Shearer, of the Centre for Cardiovascular Science at the University of Edinburgh, was commended for his article ‘Keep calm and carry to term’.
Andy Ridgway, a Senior Lecturer within the Science Communication Unit, was among this year’s judges that also included the MRC’s Executive Chair, Professor Fiona Watt, Dr Claire Ainsworth, freelance journalist and science writer; Stephen Curry, journalist and science writer; Dr Roger Highfield, MRC Council member and director of external affairs at the Science Museum Group and Jennifer Rohn, journalist, novelist and scientist at University College London.
Andy said: “What really shone though in the shortlisted entries was the power of telling a relatable, human story when explaining the importance of medical research. By showing how a disease or condition impacts an individual and how this new treatment will change their lives, it conveys the impact of the research in a powerful, engaging way.
“It was a pleasure to read all the shortlisted entries and there are some gifted writers in the field.”
Fiona said: “It has been a great pleasure to chair the judging panel of this year’s Max Perutz Award.
“The competition is a great way to highlight to early-career scientists the importance of science communication and to showcase their work. This year we received a record number of entries, from about 10% of MRC-funded PhD students.
“The topics of the winning articles are artificial intelligence and Alzheimer’s disease; cancer and fertility; mental health, depression and stress. I’d like to thank everyone who entered the competition – the judges had a tough time making the selection. Our PhD students do a brilliant job at bringing their research to life – using everyday language, rhetorical devices and personal anecdotes.”
A new UWE project is working with artists and community organisations to creatively engage the public on issues around healthy urban development. A team from the project has recently been in Barton Hill listening to local people’s ideas on how to improve the area.
Cities are fascinating places to live. And Bristol is no exception. It frequently makes the top-spot for ‘best place to live in the UK’, due to its ‘small city that feels like big city’ vibe, with beautiful scenery, green rolling hills and easy connections to the countryside. It is also overflowing with creativity, from its industries to its thriving arts scene. Most people you speak with say they love living here! Yet despite all the praise, Bristol has many inescapable health issues. Chronic air pollution, growing levels of inequality linked with malnutrition and obesity, fly tipping, drug use, crime, increasing rent and house prices… there is a lot these Top 10 lists forget to consider.
When talking about who should address these issues the response may be ‘it’s their responsibility’ – whoever ‘their’ is. In reality, we all have a part to play in the health of our city. We cannot blame any one person because the design of our cities often make it hard for us to make the healthy choices.
Take food. If you live in a poor household then statistically you are less likely to have access to fresh food in your area and have increased exposure to food high in fat, salt and sugar. In an average day, we are exposed to 100s of food adverts, from billboards to supermarket promotions and TV ads, and may walk or drive past dozens of fast food shops – if you live in a poor part of the city this number will often be higher. Clearly it’s not just free choice here, the design of our cities and regulations are important factors in determining our health.
For a growing number of Bristolians, they have to make daily trade-offs about what to prioritise for their health.
In a recent Bristol Mag article one person was quoted as saying: “Food has to come low on the list of priorities in my household, the same as it does for so many others. Rent has to be paid, or my family will be hungry and homeless, rather than just hungry…”
With the health challenges continuing to mount, especially among the poorest of society, it feels like we are almost at breaking point. Something has to give.
So what can we do about it?
This year UWE Bristol launched Our City Our Health (OCOH) to ask the public just that. Over the past year, they have been gathering public opinion to feed back to researchers and city decision makers so health is prioritised in cities.
Keen to think outside the box when having these conversations, they drew on Bristol’s creative talents. They commissioned Luke Jerram to create Inhale, a giant diesel-soot particle to visualise air pollution and commissioned a graffiti artist to paint a Park Replacement Service so we could imagine what life might be like without green space to roam. They even worked with residents and artist Andy Council to produce their Shape Our City consultation, which allows you to step inside the shoes of decision makers and trade-off health priorities with a limited city budget. There is still time to have your say. Head to: bit.ly/shapeourcity.
Sophie, the project coordinator says: “OCOH is not only influencing decision makers; it is a campaign to encourage the public to take a more active role in city decision making. Most of us are aware that our neighbourhoods are rough around the edges but there is a real sense in Bristol that we are prepared to pick up a sander and smooth out the diamonds. We’re here to offer the sanders!”
So in addition to gathering ideas for a better Bristol, the project is helping to put these ideas into action in Barton Hill and Lawrence Weston – two areas where poverty levels are higher than the Bristol average.
In July, OCOH together with Ellie Shipman, a Bristol-based participatory artist, organised a lunch at Barton Hill Settlement, with lunch provided by a local women’s group. Over 50 people came along to share food and recipe ideas and discuss their health priorities for change. Several eager children then led a banner walk around the neighbourhood, with their parents pointing out all of the things that make the area an unhealthy place to live. Based on these conversations, the project is now connecting local residents with UWE’s Hands On Bristol to address some of these health challenges. A similar event happened a month later at Blaise Weston Retirement home.
“Architecture students are being set a design challenge and must work with the residents to create an action that improves the health of the area based on their priorities. They’ll also create a toolkit for other residents in Bristol, showing them the steps they need to take to create their own action,” explains Sophie.
The challenge began this month and will end in late November with a party in each neighbourhood to celebrate. Keep an eye on their social media to find out when @ShapeOurCity
For more information about the project visit: bit.ly/OurCityOurHealth, or contact Sophie on Sophie.firstname.lastname@example.org
When it comes to food, music and fashion, the interesting stuff often emerges at the interfaces between styles and cultures. When sounds, flavours and cultures collide, the results can be fresh and thought-provoking. Science is no different.
From my experience, it’s often the spaces where academic research blends with politics and culture that provide the most interesting stories. As journalists, we should always be on the lookout for these stories, as they can be the gift that keeps on giving.
One area that undoubtedly falls into this category is the transition to low-carbon energy technologies. Or to put it a more human way: the quest for sources of energy that let us live fulfilling lives without destroying the planet in the process. These stories are multi-faceted, so I would advise you to collaborate with others, then think beyond the single piece of content. If the story has lots of angles, you can share it in many ways in many places.
I’ll give you an example.
I’m a multimedia journalist working for Physics World, the magazine of the Institute of Physics (IOP). At the start of 2018, we decided to launch a new film series that explores how science and technology can help us to tackle global environmental challenges. I was on the hunt for stories.
For one of the films, our environmental editor, Liz Kalaugher , pointed me towards an interesting academic paper published in one of IOP’s academic journals, Environmental Research Letters. The paper documented an interesting ecology case involving a North Sea wind farm built off the Dutch coast.
Scientists, led by Meike Scheidat from Wageningen University, had observed that the local population of harbour porpoise appeared to have grown since the wind park was built – a surprising result given so much infrastructure had just been plonked in a natural marine habitat.
So far, so straightforward. But I had also learned that since the wind farm was installed, fishing vessels had been banned in this patch of sea 10–18 km from the coastal town of Egmond aan Zee. So was it simply that the porpoises had more food now because of the absence of fishing, while those same ships were depriving porpoises of their dinner elsewhere? Another theory suggested that the base of the wind turbines had created an artificial reef environment, attracting more fish thus creating more foraging opportunities for the porpoises.
However, some unrelated studies of other offshore wind farms in the North Sea had found the opposite result – a decline in harbour porpoise in the vicinity of new offshore wind farms. So we cannot generalise and say all offshore windfarms are positive for porpoises. Was there something unique with the ecosystem by the Egmond aan Zee windfarm? Meanwhile, we had also learned that some in the fishing community were said to be unhappy with the shipping ban, especially the lack of meaningful consultation over a decision that affects their livelihoods.
So we had conflicting science on a timely issue, given the recent boom in offshore wind projects in the North Sea. We also had a human conflict. It was quickly shaping into a great story.
The simple option would have been for me to rock up in the Netherlands with my camera, interview a couple of scientists from the study, publish the film and then put my feet up. However, that would have undersold an intriguing and complex story. Instead, I did the following:
Identified a Dutch-based science filmmaker Saskia Madlener , who could help shape the story with her expertise and local knowledge.
To approach the issue from different angles we interviewed Meike (the scientist behind the original study), Henk Kouwenhoven an engineer involved in the wind farm design, and Rems Cramer a member of the local fishing community.
Having shot the film over a couple of days, I wrote a blog article about the trip on my way home. In horrible business speak, publishing that article helped improved the return-on-investment. More importantly, it helped me to highlight the issues and to shape the narrative of the film.
Living in cities impacts on our health and the health of the planet. If you were able to develop your city to prioritise health, what would you change first?
The SCU team have just launched Shape Our City, a creative, online consultation that allows you to step into the shoes of a city decision maker, weigh up the evidence and have your say on the health of our city. Working within a realistically limited budget, you will have to make trade-offs between types of investment and the scale at which you invest. Do you think it’s more urgent to improve the quality of buildings, to make roads safer, to increase the number of cycle paths or amount of green space, or to improve access to healthy food?
Shape Our City is part of a project encouraging citizens to take a more active role in urban decision-making concerning their health – and the health of future city residents. Luke Jerram’s Inhale diesel soot particle sculpture, 3 million times larger than the real size of a diesel soot particle and designed to start conversations about the invisible health risks of air pollution, is another part of the project, and, in Bristol, Shape Our City will be gathering citizen preferences until November 2018.
What you choose to prioritise will be used to inform city developers and future research on designing cities for people and planetary health: so make sure you invest wisely!
Sophie Laggan, Project Coordinator of Our City, Our Health in SCU says: “We have gathered the latest evidence on the links between the built environment and our health and also quantified the health costs and savings from how cities are developed. Our consultation reveals these savings so, for the first time, we can make visible the positive benefits to be gained from prioritising our health in urban decision-making – and find out what is most important to you. It’s all quite exciting!”
May and June saw staff and students from the Science Communication Unit prepare for the Bristol and Bath Festival of Nature, run by the Bristol Natural History Consortium, of which UWE Bristol is a consortium member. For many years now, research and teaching from the Department of Applied Sciences and the Science Communication Unit have been an important part of UWE’s contribution to the Festival, alongside contributions from a variety of research projects from across the university. This year, the Department of Applied Sciences showcased research by Stephanie Sargeant and team (eDNA and eel conservation), Ruth Morse and team (genetics research on chemotherapy), and by Saliha Saad and team (oral microbiology research on oral malodour), with activities that were developed by MSc Science Communication students. An EU funded project on air pollution, ClairCity, also showcased work that had been produced by a Postgraduate Certificate student as part of the Science in Public Spacesmodule.
The activities on eDNA and genetics were developed by students of the MSc in Science communication Jake Campton and Sophie Smith and supported by postgraduate students as part of the public engagement element of their portfolio. The activity on oral malodour was supported by CRIB through the BoxEd project, led by Debbie Lewis. MSc in Science Communication student Jennie French ran the final vote of a photography competition on Nature in and around Bristol and Bath, entirely organised from her own initiative. Science Communication Unit staff from the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences ran a stall for the Our City Our Health project, which included a board game which engaged people in weighing up the costs to health of our built environment, and a 3-metre sculpture of a diesel soot particle, created by local artist Luke Jerram entitled Inhale, that featured prominently outside UWE’s tent and attracted significant attention from visitors and press. Science Communication Unit staff from the Faculty of Engineering and Technology showcased the ClairCity project, which communicated about citizen-led air pollution reduction, and also allowed people to view real diesel soot particles through microscopes – thee million times smaller than the Our City Our Health sculpture outside.
Our presence at the Festival reached well beyond the space of the UWE tent. Many Science Communication MSc students of the current cohort were helping as volunteers for the Festival as a whole, or representing their workplace in the corresponding tents. Films made by many of the MSc students were being shown several times a day on the Big Screen presiding over Millennium Square, and Dr Hannah Little was helping at the stall of the British Science Association.
Good weather, a festive atmosphere and the enthusiasm and hard work of all involved made the event a success, with more than 15000 visitors, most of which (it felt like all of them, really) engaged with the activities of UWE Bristol’s tent. It will not be long before preparations for the 2019 edition of the Festival begin, providing a new opportunity for HAS to celebrate its commitment to research, teaching and public engagement at this fantastic event.
The Christmas Lectures are an internationally known landmark of the Science Communication landscape, and we refer to it in our teaching as one of the earliest examples of scientists engaging with the public with institutional backing. Physicist Michael Faraday initiated this series that has run at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (Ri) since 1825, without interruption except World War II. Well known science communicators like David Attenborough and Carl Sagan are among more recent speakers.
It therefore came as a great opportunity to tender for the Ri’s call for an evaluation project, and an honour to be selected to deliver it. A team formed by Margarida Sardo, Laura Fogg-Rogers, Hannah Little and Erik Stengler, supported by the expertise in the wider SCU, has undertaken a close collaboration with the Royal Institution to explore strengths and opportunities for improvement of what has now become a much wider project than the actual lectures delivered at the Ri headquarters around Christmas each year and broadcast for over 50 years, mainly by the BBC. The Christmas Lectures has grown into a project that also includes continued provision of materials and activities for schools, public events such as talks at the Big Bang Fair and a traveling show that reaches out beyond the UK, all of which is also brought into the dimension of social media via different platforms, including YouTube, where the recordings of the Christmas Lectures are actually made available to be enjoyed at any time.
The evaluation by the SCU team will cover all these dimensions of the project and also explore what would attract people who do not yet engage with the Christmas Lectures in one way or another. It will be a great experience to be able to be part of and contribute to the continued success of the Christmas Lectures in these years leading to their 200th anniversary.
If you have any views and suggestions about the Christmas Lectures, do not hesitate to contact us so we can include them in this exciting evaluation!
Only 11% of engineers in the UK are women. Is this enough?
No, it’s really not – we have an engineering skills shortage as it is, and the low proportion of women in the workforce means that a whole pool of talent is going untapped. Girls need to be able to see engineering as for them, connect with it as career and have access to positive female role models. And in turn, women need to feel supported to make a difference in the workplace once they get there, so that they not only go into, but stay in engineering roles.
So what can we do about that, and how can we bring people together? Here at the Science Communication Unit at UWE Bristol, we’re launching ‘Women Like Me’; a project which aims to open doors to girls and build resilience for women in engineering. I will be running the project with Laura Fogg Rogers over the next year; we both have lots of experience of delivering outreach and engagement projects and are passionate about making Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths accessible to everyone, at all stages.
Supporting women and girls in engineering
Women Like Me is a peer mentoring and outreach project aimed at boosting female representation in engineering. So what does that actually mean?
The project will pair senior women engineers with junior women engineers to give them mentoring support as they start out in their engineering careers. In turn, junior women will undertake engineering education outreach in schools and at public events in the Bristol and Bath area. Engineering is a creative, socially conscious, and collaborative discipline, and this project aims to support girls and women to make a difference in society.
Who can take part?
Mid-career and early career female engineers working in the Bristol and Bath area can get involved in the project. Senior women engineers are those who are more than five years post-graduation from their first degree. Junior women engineers are those with less than five years of experience since entering the engineering profession, and can include apprentices, trainees, postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers.
Undergraduates aren’t eligible to take part; whilst they are fantastic role models, UWE already provides public engagement training for undergraduate engineering students through the Engineering and Society module.
What will it involve?
We will offer networking opportunities to all participants at the start (October 2018) and end (April 2019) of the project. Senior engineers will receive training in mentoring and meet with their junior engineer mentee at least twice during the project.
Junior engineers will receive mentoring support from senior engineers and training in public engagement. They will then undertake at least three engineering outreach activities in local schools and at local public events. Activities and coordination of events is provided and supported by UWE; participation is voluntary and we’ll cover travel expenses.
Women Like Me is based in the Science Communication Unit at the University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE), supported by the WISE Bristol Hub and STEM Ambassador Hub West England and funded by a Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious grant. The project is organised by Dr Laura Hobbs and was initiated by Laura Fogg-Rogers. By matching senior and junior female engineers and supporting junior engineers to connect with the children and young people as the engineers of tomorrow, the project will lead to impact both in the workplace today, and for the future of the engineering profession.
This time last year during our MSc Science Communication at UWE Bristol, we were buried under a mountain of coursework deadlines, research proposals and that creeping question of ‘what next’? We never thought that so soon after that joyous dissertation hand-in day we would be off on a sci-comm adventure to Hong Kong, to make a documentary and inspire 10,000 local school children to study science!
We teamed up with Anturus Education – a Welsh organisation that uses expedition, media and adventure to inspire kids to learn about the natural world. Our mission was to use film and public speaking to demonstrate that Hong Kong is far more than just an urban hotspot – it is in fact, a thriving wildlife hotspot with many nature-filled surprises!
Science communication is all about getting the public involved in scientific concepts and research findings — engaging them to take notice of the things that matter and spark curiosity.
Whilst we were there, we quickly became aware of the value of being creative in how we communicate science. Here are our thoughts on how filmmaking and different styles of presenting can reap meaningful rewards among your target audience.
Science Communication through filmmaking – Tay Aziz
As well as delivering 30 school shows across Hong Kong, the Anturus team also filmed and produced a fifteen-minute documentary and a few shorter one-minute clips for YouTube. These videos were disseminated to schools and the public through the Anturus website and provided useful resources that teachers could access after the team had left, helping the team achieve a legacy once the project was complete.
As a science communicator, film and video is an incredibly useful tool – it can provide a sense of escapism, a new way to visualise information with animations, or an immersive experience in interactive 3D. Film can provide a platform for scientists to share their work and promote themselves as experts in a field, and it also has the potential to reach vast audiences and can impact an audience’s emotions as well as their knowledge on a topic. I first became interested in using film to communicate science whilst taking part in the Science on Air and on Screen module, as part of the MSc in Science Communication; since then I’ve created documentaries on plastic pollution, drought research and most recently, filmed presenter-pieces in Hong Kong.
Storytelling is an integral part of film and science communication films are no different. How we perceive the world is heavily influenced by forms of entertainment media, such as sci-fi novels, fictional films and documentaries. These depictions of science encompass more than just facts, but they include other elements of science such as its methods and allow non-scientists to ‘see’ where science happens, who does it, and how it works. When choosing a problem or focus for a film, it makes sense to consider the issues and themes and anchor those ideas in contextual evidence to create emotional appeal and build interesting discourse. World-class natural history documentaries, such as Blue Planet II, have gathered popularity as they follow key principles to engage interest in their audience.
‘If something is unusual it will be interesting. Where it comes to be dangerous is when you introduce an element of it being strange without relating it to the central idea of the topic you are talking about without a solid theoretical structure present.’
Sir David Attenborough
Choosing a subject which an audience can relate to (living creatures), they showcase surprising beauty and hidden stories in the real world, and they have substance to reinforce that initial generic interest.
Top Tips from Tay for getting into Science Communication filmmaking:
Don’t underestimate the value of your academic qualifications. Science production companies are always looking for people who are highly qualified in an academic area and are good writers.
You don’t need to go to film school. A qualification like the MSc can teach you most of the basics, and there are millions of excellent (and free) tutorials on YouTube. Try searching ‘documentary filmmaking’.
Practice makes perfect. Make your own stuff, even if it’s a small project about something down the road from where you live.
All the gear…no idea. Don’t spend tonnes of money on expensive equipment that you don’t need. Learn with what you have first – Sophie created a 22-part vlog series using just her iPhone!
Keep it simple. Make sure you don’t cram huge amounts of information into a film – there should be a main idea or two, with a sequence of ideas to hold the viewer’s attention and lead them to the end.
Science Communication through Presenting – Sophie Pavelle
Science can be communicated in many different ways, but I have enjoyed communicating my adventures in the natural world using contemporary media and online platforms. Since my rather quirky trek around Cornwall for my MSc project, I’ve been surprised with how much I have enjoyed presenting as a route into science communication – especially as I’m not the most confident of people! By talking through a topic out loud – I find that I not only offer information to others, but I have learnt so much through the process of film production and presentation. The research that goes into a script, the hours spent modifying it before delivery, help you to think about an environment, a process, a species of wildlife, much more creatively. Your ultimate goal is to leave the audience with more knowledge of a subject or an enlightened view on an issue than before – and so by dissecting information and identifying the key points to present, in a way that is interesting and understandable, well, you end up learning a huge amount!
Pieces to camera
Our presenting experience during Hong Kong was two-fold: pieces to camera and live presentation across 30 schools – both completely different methods of communication and new experiences for me! The documentary sought to uncover the wilder parts of the city and reveal the complex relationship the locals have with its wildlife. My job was to research what wildlife was in store for us during our visit. Learning about the natural history of Chinese white dolphins, black kites, Rhesus and Long-tailed macaques, was a refreshing change from the garden birds and local kittiwake colony back home! Being part of a small, inter-dependent production crew was also a valuable opportunity; making a welcome change from being a one-woman filming team as I am for my online content. Learning from our trip leader Huw James about shot composition, different presenting angles and even things such as stance, breathing techniques, voice cadences and body language; offered invaluable on-location hints and tips as to how to boost your chances of gaining and maintaining the attention of your audience. If there’s one thing I remember from the MSc Science Communication, it’s that knowing your audience is EVERYTHING.
Live Science Shows
Following the first few days of filming in some impressive national parks such as Sai KunGreatand secondary schools. Here was our chance to now personally interact with our audience, to initiate that all-important dialogue that is integral to effective science communication. Our tour formed part of the Hong Kong Science Festival, coinciding with Science Week back in the UK. Organised by the Croucher Foundation which aims to promote science communication and teaching over Hong Kong, we had quite the schedule! 10 days. 30 different schools. 30 shows. Travelling in-between. I arrived having never done a live science show before – it was safe to say my last stage performance may well have been Villager Number 5 in the school nativity!! Many of the schools required translation into Cantonese – adding an extra hurdle to the learning curve.
Being a team of three co-presenters worked well; while two presenters steered the show, the other became the stage hand. It also meant that I could spend the first few shows nursing a lost voice and learning from Huw and Tay, both of whom are far more experienced with delivering science content on stage. The shows were largely based around ‘Our Wild World’, covering everything from deep-sea adaptations of the blobfish, how to be more ‘plastic-smart’, to exploring how volcanoes and glaciers interact. The Hong Kong students were a dream to present to – polite, attentive and practically bursting with enthusiasm to volunteer for on-stage activities and ask questions; it was an opportunity I relished as someone so fresh from education myself, to interact with such eager students and try and inspire them to further their curiosity in science and the natural world.
It was wonderful to see the children’s reactions to seeing photos and film of awesome nature – my favourite being their reaction to seeing clips from our documentary of the azure waters of the Geopark and its dramatic coastline, as many of them were not aware of its proximity to their home. We soon realised the apparent disconnect Hong Kong has with its natural land, particularly during one bizarre moment with a teacher, who was asking us for recommendations on which national park to visit!
Top Tips from Sophie for getting going with Presenting
Just go for it. Nothing is harder but more important than just getting over those first few hurdles of getting your content out there. Experiment with different styles – but just practise, practise, practise. Take every opportunity you can to speak publicly, grow in confidence and learn your style.
Do your research. As a science communicator its so important to do your research and be sure you’re conveying the correct facts to your audience. Keep your facts accurate – but keep them snappy and interesting.
Be creative. This industry is competitive. Try to think of stories or angles to present that are different and innovative – give your audience something remember and your cameraman/woman something fun to film.
Network. The MSc Science Communication has been amazing for meeting likeminded individuals who are passionate about the same ultimate goal. If you want to try out presenting, see if you can find someone who wants to practise their filming and plan some fun filming trips together.
Overall, as newbies into the science communication world, Hong Kong offered a vibrant, challenging and fascinating experience to develop technique and learn an invaluable amount about the various elements that form a documentary and a science show.
Tay Aziz is a passionate science communicator, physiologist and filmmaker. She is currently working as a researcher for the BBC’s Natural History Unit and is the curator of STEMinist, an online community to empower women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.
Sophie is an adventurous zoologist with a passion for using expedition to learn about the natural world. Sophie regularly explores the UK and overseas, sharing fun stories about wildlife and conservation through social media, writing, public speaking and workshops.
Sophie’s next project will involve working alongside The Wildlife Trust’s, making some online content for their 30 Days Wild Campaign in June. She’ll also be running digital content workshops for the City Nature Challenge in Bristol and speaking at the Festival of Nature.