Science Chatters

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Walking around the Frenchay campus at UWE Bristol is an intriguing experience. Wander down one corridor and you find yourself in the Centre for Appearance Research, down another and you’ll find yourself flanked by science labs. Just what is that researcher doing, hunched over their experiment? What about the one peering at their computer screen? Step outside and, tucked away behind the student union, is the Bristol Robotics Lab. Just what is going on behind those doors?

The Science Chatters podcast is a collaboration between students and staff from the SCU and seeks to answer such questions.

For episode one of the Science Chatters podcast we chose the theme of The Arctic.  Emma Brisdion, a student on the MSc in Science Communication chatted with Dr. Stephanie Sargeant, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science about her recent research trip to the Arctic.

Priya Payment, studying on the Level 3 Wildlife Film and Media module, interviewed Annie Moir whose film, A Voice Above Nature, recently won a prestigious award at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Annie is a recent graduate from the MA in Wildlife Filmmaking.

From that sublime beginning, we had to turn to something more ridiculous and the second episode of Science Chatters is now live, with the enticing theme of Poo and Wee. Chloe Russell, studying the MSc in Science Communication speaks to Dr. Iwona Gadja about the Urine-tricity project, gaining electricity from urine.

The Urine-tricity project is one way in which researchers in the Bristol Robotics Lab are seeking to find ways to apply their knowledge of how to use “Pee Power” to provide electricity in areas including displacement and refugee camps. 

Fellow MSc student, Jessica Howard interviews Angeliki Savvantoglou about her PhD research into the bears of Greece…through the flies that interact with that thing that bears do in the woods.

Angeliki Savvantoglou examining bear scat.

There’s an argument that we should have called it Bears and Electricity but either way, you can listen here now.

Science Communication comes in many forms and Angeliki is an illustrator alongside her work on her PhD. If she is allowed to use the illustrations in her thesis, the reviewers will have a treat…as well as reading a lot of detail about poo.

Brown bear illustration by Angeliki Savvantoglou.

Jessica Howard, who interviewed Angeliki, is also an illustrator and designed the Science Chatters logo.

I’ve been something of a podcast fan for many years, both as a listener and as a creator. There’s something about the medium which lends itself to conversations which are filled with insight and honesty. In a world seemingly dominated by opinion and spin (to put it mildly), podcasts can provide a much needed escape. The relaxed format allows for conversations which are not afforded by other media and being able to hear directly to researchers involved in the science is really revealing.

UWE Bristol is a hotbed of research and Science Chatters allows listeners to listen in behind the scenes.

Andrew Glester, Lecturer in Science Communication at UWE Bristol.

MSc Science Communication Part-Bursary Scheme – open for applications

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This year, the Science Communication Unit at UWE Bristol is able to offer a bursary which will part-fund a place on its renowned MSc Science Communication. The value of the bursary is £1500.

To apply for the bursary, you must have applied for the MSc Science Communication by Friday 5th June 2020 and be wishing to start the course in September 2020. Only those who have been or who are in the process of being offered a conditional or unconditional full time place will be considered eligible. The bursary may only be used on the Science Communication courses offered at UWE Bristol.

The MSc in Science Communication is taught at UWE Bristol’s Frenchay campus. If however restrictions due to coronavirus are in place during part of the programme, full teaching will be provided online so that your learning is not effected.

To apply for the bursary, please complete one of the following;

Write a short popular article that is no more than 300 words long on an area of science, health or the environment. The article should include a headline. Also provide brief details of the publication where the article would appear, outlining its audience, the types of article it publishes and why your article is a good fit with the publication – this should be no more than 200 words. The chosen publication should be a newspaper, magazine or website that covers science-related topics for non-experts.

OR

Write an outline for a science communication activity (maximum 500 words) on an area of science, health or the environment. The outline should describe the planned activity, give an indication of content and details of the target audience.

Your work should be emailed to Andy Ridgway (details below) to be received by 5pm on Monday 15th June 2020. You will be informed if you have been successful in your application for a bursary by Friday 3rd July 2020. The successful applicant should inform us if they are subsequently successful in receiving funding from a different source or sponsor i.e. employers, local schemes, so that the bursary may be allocated to a different student.

Further information on UWE Bristol fees, studentship and bursary advice is also available here:

Andy Ridgway, Programme Leader MSc Science Communication

Andy.Ridgway@uwe.ac.uk +44 (0)117 328 3332

If you are not interested in applying for a bursary, the deadline for applications to the programmes remains the 31st July 2020. Please note – we are currently receiving a high number of applications and would encourage you to apply as soon as your application is ready.

Research and writing placement exploring science communication and the tobacco industry

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Have you ever considered researching corporate misbehaviour?

I hadn’t either until October when, just after I had started my MSc, a placement opportunity came through the Science Communication Unit and landed in my email inbox. It was asking for applicants with attention to detail, good writing ability, an enquiring mind, and an interest in public health or social policy.

I was interested so I applied and that is how I ended up walking, getting the train, and jumping on a bus to get to Bath and back on some of the coldest and darkest days in January.

I spent a week with the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath. The placement and training course supported the work of the team of academics and journalists who produce the Tobacco Tactics website. This investigates and publishes on the activities of international tobacco companies and their allies.

We spent the first two days hearing from academic members of the research group and guest speakers as well as getting acquainted with the research topics. We participated in lectures on topics such as writing for different audiences, investigative techniques and freedom of information requests. By Wednesday we were ready for practical sessions. In groups we spent three days working on different topics, researching and writing up our findings. We worked hard!

Each day we also heard from PhD students. They presented their research topics which included corporate influence on science; illicit trade; and social media monitoring. These lunchtime talks were interesting and I particularly enjoyed learning about digital methods such as collecting and analysing Twitter data.

Working with students from undergraduate and postgraduate courses at Bath, UWE Bristol and Gloucester universities was really valuable as we were able to share our wide range of interests and experiences to learn from and collaborate with each other during the placement.

Throughout the week I had many moments where I linked what I was learning on placement to what I was learning in my MSc, to my previous studies, and to experiences I have had in different job roles. This was rewarding and motivating whilst I am studying and thinking about my future career plans.

Because of the industry the group researches, in order to undertake the placement we had to sign a conflict of interest form and our conversations and work were kept on a secure network which is required for this area of public health communication.

The commute was worth it!

By Morwenna Bugg, a student on the MSc in Science Communication at UWE Bristol

Behind the scenes at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

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MSc in Science Communication student, Chloe Russell, describes their recent visit to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery as part of the Science, Public and the Media module.

It’s not every day you get to go behind the scenes at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, and hear all about the interesting research that is underway.

We spent the morning with Isla Gladstone, a senior curator at Bristol Museum, learning about the museum’s action plan and ambitions. In the morning, we were given a group exercise to pick an audience and create a science communication led activity based on the taxidermy animal we were given. The groups were given a kiwi bird (Apteryx mantelli), a shrew (Soricidae), a couple of toads (Bufonidae), and an Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius). Through this exercise we found out that Eurasian jays are as sociable as dolphins and kiwi birds have enormous eggs! Seriously, google it.

You often see big doors in museums saying ‘private’ and it leaves you wondering what sort of wonders could be behind those doors… Well believe you me, it’s everything you could have dreamed of. Think ‘Night in the Museum’ with Ben Stiller. We met Geology curator Deborah Hutchinson, who led us down into the basement via a public floor of the museum, but not before we were warned of the low oxygen density and potential to faint in such conditions. These air settings are under high control to manage the artefacts’ quality.

It was very exciting indeed, one step into the basement of wonders and I noticed my first gulp of air was tighter than usual. It felt like the air I was breathing couldn’t reach the bottom of my lungs unless I took a longer, deeper breath. This must be how people faint! Soon this feeling evaporated and we were left in awe of the countless, brilliant objects in the Geology stores. I say countless, but there is a margin of a million objects in there… Drawers and drawers and drawers of ‘Jurassic’ labels, skulls and bones of pre-existing dinosaurs strewn near and wide. So many incredible fossils, minerals and stories to be told including Bristol diamonds, which are in fact none other than quartz!

After our tour in the Geology store, we were led to the Natural History store. Immediately you were met with a cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) holding its prey just above your eye level. Led by Natural Sciences curator Rhian Rowson, we were guided through the narrow hallways, walking single file, listening intently to some of the stories behind the collection. There were a couple of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) pulled out of their drawer, one was darker than the other, and to our shock it was due to the coal in the air during the industrial revolution. Researchers can use the darker house sparrow as an indicator of the extent of air pollution during this time.

What really amazed and humbled me were the personal touches within both collections. The hand written labels, hand thrown plastic covers over the odd elephant skeleton in the room… it felt very homely. There wasn’t a need to present the spaces as squeaky clean galleries, which you see so often. I did however, walk backwards into a deer, which between me and the deer, I’m not sure who was more startled. There was a feeling of genuine character, care and comfort of stepping into these narrow hallways and oxygen thin walkways. For someone like myself, with a keen interest in geology and natural history, this trip was a massive privilege, and I’m very fortunate to take my camera along with me.

Chloe Russell, MSc Science Communication student, UWE Bristol

From the lab to science communication, exploring creativity, evaluation and Wonder

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During my undergraduate degree in biochemistry I spent a year studying abroad in Grenoble in the French Alps. I studied in the university for some of the time, and also did a 5 month placement in a research lab.  Although interesting, it was enough to show me that a career in research was perhaps not for me, so I spent much of time gazing dreamily at the mountains wondering what else I could do.

Grenoble_credit_Flickr_ Mariusz Kucharczyk

I liked working in the laboratory, but I realised I really wanted to be on the outside, telling people about all of the exciting things that were going on inside. So when I came back for my final year I persuaded my supervisors to let me do a science communication project for my final project, rather than a bench research project, and I was hooked!

The UWE Bristol MSc Science Communication programme gave me an opportunity to work part time at Science Oxford – a small but influential charity that works to encourage the pursuit of science and enterprise. I was delivering workshops and shows to schools and the public, and also ran the regional STEM Ambassador programme, finding and training scientists and engineers across the region to work with schools too.

I always wanted to work in a museum or a science centre, so when I took the MSc I was keen to focus on the modules relating to delivering science communication face to face. I remember being inspired by people from the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Royal Society, at-Bristol (as it was then known) who we met during the course, and they all motivated me to use my wide range of interests – art, music, family learning as well as science – to tell stories and create conversations.

Jo Lewis at CERN

I also loved the Science on Air and Screen module, some of which took place at the BBC. At the time I would listen to a lot of radio (before the days of podcasts which now feature heavily in my down time!) and I loved working in a small team to produce both a short radio show about ‘progress’, including a poet as a live guest, and a short TV piece about Healthy Living Day. Although I haven’t gone on to work in broadcast media the lessons on how to sum up coherently yet colloquially have come in handy when I’ve been interviewed for radio or TV, including for BBC Stargazing Live and local radio.

My Masters project was an evaluation of a set of touchable exhibits at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Finally a chance to do some work in a museum setting! I devised and piloted a series of protocols to help the museum evaluate how families were using their new exhibition. I now use these skills every day in my job as Public Engagement Development Manager for the Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC), one of the UK research councils.  A key component of my job has involved producing an evaluation framework for a complex programme of work. As STFC is a funder as well as a delivery body, we aim to measure and evaluate events and activities run by around 40 partners a year reaching in excess of 500,000 people face to face, and a further 2.5 million via online and broadcast media to better report, improve and celebrate what we do.

Jo Lewis at Boulby Mine

My favourite part of the job has got to be working with scientists and engineers who love what they do and who are really keen to share their enthusiasm with others. I work with them to help them to do so in a way that is engaging, will genuinely appeal to the audience they are wishing to engage – ensuring they have thought about who that is! – and then hear all their brilliant creative ideas for how to communicate their area of research to others!

I’ll also be using all of these skills in a new large project coming up called Wonder. The launch of Wonder marks a long-term commitment by STFC public engagement to move our focus towards audience-driven public engagement with under-served communities in the most socioeconomically-deprived areas of the UK. We want more working with people, and less delivering to people. The project is still in early days, but it means that I’ve been able to feed in ideas right from the start and use many of the skills I learned on the MSc – from reading lots of publications and reports that others have written to be sure we are using current good practice, to writing a brief for an external evaluation consultant.

Jo Lewis, MSc Science Communication student at UWE Bristol.

How one student project is making an impact

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Studying part-time and working full-time is challenging to say the least. But now that I’ve finished, I can honestly say it is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. The blood (tonsillectomy a few months before project deadline), sweat (hobbling around UWE on crutches is exhausting) and tears (both happy and stress induced) were all worth it now that I can see the findings of my MSc project being used in the real world. 

Over the past (nearly) five years, I have worked at the Centre for Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA) – a data centre and supercomputer facility geared towards supporting the UK’s atmospheric and earth observation science communities. We are a small team that provides services for over 50,000 users (including scientists/students/private companies/general science enthusiasts/etc.). In the past year alone, users have downloaded over 775 Terabytes of data – that’s equivalent to more than 175 million photos! We increasingly need to justify our role in funding applications in order to continue providing these services. However, providing evidence of what users are using our services for is not easy information to collate – which is where my MSc project comes in. 

Image: JASMIN – our half supercomputer, half data centre which currently has a capacity of 44 Petabytes. (Credit: Stephen Kill, STFC) 

My project entitled ‘Community-led ideas for collecting impact stories from CEDA service users’ sprung from this funder requirement of evidencing our services impact and was supervised by Dr Clare Wilkinson. The term ‘impact’ has many different meanings depending on who you ask about it. For my project, we defined impact as: ‘‘Beneficial changes that occur in the real world (beyond the world of researchers) as a result of research that relied upon CEDA services for its success’. This is the information we need to provide as evidence to our funders; but if it’s tricky to define impact, it’s even more difficult trying to measure and collect it – especially when the impact is ‘once removed’ as with our situation.

The project was undertaken in Summer 2018 with an online survey (520 responses) and a series of focus groups (26 attendees) at conferences and meetings that our key user communities were attending. The findings were generally positive and constructive – our users were keen to help us! However, there were disagreements as to how the impact information should be collected. Key recommendations from the research included;

  • Be transparent about why collecting impact information is necessary
  • Emphasise why it is beneficial to the user personally and for the service provider
  • One process will not fit all users. Think about the purpose of collecting the impact stories, and tailor the process accordingly
  • Provide a simple process that avoids wasting users’ time by;
    • Not asking for information too frequently
    • Collecting information via existing processes where possible
    • Asking for basic information first, later followed up (for more details) if the information is relevant and the user is willing
    • Providing support when writing impact stories

As these findings were ‘the answers’ to how we could collect impact information, it has meant we have been able to implement and act upon them. In January 2019, we targeted a section of our user community with a short survey asking them for basic information about the impactful science our services have enabled them to carry out. Over 50 responses were submitted, of which approximately 80% were suitable for use as a more detailed impact story – meaning we now have access to ~40 stories that CEDA can use as evidence when applying for funding. 

We are hoping to share some of the stories with our user communities soon, however as we received more stories than we expected it’s taking some time… it’s just me working on this! 

The MSc Science Communication at UWE Bristol has allowed me to steer my career path where I want it to be, and I am now CEDA’s (first) Communications Manager. I don’t believe this would have been possible without studying at UWE.

Poppy Townsend, MSc Science Communication student, UWE Bristol

Best of both worlds: the degree that means you don’t have to choose

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At the height of the recession in 2008, deciding what to study at university took me a lot longer than expected. I was torn between English or pursuing a career in conservation. Science inevitably won, so I packed my bags and moved 250 miles down the road to study for my undergraduate degree in Cornwall. Due to personal factors I struggled with the curriculum at times, but soon realised that the work I enjoyed most involved communication.

When I finished my degree, applying for an MSc in Science Communication was a no brainer. Bristol is a lovely city and the course at UWE had great reviews. Being able to put learning into practice is key for me, so I took hands-on modules in writing and broadcasting science – which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Before I had finished my dissertation in 2012, I found myself interviewing for my first job in science communication. I joined a tiny team at a sustainability organisation, where I worked on communications and events. Being part of such a small team proved a rapid learning experience and equipped me with the skills needed to move to the next level. 

I liked living in Bristol so much when studying for the MSc that I decided to go back a few years later. I managed to secure a role at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), about an hour away from Bristol. The daily commute wasn’t fun, but I had job satisfaction. As a media officer, I was tasked with processing complex journal articles into digestible press releases, pitching science stories to the media and working in tandem with other teams. 

A highlight was organising a hands-on science communication event for blind and partially-sighted people in Tower Hamlets. With the help of inspirational scientists at Oxford Brooks University, we brought the world of microscopy to life with 3D-printed bacteria and viruses.

Working at BBSRC I met many interesting people, forging connections with academics and media colleagues. After nearly 3 years, I decided to go it alone as a freelancer.

Initially I was petrified as I didn’t know whether being my own boss would be sustainable in the long run. Nearly 5 years after completing my MSc, I found myself opening a business and began contracting for charities and science organisations. I worked for Autistica, the UK’s leading autism research charity, developing communications to secure donations for autistic people and their families during World Autism Awareness Week. The Science Council were another client, as well as the Gatsby Foundation based in London. For nearly two years I worked on their Technicians Make it Happen campaign, challenging stereotypes  and raising the profile of our technical workforce.

Going it alone brought some life-changing opportunities. I was lucky enough to tour Scandinavia and moved to Iceland in 2017. I decided to take a mini career break but ended up doing something entirely different. In the summer I started an internship at the Reykjavik Grapevine, Iceland’s no.1 English-speaking newspaper. Working as a reporter, I did some really weird but amazing things. I met a ‘real-life Viking’, chased birds across the country and got trippy in a Native American sweat lodge (a tradition brought to Iceland by Björk’s mother no less). My favourite moment was spending a night alone in a yurt on an island in Iceland.  

Fast forward to 2019 and I’m, you guessed it, back in Bristol. I now work as a Senior Communications Officer for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), highlighting threats to the nation’s trees. I get to design communications campaigns and lead on delivery. It’s an ideal job. Who would have thought 10 years after ‘choosing’ between science and communications, I’d have the best of both worlds.

Anisha Chandar, UWE Bristol MSc Science Communication student

From MSc in Science Communication to Media Relations Manager…

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I knew Science Communications was for me when I was doing my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences and preferred talking about my dissertation research, rather than being in the lab doing it. After that, I did some research and found the UWE MSc in Science Communication. I applied immediately. 

The module options on the programme at UWE drew me in as there were a variety on offer, and they each offered practical skills to help me step into a job right away. I knew that I wanted to work while completing my MSc, building up my experience in London, so the 3-day blocks worked perfectly for me. I held a number of internships during my time on the programme, and picked up my first part-time job when our lectures finished.

During the programme, as well as the compulsory modules, I studied Writing Science and Hands-On Science Communication. These modules taught me how to tell compelling stories about science that capture people’s imaginations – on page and in person. While the latter might not seem directly related to my role, it taught me a lot about how to explain something complex verbally. Often I’m speaking to journalists over the phone and have to be able to communicate clearly. It also built my confidence in presenting (it’s something you can’t avoid in this career!) and the modules gave me strong foundations by teaching me how to structure a presentation and deliver it with impact. I was also able to build a strong portfolio of work to take into interviews, which is hugely helpful when you’re starting out.

Armed with the academic and work experience I accrued during the MSc, I knew that I wanted to work in communicating science within a charity when I graduated, so I chose to focus my dissertation on how cancer charities communicate online. The project module is very open, so you can choose whatever you’d like to learn about. I picked something I was really interested in, and it also helped show my awareness in the area in job interviews later. 

Straight out of the MSc, I worked a part-time job in general communications for a medical membership organisation, alongside which I later worked another part-time role with a research laboratory, with a couple of freelance jobs on the side too.

Those times were pretty hectic, but I learnt a lot very quickly and had a wealth of experience after a year, including in time management. I then moved to Cancer Research UK working as a Science Press Officer, which was an incredibly busy, fun and meaningful job to me.

Now, as the Media Relations Manager for The Lancet, I manage our media output – deciding which of our many research papers to promote in the media, and how, to help achieve high profile, quality, international media coverage of the journals. I work in a wider communications team, and manage a Press Officer and freelance writers. While my undergraduate degree is key to help me understand the complex health research, my MSc is crucial in helping me recognise how to tell those stories to journalists and the wider public. The Lancet is strongly driven to use our research to benefit people’s lives, and the stories I help to tell focus on changing people’s perception, changing policy, or changing clinical practice.

A recent example of this is the so-called ‘planetary health diet’ – a huge report which was originally published in The Lancet and gave the first scientific targets for a healthy diet that was environmentally sustainable too. Working with the research funders’ media teams, we devised a comprehensive media strategy to ensure that the story hit the news globally, opening people’s eyes to the impact of food production on the climate and what we can each do to reduce this. The report made a huge public impact, making the ‘planetary health diet’ a globally recognised term, and changing food policy in some countries already. 

Media briefing for ‘planetary health diet’.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the training I had at UWE, and I must mention the teaching staff on the MSc, who were always exceptional and give up a lot of time to support us and train us so well. Throughout my MSc, they gave me detailed, honest advice on what to expect from various careers, and linked me up to people working in that area when possible so that I could get on-the-ground insights too. They were very nurturing and their advice on those career paths is absolutely accurate. If you’re looking for an MSc in Science Communications, you’re in the right place and their training will be a vital cornerstone that you reflect on frequently in your career. 

Emily Head, MSc Science Communication student at UWE, Bristol

From MSc in Science Communication to Science Writer…

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When deciding where to study a Master’s degree, employability was a huge factor for me. I was keen to study somewhere that would teach me how to get stuck straight into the world of Science Communication. From day one in the Science Communication Unit (SCU) at UWE Bristol, we were treated like professionals and encouraged to present ourselves as so to the rest of the sci-comm community.

Since graduating, I have taken on regular freelance writing projects which have been a great way to practice the skills I learned at UWE Bristol. I have also recently started a full time job as a Science Writer for a small company in mid Wales who specialise in Cellular Pathology. My day job now includes writing articles for pathologists about new research and developing ideas to create multimedia content for our website.

I was already interested in Science Writing when I started the course so was grateful to learn a lot about this topic whilst studying and to meet several industry professionals. One of the key skills I am now using on a daily basis is learning how to filter through academic papers- as a communicator you may need to sort through huge quantities of research to fully understand an issue. I’ve also learned how to write more concisely. This really helps with sticking to word counts. My interview skills also developed very quickly on the course, something I’d never done before. I now use these skills to interview customers, researchers and colleagues both face to face and over the phone. Unsurprisingly, one of my favourite modules on the course was Writing Science and I still have the “Top Tips” we were given during the course and refer to them regularly for a refresher.

As much as I loved gaining the practical writing skills I now use in my full time job, I am also really glad I had the opportunity to learn more about the theory and history of the field as well. It has definitely broadened my horizons about more types of communication and how different media can be used to encourage science communication in a format accessible to everyone. Some of the other practical skills I gained through the course served to be valuable life lessons in team work, compromise and self-confidence. For example, I can proudly say I was part of a team to record an “as-live” radio show at the BBC- that’s a pretty memorable experience!

Finally, the teaching staff and my course mates from UWE Bristol have become invaluable sources of professional advice and encouragement as we all continue to support each other and celebrate our successes. Amongst my course mates we have shared a whole range of achievements including further study, international travel for fieldwork, BBC credits, conference attending and journal publication.

To find out more about the MSc Science Communication please visit our Postgraduate taught courses page.

Siobhan Fairgreaves, UWE Bristol MSc Science Communication student 2016/17

Making an award winning podcast: podcasts can be a great way to do science communication and have a lot of fun!

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You hear a lot of advice from people when you are thinking of setting up a podcast. People have all sorts of opinions about how long episodes should be, what you should talk about, how you should talk, how often you should release episodes.  I’m not sure any of them are right. Think about the podcasts you listen to. Are they all the same length as each other? All the same format? All series or all regular? I doubt it.

I’m the host of The Cosmic Shed podcast which was recently named as one of the Guardian’s favourite podcasts of 2018. It’s recorded in the crumbling garden shed at the bottom of my garden, somewhere in suburban Bristol. It really is an awful shed but guests on the podcast include Tim Peake, Alice Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch, Nichelle Nichols and Chris Hadfield. We discuss science fact, science fiction and everything in between. Occasionally we take the podcast on the road for live events, like our takeover of Bristol’s planetarium with Andy Weir, the author of The Martian.

Podcasts are what the hosts make them to be. If you’re thinking of setting one up, think about what your favourite podcast are and why you like them. The thing that the best all have in common is that the people hosting and presenting them have a huge passion for their topics. That passion is infectious and vital for the listener but it takes many forms. My favourite podcasts are a mixture of scripted, well researched shows like Caliphate and RadioLab and the more relaxed, informal formats like Spooktator and The Adam Buxton podcast.

The idea for The Cosmic Shed came to me while I was studying for the MSc in Science Communication at UWE. I had recently moved to Bristol and bought a house which needed a lot of work. A lot of work. Water came up through the floor and down through the ceiling. The waste pipe from the toilet went out onto the roof. That’s the end of that sentence but I would add that this part of the roof did not leak. In the garden stood a shed. A truly awful, rotting shed with more holes than the house and half the floor missing. “That looks like a great place to record a podcast”, I thought.

Several years later, The Cosmic Shed podcast has over 100 episodes, won awards and, yet, the shed still looks awful from the outside.

There are a cohort of co-hosts for the Cosmic Shed. We have a nanoscientist Dr Maddy Nichols, an aerospace engineer Dr Steve Bullock, a film nerd (understatement) Timon Singh and more regular guest/hosts like Tushna Commisariat (Physics World) and Achintya Rao (CERN). We all have our own expertise and our own loves of science fiction.

Achtinya Rao and Tushna Commissariat in the shed to discuss October Sky.

We get a fair amount of correspondence from people who tell us that we are like friends to them. They look forward to our episodes and feel like they are sitting in the shed with us as they listen. If you think of your favourite podcasts, I suspect you’ll find most of them have regular hosts who you get to know and like. It’s one of the main reasons why people like podcasts. Not that that is deliberate from our point of view. I believe that it’s just a natural consequence of the way we record the podcast.

The Guardian newspaper described us as a “light-hearted, curious and nerdy listen” and I think that’s what you get if you put a group of friends in a terrible shed, watch a bit of science fiction and record the conversation.

Wildlife presenters Sophie Pavelle and Dr Ben Garrod joined us to talk about Planet of the Apes

Your podcast should be as long as you want it to be, as often as you want it to be and about what you want to it be about. That way, you’ll enjoy doing it as much as your listeners love listening to it.

If you are a podcaster or you are thinking of becoming one, do feel free to get in touch. I’d be delighted to have a chat with you but beware. The first question anyone asks me is how we get such brilliant guests. I never answer it.