“It gave me the confidence to consider science communication as a career…”

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Kassie at NASA Ames in front of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

My name is Kassie. I’m a storyteller, science facilitator, and science advocate. I work as a federal contractor for the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at NASA Ames in Silicon Valley. A decade ago, I would have never expected my career to head in this direction. I’ve always enjoyed science – especially robotics and space science – but early on I was drawn to the humanities. Reading literature taught me about the human condition and prepared me to think critically and communicate clearly. Effective science communication follows a similar thread: communicate clearly and connect with your audiences through good storytelling. We’re not data processors, after all.

I discovered science communication after a bit of soul-searching. In my early 30s, I worked as a research communicator at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford and I wanted to level up my practical experience with training courses. Well, I didn’t find research communication training, however, ‘science communication’ popped up. Huh, interesting. I was curious and signed up to the week-long Science Communication Masterclass taking place in Bristol and organised by the SCU. At the end of the week I was hooked. That was it for me. I didn’t know in what shape or form, but science communication needed to be in my future!

At NASA, I’m the go-between for our scientists (the science community) and members of the public. The best way I can explain it is finding that sweet spot connection between exploring the science and humanity in our work. I do a lot of interviewing. I ask scientists about their science journey and challenge them to explain their science like they were presenting at a science museum and to eager science enthusiasts. Explain the acronyms! 

I learned to practice upstream engagement at UWE Bristol. Now I understand how to better incorporate inclusive learning experiences and fostering two-way dialogues. Just as it sounds, it implies creating space for members of ‘publics’ early on in science conversations and working together – as opposed to disseminating and hoping for the best. It challenges perceptions in our current model of science discourse. At NASA this can be a tricky, however, things are getting better! Citizen science is where it can really take off.

Kassie in front of the new Hidden Figure Way, at NASA HQ in Washington DC.

It took a few years, but we’ve recently developed a citizen science proposal around this concept. We – a small group of astronomers and science communicators – are developing engaging science communication content via videos, inviting people along the science journey with astronomers as they look through data – augmenting a current citizen science project called ‘Planet Hunters’. We are not shying away from technical aspects and delving into the nitty-gritty astronomers experience during the process. Citizen scientists will lend their expertise, lead video content, and can influence the direction of the tutorials. Instead of pushing out content WE think people are interested in seeing, we will be working alongside citizen scientists and listening to their anxieties, concerns, and building our project together with them. Scientists, citizen scientists, and science communicators. Our little project is only just starting – wish us luck!

None of this would have been possible without my training at UWE, which I continued after the Masterclass by completing an MSc in Science Communication. The teaching staff nurtured my budding interest in robotics and electric vehicles. I decided to focus my MSc project dissertation on public perceptions of autonomous vehicles. I felt a personal sense of accomplishment with my deep dive dissertation. Shortly thereafter, I interviewed with NASA leadership and moved back to California for this job. Like any new role, it has evolved over time. I still get to write about cool science topics, but now I’m more involved in day-to-day management as a managing editor and my brand new citizen science project!

My advice: if you’re thinking about science communication, give it a go. Attend a taster, attend the Masterclass. It will be rigorous and challenging, but you’ll walk away with skills and confidence to go after anything. I know I did. Then come join me at NASA!

Kassie Perlongo

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.

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.

Sci Comm Through the Lens – a science tour in Hong Kong

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By Tay Aziz and Sophie Pavelle

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!

Monkey encounter

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.

Follow us on social media @scicomm_tay and @sophiepavs– we’d love to hear from you!

Tay:

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:

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.