I never thought that my professional life would change in the way it has over the last three years. Nor could I even imagine the challenging and unexpected circumstances all of this change was going to happen within.
After studying for a degree in Biology at the University of Seville in Spain, I obtained a PhD in Neuroscience at the same University. Then, I started an academic career overseas, working on different postdoctoral projects in both the UK and Spain. However, during my time in the UK, I felt the need to try new things. I have always been an open and communicative person; interaction with others was one of my strengths and that led me to discover new areas within the world of science. It was during my time in the UK that I began to understand more about the role of public engagement and science communication. These new topics for me, in addition to my love of connecting with people, made me more and more interested in science communication or ‘scicomm’ as it is often referred to. It was then that I met with the Society of Spanish Researchers in the United Kingdom (SRUK/CERU). Thanks to this society, I was able to fully enter into the field of science communication from a volunteering perspective. With SRUK I was able to combine my scientific experience and my people skills, addressing different audiences and through different formats. I carried out my volunteering with them, organizing events, creating scientific initiatives including one called CineScience (where we communicated science through cinema and with the collaboration of experts on various topics) and carried out written communication tasks through their science blog (#SRUKBlog). This experience, along with outreach activities at other associations, made me fall in love more and more with this world of science communication.
And that was the moment when I felt it was time for me to strengthen my informal skills in science communication and expand my knowledge further. It was also at that moment that I discovered the courses offered by UWE Bristol, and that some of their modules including on connecting with people, science writing and even research skills could be taken entirely online. That was a perfect option for me, since I was living in Spain at that time. However, what was a surprise (and to all of us) was when the world stopped and everything became online and with all the limitations that brought to interact with people, including participants in science communication. The pandemic brought a lot of chaos and confusion. However, the team of academics on this postgraduate course managed to keep everything going during such complicated circumstances.
Thanks to these modules, I have gained a much better understanding of the science communication and public engagement skills that I had previously practiced. I learned the importance of how good engagement with the public is a two-way street, communication and listening are both important. I learned to put myself in the shoes of my audience, to get to know them well before drawing up any strategy to address them. I delved even deeper into written formats and how to capture readers’ attention. I also had the opportunity to learn to structure science communication projects and their evaluation in an orderly and effective way (even being able to combine science and cinema, my passions, in an exciting postgraduate project!). Finally, thanks to all my experience and my PhD background I managed to start a new professional adventure in the Scientific-Evidence-Based Decision group at the Instituto Aragonés de Ciencias de la Salud (IACS) . Here, among different projects, I can continue working in the scientific world, using my strong research background, and, at the same time, helping to bring scientific evidence closer to audiences related to our public health system in Spain, health professionals and clinicians. In addition, amongst the different projects I am working on, I also have the opportunity to coordinate courses for patients who are interested in helping improve the health system in Spain. By using information based on scientific evidence, I am thinking about how citizen science can be applied to health and to some of its most important audiences including patients and their carers.
Undoubtedly, these years have been complicated years, for everyone. Therefore, I would like to thank Clare Wilkinson and the rest of the team at UWE Bristol, for all the help and support during the past two years whilst we were involved in studying these modules. I was excited by the idea of improving my knowledge on scicomm, but never expected the situation we all have lived through. We have been through hard times due to the pandemic, and its associated events (in my particular case, the uncertainty of the beginning of this career transition and being far away from my hometown due to the COVID restrictions). Despite all these situations, and only being able to communicate online, I felt the support from the UWE Bristol team. It was also a pleasure to share this time with all my classmates. In fact, it was easy to feel closer to each other, despite the fact that we have been working online and in different corners of the world, in a pandemic situation.
By Marga Segovia