87 episodes

Welcome to Working Scientist, the Nature Careers podcast. Our series of free audio shows features interviews and advice from experts in the field and highlights diverse career issues relevant to today's scientists.

Naturejobs podcasts can be delivered directly to your desktop by subscribing to our free RSS feed. Simply click here and copy and paste the URL into your media player.

Working Scientist Nature Careers

    • Careers

Welcome to Working Scientist, the Nature Careers podcast. Our series of free audio shows features interviews and advice from experts in the field and highlights diverse career issues relevant to today's scientists.

Naturejobs podcasts can be delivered directly to your desktop by subscribing to our free RSS feed. Simply click here and copy and paste the URL into your media player.

    How to craft and communicate a simple science story

    How to craft and communicate a simple science story

    Ditch jargon, keep sentences short, stay topical. Pakinam Amer shares the secrets of good science writing for books and magazines.

    In the final episode of this six-part series about science communication, three experts describe how they learned to craft stories about research for newspaper, magazine and book readers.

    David Kaiser, a physicist and science historian at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the 2012 book How the Hippies Saved Physics, tells Amer how he first transitioned from academic writing to journalism. “This kind of writing is different from the kinds of communication I had been practising as a graduate student and young faculty member.

    “It took other sets of eyes and skilled editors to very patiently and generously work with me, saying 'These paragraphs are long, the sentences are long, you've buried the lede.' It was quite a process, quite a transition. It took a lot of practice to work on new habits.”

    David Berreby runs an annual science writing workshop at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He adds: “One of the hardest things for scientists to do is to tell a story as they would to a friend on campus. If you run into someone in the hall you say 'Hey, the most surprising thing happened....'

    “Generally your instinct for how you would tell someome informally is a good guide. This is hard for scientists as it's been trained out of them. They have been trained to formalise and jargonise."

    Beth Daley, editor of the The Conservation US, an online non-profit that publishes news and comment from academic researchers and syndicates them to different national and regional news outlets, describes how she and her colleagues commission articles.

    After a daily 9am meeting, they issue an 'expert call out' seeking comment on that day's news stories.

    Her team also receives direct pitches from academics. “The question I always ask scientists is 'What is it about your work that can be relevant for people today?” she says.
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    • 20 min
    How to sell your public outreach ideas to funders

    How to sell your public outreach ideas to funders

    Funding agencies and societies love novel approaches to science communication. Here is some expert advice on how to grab their attention.

    In the penultimate episode of this six-part series about science communication, dermatologist and immunologist Muzlifah Haniffa tells Pakinam Amer how art and poetry inspired her 2016 exhibition Inside Skin following a meeting with Linda Anderson, a professor of English and American literature at Newcastle University, UK.

    Carla Ross, who leads the public engagement team at UK funder Wellcome, describes its 25 Trailblazers initiative to showcase excellence in science communication.

    Trailblazer finalist Raphaela Kaisler tells Amer how she and colleagues crowdsourced potential research questions around child mental health in Austria.

    And Gail Cardew, director of science and education at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, offers advice on how to set up public engagement programmes.

    Finally, Joshua Chu-Tan recounts how he distilled his PhD research into 180 seconds as part of the Three Minute Thesis programme, and raised funds for his lab by running blindfold to highlight age-related macular degeneration, his research focus at the Australian National University in Canberra, where he is now a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer.
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    • 29 min
    How films and festivals can showcase your science

    How films and festivals can showcase your science

    In the fourth episiode of this six-part Working Scientist series about science communication, Pakinam Amer examines how festivals, film, comedy clubs and virtual space camps can be ideal vehicles to explain your research to young people.

    In 2018, propulsion development engineer Diana Alsindy launched Arabian Stargazer, a bilingual Instagram page that promotes rocket science and STEM careers to young people in Arabic-speaking countries.

    Alsindy, who moved to the US from Iraq aged 14, tells Amer she developed the platform after realising that online resources in Arabic for young people seeking information about space science were thin on the ground.

    “I'm passionate about science and I want to make other people passionate about it," she says. "My vision and my dream is to create space clubs, but virtually, engaging young people in techical conversations, using games, riddles, and Q&As with astronauts.”

    Typically Alsindy runs one-hour presentations in both Arabic and English. “I’ve done it for five-year-olds and high school students. All I need is a latop and a screen, a Skype call or Google Hangout. If we want to open space science to everyone don’t open it for only English speaking populations.”

    Helen Pilcher transitioned from UK stem cell researcher to writing and stand-up comedy, and is now science advisor at The Beano a children’s comic. A gig at one of the first Cheltenham Science Festivals with scientist friend Timandra Harkness marked a turning point.
    “We called ourselves The Comedy Research Project and the aim was to prove scientifically that science can be funny.”

    Alexis Gambis, assistant professor of biology at New York University Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, founded labocine.com, a science film platform and magazine. “Whenever I talk about my films I always say in some ways I consider it to be research. I don’t consider it to be science communication. I’m really interested in how to bring microscopy into film for a general audience.”

    Urmila Chadayammuri, a pre-doctoral fellow and a PhD student Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, worked with three colleagues she met at a two-day hackathon in 2019 to launch Cosmos VR, an app that offers a simulation including colliding galaxies, black holes and exploding stars. She tells Amer how the science communication project came about.
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    • 28 min
    How to transition from the lab to full-time science communicator

    How to transition from the lab to full-time science communicator

    In the third episode of this six-part series about the skills needed to explain your research to a general audience, Pakinam Amer talks to scientists who left the lab to work as full-time science communicators in print, online and broadcast journalism.

    Often the biggest challenge some of them faced was telling family they were swapping the well-trodden career path of academic research for the more precarious field of science communication.

    Gareth Mitchell, a technology reporter and science communications lecturer who presents the BBC programme Digital Planet, tells Amer:

    “I was fine with the transfer and the lack of money and the insecurity and the randomness that came when I transferred from a reasonably safe and hard fought-for career in engineering into something much more uncertain and media-related, but my parents freaked out.

    “Maybe that's putting it a bit strongly, but they questioned me quite forensically about why on earth their wonderful bright engineering son would possibly want to get his hands dirty with a Masters course in communication and then busk it in the land of radio.”

    Buzzfeed science editor Azeen Ghorayshi was a fruit fly researcher until 2012, and recalls breaking news of her career switch to her parents, who fled to the US from Iran following the 1979 Revolution.

    “Journalism plays a very different role there. There’s state media, for example. It’s not a job that they thought of as being easy, or safe, or secure or prestigious. My dad wanted me to become a doctor. That’s a very common thing with immigrant parents.”

    How do you break into the field, either in a staff or freelance role? Do you need to complete an expensive graduate programme? Mitchell tells Amer: “Ask yourself why you want to do it, why it matters to you, and it’s OK to say because it’s cool and will make me happy.

    “But maybe you have a deeper reason. Perhaps you think your particular subject area or discipline is insufficiently represented in the wider media? Or maybe it’s over-represented, or misrepresented? Then tell yourself that you can do it, and then think about the mode.

    Are you the kind of person who might be better going round schools giving talks, or doing stand-up comedy in a science festival? Do you want to be a podcaster, a blogger, a vlogger, a YouTuber?”

    Finally, Ferris Jabr tells Amer about his work as a science writer and author, and his forthcoming book about the co-evolution of earth and life.
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    • 23 min
    Coronavirus conversations: Science communication during a pandemic

    Coronavirus conversations: Science communication during a pandemic

    Do researchers and frontline clinicians have a moral obligation to communicate science around the coronavirus?

    In the second episode of this six-part Working Scientist podcast series about science communication, Pakinam Amer explores crisis communication and asks how well researchers have explained the underlying uncertainties to the public.

    Epidemiologist Sandro Galea, dean of Boston University's school of public health, says academic researchers have three roles, to generate scholarship and science, to teach that science to students, and to clearly translate it for a general audience.

    “Our job is to help the world see how we can bridge the science to the very real practical decisions that the world has to make to create a healthier world,” he says.

    But how is science communication evolving during the pandemic? “We are entering a new era. We need a new playbook for communicating science in a time of uncertainty, and how policy can be informed by uncertain science. We have not done that well,” he tells her.

    “There has been this mismatch between what we do not know and our capacity to communicate what we do not know, and to inform policy that needs to be made anyway. Those have been glaring gaps in my assessment.”

    Ron Daniels, a critical care consultant at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, sees a role for scientists to plug knowledge gaps alongside the understandably “cautious and risk-averse" messages that often emanate from government and professional bodies.

    Daniels produced a short video in response to calls to explain why COVID-19 patients are ventilated on their stomachs, using a simple drawing on a white paper board to explain the underlying physiology.

    “People want to make sensible informed decisions. With a very filtered and controlled flow of information coming from government, which is designed to avoid panic and instil calm, making informed decisions can be challenging.

    “This is not about profile, this is not about gaining followers or scoring points. Usually this should not be about academic argument. This should be around 'I've appraised the evidence, I have a level of expertise, here are my opinions and this is what I think you as a member of the public should do with that information.'”

    What about journalists reporting on the pandemic and busting myths and misinformation? How does their communication role differ from scientists and clinicians on the frontline?

    US science journalist Roxanne Khamsi says: “I feel some kind of personal obligation to try to disseminate what I know, which is a fraction of what virologists know. I don't want to oblige anyone to do anything. If folks have the time there has never been a more urgent time to communicate your science.”

    US photojournalist and science writer Tara Haelle adds: “I think journalists and scientists in general have done a reasonably good job of trying to focus on the good information and counter the bad information. It is a hard job to do. The entire base of science is uncertainty. It is a quest for knowledge. If you had the knowledge you would not be seeking it.”

    Anica Butler, editor of the Boston Globe Ideas section, tells Amer how she works with scientist contributors who submit expert opinion pieces to the newspaper. “I think of myself as standing in for the public. I am going to ask stupid questions.

    “The editor is trying to help your work be understood by the average everyday person. In a crisis like this, that is the ultimate goal. Think about you explaining to your next door neighbour 'Here is what is happening.'”
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    • 30 min
    Science communication made simple

    Science communication made simple

    In a world currently facing an unparalleled health crisis, the need for clear science communication has never been greater. Explaining complex ideas in a concise manner does not come naturally to everyone, but there are some simple rules you can follow.

    In the opening episode of this six-part series about science communication, Pakinam Amer discusses the craft of clear storytelling and science writing with seasoned communicators and journalists.

    Siri Carpenter, editor of The Craft of Science Writing, a selection of resouces from science writing platform The Open Notebook, explains how science journalism and science communication differ, but share important characteristics, including “a search for some kind of truth, driven by curiosity and sometimes the desire to right some wrong.”

    But how do you structure a story so readers are hooked from the start, explain complicated ideas, avoid jargon, check facts? “There are so many skills that go into good science writing,” Carpenter says. “It takes time and practice to get better, learning from mistakes, and from feedback.”

    Islam Hussein, a virologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tells Amer why he took to the video platform YouTube in 2014 to tackle pseudoscience after a hand-held device was wrongly touted as a tool to detect viral infections in his native Egypt.
    “There was a lot of interaction between me and the public. Some of it was good. Some of it was not, in the form of insults and threats," he says.

    With the help of his son, he rigged up a home studio in his basement to create more multimedia content, using his wife and colleagues to get feedback before getting it live. “When I hit record I want to make sure I am saying something useful and accurate,” he says.
    Hussein now regularly appears on the TV to explain the emerging science behind COVID-19.
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    • 24 min

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