I recently attended a Standing up for Science Media Workshop run by the Sense about Science charity. The aim of these workshops is to encourage young scientists to get involved with communicating science so that we can help improve the understanding of science amongst the general public and challenge misconceptions. The day was organised into three sessions, each with three panellists who introduced themselves before taking questions from the audience.
Science in the Media
In this session the panel of scientists shared their experiences of communicating with the media. In general these experiences had been good, which was reassuring, and they had some interesting anecdotes and pieces of advice for the group.
My take home points from the resulting discussion were:
- Before any interview with a journalist think about your core message. In the interview: stick to it and don’t ramble.
- Although they may seem scarier, live radio/TV interviews actually give you more control than recorded ones. In recorded interviews producers can cut or rearrange what you say to fit in with their story.
- Remember: most journalists aren’t out to trap you!
What are journalists looking for?
Prior to this session the participants split off into groups over lunch to discuss what we thought were good and bad things about how science is communicated in the media. We then discussed these points (and more) with the panellists (a freelance journalist, Nature news editor and a BBC radio producer). This was interrupted by an emergency evacuation of the building due to a basement sewage problem but the organisers were able to arrange our transfer to a local pub to continue the discussion (no complaints from us!)
My take home points:
- Journalists work to tight deadlines. For news articles this could be a few hours so if they contact you they will want a quick response.
- Even if a journalist has a scientific background they are not a specialist in your area so won’t mind if you take them through “from the basics”.
- Once a journalist has submitted an article they lose control of it. Editors can alter the article and change the headline, so the article that gets published may not be exactly what the journalist originally wrote.
Standing up for science – the nuts and bolts
The final session was a chance to discuss our concerns/barriers against standing up for science with panellists from a university press office, Sense About Science and the Voice of Young Science (VOYS) network.
One of the concerns expressed was that as young people we wouldn’t be taken seriously and that the media are likely to turn to more senior scientists for interviews etc. While it is true that journalists will often directly contact your more well-known bosses there are still lots of ways to get involved in science communication, including:
- Sense About Science: the charity runs a number of projects including: Ask for Evidence and the Voice of Young Science Network.
- Science writing: Blogging, university magazines etc.
- Outreach: running events with school children or your local community.
I really enjoyed the mix of panel sessions and group work in the workshop and would recommend the workshop to other early career scientists. For more information about future workshops visit the Sense about Science website.
- Sense about Science workshop – Science meets the media (microbioeduguy.wordpress.com)