Communication is Key
Earlier this year, as I neared the final year of my PhD at the School of Biosciences here at Birmingham University, I started to think about what I wanted to do next. I really enjoy scientific research; however I wanted to find out about what other options were open to me as a Post – Doctoral graduate.
Throughout my PhD I’ve become more interested in science communication; I had become a STEM Ambassador during my first year and thoroughly enjoy communicating science in the community. So when a careers seminar about Scientific Communications and Publishing was advertised I thought it would be an excellent idea to go along. Dr. Stuart Cantrill is chief editor at Nature Chemistry and gave an excellent talk on being an editor at Nature; however the thing that he most emphasised was that if you wanted a career in science communication it is imperative to show an interest by actually communicating science. He advised blogging and free – lance writing as an excellent way to start, so with this in mind, when I got back to the office I did an internet search for science writing competitions. I knew that The Guardian newspaper ran one, which was not open at the time, but I came across another, which was accepting entries. It was run by an organisation called ‘The Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable’ (OBR) and they set out three themes under which an entrants could write a 900 word article. After a lot of soul searching I convinced myself that if I didn’t enter I couldn’t win anyway so I should just go for it.
At around the same time I received two interesting emails, one on contributing to UoB Blogfest’s coverage of the Arts and Science festival on campus and one about a School of Biosciences Communication Competition. With my new-found determination I decided to go for both. The contributions to UoB Blogfest were published and I was one of the winners of the competition, which was very exciting! As a winner of the competition I got to report on The Cheltenham Science Festival and attend some of the seminars and lectures then review the way science was communicated. The efforts of all three winners were then published online in the Universities newspaper ‘Redbrick’. The experience of reporting on both festivals was enlightening and further convinced me that this was something I wanted to pursue.
Fortunately I was helped in my pursuits by hearing I had been shortlisted for the OBR’s writing prize and was invited to attend a gala dinner event in London where the winner would be announced. This was a scary prospect as I had to attend on my own, surrounded by people I didn’t know. However, I believed that it was an excellent opportunity, not to be passed up, no matter how nerve – wracking it was. I’m very glad I did, as although I didn’t win, I have become integrally involved with the OBR’s online review. First my shortlisted article was published and I was asked to become a staff writer, then a few months later I was asked to join the editorial team, and I now edit the ‘Core Concepts’ section of the review. Entering the writing prize has also given me other opportunities such as meeting with the news editor of Nature Biotechnology; Dr Lisa Melton, and getting her advice on science writing.
The advice I would give anyone interested in science communication is dive in and go for it, having the courage of my convictions certainly opened doors for me.