The excitement of science communication
The main thing I learnt from hearing Kat Arney’s talk was how exciting science communication can be. The way Kat talks about the work she’s done and the people she’s worked with highlights the power a good story can have, even in science.
As part of my innovative training network (ITN) PhD programme in ‘Deciphering PI3-kinase biology in health and disease ’, I had already attended a workshop focusing on the basic principles of scientific communication so I was already generally interested in the topic. I decided to attend Kat’s talk at the Institute to get to know more about it and the skills involved. Kat’s notoriety made it even more interesting and appealing as a way to find out more about the area.
Within the first few minutes, it became apparent that Kat loves to talk about science. She started her talk by reading a passage from her first book Herding Hemingway's Cats. I was fascinated by how easily she communicates complicated scientific ideas using plain English. She made the complexities of the human genome sound intriguing and easy to follow, even for non-scientists.
Using her own story as an example, Kat highlighted that for scientists in the lab, the goal of becoming a group leader is not for everyone. But that does not necessarily mean you have to stop working with science completely. There are plenty of opportunities to bridge the love for science and the reluctance to spend your whole life in the lab – one of them being science communication.
Kat gave plenty of advice to anyone wanting to get started in science communication, whether they want to make a career of it, or just enjoy doing it as part of their research. She encouraged us to just try it out and not to be discouraged if the first attempts fail – writing is actually a hard job to do. She continued by giving some straightforward and easy to follow tips on how to write for a general public audience.
I left the session with a list of useful tips and website links to develop and improve my science communication. This toolbox will help me to convey my specific scientific problem in a more inclusive and accessible way. In particular, it has helped me to realise the importance of considering how I communicate to different people.
I’m grateful to Kat for coming to speak to us, she was inspirational and I now feel that science communication might one day become a career option to consider.
Kat has published two popular science books on genetics and epigenetics; Herding Hemingway’s Cats and How to Code a Human. She did her PhD in Cambridge with Azim Surani and has also worked with the Naked Scientists. Kat previously worked as a science writer and blogger for Cancer Research UK and is now a freelance writer. During her visit to the Institute, Kat interviewed several of our epigenetics researchers for the Naked Genetics podcast, you can hear more here.
Some useful links from Kat:
PSCI-COMM mailing list, sign up here: https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=pscicom
BSA Science comms conference: https://www.britishscienceassociation.org/the-2014-conference
Also, have a look at this blog post and all the comments, which are full of people's stories including hers: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/07/29/on-the-origin-of-science-writers/