How to become a science communicator
Define the importance of a gene - without using the words DNA, transcription, or protein. If this is an easy task for you, you might be a born science journalist: their main job is to use the media to engage non-scientists with science. By writing easily-understandable articles, about relevant scientific topics, science journalists manage to make complicated scientific concepts accessible to the general public.
An unmissable event for current and future science communicators was this year's UK Conference for Science Journalists (UKCSJ) in London. Thanks to the kind invitation of the Association of British Science Writers, I attended to represent EUSci magazine. This gave me the chance to meet editors of other student-run science magazines, including BlueSci (University of Cambridge) and I, Science (Imperial College London), and exchange experiences. It also posed a great opportunity to pick the brains of professional science communicators. As a newbie to the world of science communication, I was ill prepared for networking: I did not bring my business cards. Many people asked me for my card and I had to turn them down. I felt very unprofessional! However, I met many fascinating people – and I'll know better next time.
The main question I was asking during the conference was: "How can I establish myself as a science communicator?" This career path is not as straightforward as it sounds: there is no ultimate route to becoming one. A good understanding of science is a must, but you do not actually need a science degree. You don’t even have to study journalism. It is more about your enthusiasm for science, and your ability to communicate that passion to a wider audience. Taking a look at the editors of all student-run science magazines in the UK, not a single one of them has an education in journalism. However, they all have a science background and a passion for reporting ongoing science to the public.
It takes excellent writing and communication skills, and the feeling for a good story to become a good science journalist. But what else should be on your portfolio to guarantee you a place in the newsroom? According to Ian Katz, Deputy Editor of the Guardian, you need to bring three qualities,"First, be bright, energetic, and enthusiastic; second, learn Mandarin; and third, learn how to make a video." Aside from this rather humorous advice, what tools can students like us use to get our names out there?
To cut a long story short, it's essential to get your name out there. There is a huge science communication network online, and it's waiting for us to join. I already knew that blogging is a great way to get your scientific opinion out there, but I was completely unaware of how important Twitter is for science communication. It constitutes networking tool number one because Twitter is the perfect platform to report on the fast moving world of science. Everyone tweets; everything of scientific relevance is reported. One hundred and forty characters is plenty of space to get your scientific news across - and honestly, who wants to be stuck with only one topic to write on when there's a plethora of exciting science stories out there?
Like me, most science writers and editors found their passion for science communication while contributing to a student-run science magazine. But is student science journalism a good preparation for the next generation of science communicators? To answer this question in the words of Kenny Campbell, Metro Editor: "Keep on what you are doing . . . and I'll see you in three years."
If you would like to get involved , EUSci magazine offers you excellent opportunities to dip your toes, whether it’s writing an article for the next issue of EUSci; helping the layout or editing departments; or helping us launch our brand new YouTube channel: just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or catch us on Twitter @eusci.
What will be my next steps from here? Well, I will get to grips with Twitter - and print some business cards! And in launching EUSci on YouTube, I will get a chance to learn how to make a video. Now, who's in for the challenge of teaching me some Mandarin?