Friday 6 June 2014

Science Scoops

I am thrilled to have been awarded a British Science Association Media Fellowship, and I am particularly excited to be joining the team at New Scientist this summer.

The British Science Association is a national organisation dedicated to the advancement of science engagement. Their vision is of a world where science is seen as a core part of our culture and society. Every year, the BSA holds lots of science engagement events, including the British Science Festival. This year it will be in Birmingham, from the 6th to 11th of September.
Every year, for the past 27 years, the BSA has awarded ten Media Fellowships to scientists interested in science communication and engagement to a wider audience, offering working placements in several prestigious publications or media outlets. This year’s outlets include Nature News; BBC Countryfile, The Times, The Scotsman; BBC radio/online, the Guardian and New Scientist. The scheme is designed to allow scientists to learn first-hand how science journalism works, how journalists, researchers and reporters get a science story from idea to page or screen, and how to navigate media attention in scientific work.
Yesterday was the first time we all got to meet each other, as we attended the Briefing Day in London. What an interesting, diverse bunch! The Fellows hail from a wide range of specialisms, including earth science, neurology, botany, astronomy, medicine and (muggins) anthropology. There’s everyone from PhD students and postdocs to lecturers and even a Professor. Name badges in place, it was like freshers’ week all over again, except instead of ‘which A’ levels did you do?’, the questions were ‘what's your research?’ and ‘which media outlet are you going to?’.

As scientists with either limited or no experience of the world of journalism and broadcasting, we were treated to glimpses of how science journalists find a news-worthy story and pitch it to editors, how they craft headlines and interview experts in a whole range of fields. Over the summer, we will all have to take on the personas of story-hungry reporters and go trawling for science scoops.

We were pushed in at the deep end and asked to write a press release about our work, and then we interviewed one of our peers about theirs. Immediately I was struck by how journalists have to be reasonably knowledgeable in a wide range of subjects - “up to undergraduate level”, which is quite a daunting prospect for someone who dropped Physics after O’ Level!
After that, we fired questions at the organisers, and then got to meet some of the previous Media Fellows, all of whom had found the experience extremely worthwhile and rewarding. I must admit that, by lunchtime, I’d been a bit daunted by the prospect of working as a science journalist for a month in the summer; but by the end of the day, I was really looking forward to it! I was very glad that the others seemed to be having similar thoughts. I’m nervous about cold-calling scientists for sound bites, but am excited about potentially (hopefully) contributing positively to the public’s awareness and comprehension of important science stories. I’m also looking forward to working not only with new colleagues at New Scientist, but with the nine other stimulating, thought-provoking and cool Media Fellows.

Follow the British Science Association and Media Fellowships on Twitter: @BritSciAssociat and @MediaFellows.