Interview with The Science Media Centre

I interviewed Claire Bithell, of the Science Media Centre, about Science comms and why they’re important for The Looking Glass, and posted the interview below:

What’s the best way to get into science writing?

Probably the best way is to just to start writing. Writing a blog, articles for your organisation or professional body or for a newsletter are all good ways to build up a body of work.

There are also some great competitions for science writers to enter, for example the one run by the Wellcome Trust and the Guardian. There are also a number of well-respected science communication courses, such as the one run by Imperial Collegeand many people would recommend doing a non-subject specific journalism or writing qualification.

What do you think makes a good science writer?

Though I would encourage everyone working in science to think about communication, remember that science writing is not the only way. UK science journalists are some of the best in the world and are incredibly skilled at communicating research. Working alongside these journalists I am constantly in awe of their ability to take a complex piece of research, quickly grasp its significance and limitations, and write a piece of copy that neither dumbs down the work or oversells its importance. These journalists will write multiple stories every day and are equally knowledgeable about space travel, climate change, mental health and infectious disease. They get this expertise by speaking to researchers who have a talent for communicating their area of work – the more experts they have access to the better they will be able to report an area.

And journalists may not know as many experts who work on mental health research as other areas they write about, such as cancer or infectious disease. Therefore, it is important that more mental health researchers come forward to be spokespeople for their area of research. The best way to do this is to contact either Louise Pratt or Seil Collins in the Institute of Psychiatry Press Office, and if you are interested in speaking to the national news media you can also work with the Science Media Centre.

Why you think science communication is important?

Science communication is essential if we want the public, funders and policy makers to appreciate the importance of research. Most science is funded using public money, so I feel there is a duty for researchers to speak to the public about their work. I have seen time and time again in my role as a press officer for science that those scientists who communicate their work are more likely to receive funding and they create a more supportive environment to carry out their research. I also think that many people don’t realise research offers an opportunity for improved understanding of mental illness and better treatments – researchers who communicate with the public have a chance to make this point.

With the nature of science communication changing in the current age of blogging, how do you think this affects the way you need to communicate and the people you are reaching?

Science communication is changing rapidly as a result of new media. Science communicators are using blogs, twitter, podcasts and other methods to reach new and existing audiences. That said, if you want to reach a really wide audience that may not have a special interest in science, traditional media often remains the best tool.


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