4 Apr 2019
Jenny Gracie was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary for an internship with the Naked Scientists based at the University of Cambridge. Here she describes how her attendance has developed her skills and confidence in the area of science communication which she can now use to help shape her future career.
‘I am currently in the final year of a PhD in Chemistry at the University of Strathclyde. My project seeks to better treat cardiovascular disease, which is still the world’s leading cause of death. I am working towards a drug delivery system which utilises hollow gold nanoparticles as a ‘vehicle’ for delivering statins to the fatty plaques that block the arteries. Although I’m still interested in my research project, I’ve developed a real enthusiasm for science communication over the last few years and would like pursue a career in this field.
‘As a STEM ambassador I have attended fairs, festivals and schools to help spark a curiosity in science amongst children. During my PhD, the opportunity of an 8-week internship with The Naked Scientists came up, and I simply couldn’t let it pass. Without the funding support from SCI I could not have taken the internship, and so I am extremely grateful for the Messel Travel Bursary, and I know that this contribution helped make this transformative career experience a reality.
“Nothing in science has any value to society if it is not communicated” - Anne Roe
‘The Naked Scientists are an award-winning science production group based at the University of Cambridge. They create one of the world’s most popular science shows, achieving over 50 million downloads in the last 5 years. They broadcast weekly on BBC Cambridgeshire, BBC 5Live, ABC National Radio in Australia and also publish a podcast of the show. Podcasts are free, available on-demand and are a widely accessible source of science information to the general public. The Naked Scientist internship programme develops the skill set of early career communicators and provides first-hand experience in the world of science media communication.
‘Podcast production has grown exponentially in the last few years, however chemistry still remains underrepresented compared to the other traditional physical sciences e.g. physics and biology. As a chemist who is interested in a career in science communication, the visit has allowed me to gain the necessary skills to make my own podcasts in the future.
‘As an intern I was part of the production team from the first day! It was a catapult into the world of radio broadcast and podcast production, but perfect for understanding how a show is produced from scratch. Our weekly show consisted of two parts, one half would cover the news and recently published articles, and the second half would cover a specific topic within science.
‘Media privileges gave me access to all the journals to be published that week, with them sealed under embargo until publication. We tended to pick articles that have a global impact and capture the interest of the listener. Each team member would be assigned an article, and we would then have to contact the authors to scope the story and arrange a recorded interview. The skills I required to organise and execute a good interview improved over the course of the 8 weeks. I could see a real development in both my style and confidence.
‘During the internship I learned how to use software to edit audio, and stitch together multiple tracks to create build pieces with music and sound effects. To accompany the interview, each week we also wrote a short article on the research. This required converting high level science into a form that could be understood by the general public…something that is much harder than it sounds! I soon realised that covering a subject that I had no background in, such as the time I interviewed a planetary scientist who works with the Curiosity Rover on Mars, meant I didn’t assume any knowledge and could be a better advocate for the audience. Reporting on such a variety of science disciplines was a highlight for me, during a PhD you can become very focussed and blinded by your area of science, but there are so many fascinating fields out there to learn about.
‘The main goal of the internship was to produce the back half of the show myself, and I chose to cover the past, present and future of the periodic table as 2019 is the International Year of the Periodic Table. To pull this off, it took lots of planning, scouting for potential guests, scripting, editing and impeccable organising! The show was broadcast live on BBC Cambridgeshire, then repeated on the previously mentioned stations. The podcast was then published on the usual platforms such as Spotify and iTunes, making it available worldwide. I’m very proud that my hard work will be read and heard all around the world, and the reach of this internship is something I underestimated at first.
‘The Naked Scientist Internship definitely exposed me to a whole new area of science communication and the fully clothed visit provided experiences I would not have encountered in my normal PhD programme. I now appreciate how much hard work goes into just a few minutes of audio. The first-hand experiences I got as an intern were invaluable and I’m thankful for all the time and effort the producers made with me! Going forward, I’m still interested in a career within science communication and know that my time as a Naked Scientist will have helped shape that career. Again, I’d like to thank SCI for the Messel Bursary Award and acknowledge their contribution to my personal development.‘
Jenny Gracie, PhD Student
Bionanotechnology, Pure & Applied Chemistry Department
University of Strathclyde