Sharing a passion for science | University of Cambridge
"'Public outreach' are obviously the buzzwords of the moment and from the personal perspective of an animal biologist, like me, it has never been more important to foster a wider interest in the natural world. I’m not the only person taking more of an interest in sharing my passion for science. The open-access revolution has engendered a new atmosphere of outreach in the academic community, promoting interest in sharing our research with the public in publishing and beyond. In May, I was awarded a Media Fellowship from the British Science Association as part of their Science in Society programme. The Fellowship scheme places science professionals with a media host from the print, radio, online or broadcasting sector for a number of weeks. The relationship between fellow and host is designed to be a symbiotic one. Hosts gain a new scientific expert and feedback on how best to represent researchers and fellows acquire invaluable media savvy that will, hopefully, increase willingness and know-how when it comes to engaging with the media in the future. My Fellowship took me to Bristol, the home of the Factual and Natural History units of the BBC, and to the production team of Countryfile, British television’s most popular outlet for rural and environmental issues. There, I joined the research team working on the investigations section of the show, which probes topical and often highly political issues like fracking, the badger cull and land access. It didn’t take me long to realise the potential power of the media to inform. Over five million people tune in to Countryfile every Sunday night, giving the team a fantastic opportunity to cut through the rhetoric surrounding issues pertinent to the British countryside, and present facts and the views of multiple stakeholders clearly to an extremely varied and wide audience. It was my duty to find those facts and boil them down from unwieldy scientific documents and jargon-filled theory to snippets of information that would be understandable and interesting to the Sunday evening punters. During my time in Bristol, we tackled two important subjects – the potential for a cattle vaccine in the fight against bovine tuberculosis and the spread of invasive species in the UK. It was fascinating talking to fellow scientists as part of my research, not just because I was learning a lot about the subjects of our investigations, but also because it dispelled, for me, the myth that engaging with journalists is a scary process. In fact, once I was put into the journalist’s shoes, I found it just as intimidating to call the researchers and interrogate them about their specialist field. For more information about the British Science Association Media Fellowship programme, please visit http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/science-society/media-fellowships ..."