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Science and the Media: Advice for Early Career Researchers

By Charlotte Campion – PhD in the School of Biological Sciences

The University of Manchester recently hosted a Standing up for Science media workshop for early career researchers, led by the charity Sense about Science. This was part of their Voice of Young Science initiative, which aims to empower early career researchers to play an active role in discussions about science with the public and the media.

The panellists for the day included a mixture of journalists, and scientists with experience in media communications, who gave us an insight into the process behind presenting science in the media, and advice on how we can utilise the different media channels to promote science effectively. Here are some of their top tips:

Practice

Hayley Gorton, a pharmacist with a wide variety of public engagement experience, emphasised that the best way to build your confidence and improve in science communication is to do more of it! Hayley started her science communicating with a talk at a Pint of Science event, but other opportunities include FameLab, SoapBox Science and also guest blogging on websites such as The Conversation or The Node.

Sarah Blackford, the head of education and public affairs at the Society for Experimental Biology also advocated becoming a member of a relevant society, which can provide outreach opportunities as well as a variety of relevant training.

Make it easy for journalists

Jane Symons, a freelance health writer, stressed what hectic schedules journalists have, so she suggested providing the story already in a form most similar to how it will be used, and also encouraged creativity: graphical abstracts and videos can help with lay readers, and make the article stand out.

Pav Bhatti, a BBC broadcast journalist in Manchester, recommended reaching out to journalists directly, whether it be about your own research, a science event that you’re running in the local area, or to provide an alternate viewpoint to a science story that has recently hit the news. Building that initial relationship with journalists can provide very fruitful as Peter Ranscombe, a freelance journalists and copywriter, pointed out. Often journalists go back to scientists that they have worked with previously to ask for commentary, even if the story doesn’t completely align with their research area.

Be clear

Dr Rachel Tilling, a climate scientist based at the University of Leeds suggested going into an interview with the media about your research with a set of three or four key points. This can make it easier to redirect the topic back on track if the interviewer asks unexpected questions.

Rachel also stressed how important it was not to speculate, as often it can be these comments that are taken out of context and misconstrued.

Utilise social media

Twitter can be a platform to start science communication, as Professor Matthew Cobb, a Zoologist at the University of Manchester explained. Matthew described how he commented on twitter about research not even directly related to his area of expertise which snowballed into a large number of interviews, and articles for national newspapers.

Matthew encouraged following local and national news outlets on twitter and getting involved in discussions about any scientific articles that crop up.

Summary

Overall, the message was of positivity and proactivity. As Professor Allan Pacey , Head of Andrology at the University of Sheffield said, ‘You’re not going to change public opinion by not saying anything’.  As scientists, we have a responsibility to educate the public in our research.

Moreover, experience engaging with the media and the public raises your profile as a scientist and can make you more desirable to employers. You may even enjoy it!

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