My Science Communication Journey

I was inspired to write this blog post by the account @MinoritySTEM that was being curated by @Sarah_Cosgriff at the time of the tweet. She described her journey into science communication (sci comm) and it made me reflect on how I’ve got to my current position as a content designer in a science centre.

Unlike Sarah Cosgriff, I didn’t make it far enough in pure science to get a PhD. It was definitely something that I considered in my first year of my undergraduate degree, but gradually as I was introduced to what lab life was actually like, and it really didn’t suit me!

In the second year of my degree, the entire cohort of people doing “bioscience” degrees were required to do a module led by the career team. It was a module meant to expand our expectations of what sort of jobs we could get after graduating. This was pretty valuable to me as someone who knew they definitely didn’t want to do lab based job for the rest of their life and while everyone groaned about attending the lectures, I secretly loved it.

The one element that inspired me the most was the science communication lecture. I was already a keen writer of fiction and luckily the lectures presented only the writing side of sci comm. Looking back, if I hadn’t been into writing at the time I would probably not have had the same journey as I did and the many people who didn’t like writing were never introduced to the plethora of avenues that sci comm offers.

Following that lecture, I contacted the lecturer and set up a meeting to discuss science journalism and how she got into it. She was incredibly helpful and gave me lots of good ideas to be getting on with.

Just after that lecture, I became good friends with a PhD student who was assisting in our practicals and she introduced me to the Early Career Scientist (ECS) committee at the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM). She explained that it would be ideal if I got involved in the committee because they ran events to help promote ECS members’ work as well as produce articles for SfAM’s member magazine, The Microbiologist.

After a lot of deliberation as to whether it would be too much work on top of my studies, I applied for a position and got on. If I could attribute my success to one thing in my past, it would be joining the ECS committee, because I’m still on it four years later and was given roles that specifically helped me into my current job today. Over those four years I wrote blogs, organised events, wrote in their magazine and now, finally am the chair of the committee. It has been a whirlwind, but SfAM has nurtured and supported my skills, building my confidence in my abilities and allowing me to carry out my ideas. In short, they are amazing.

Back to my journey.

My third year saw me start a lab project and then this blog to deal with the emotions that came with the lab project. I was never fully invested in that 8 month project, but I completed it and left university with a 2:1 BSc degree in Microbiology.

That third year lab project spurred me on to seriously consider what I wanted to do when I grew up and it had to be sci comm. My only knowledge of how to get where I wanted at the time was to get a qualification in it. There are plenty of other ways to progress into Sci Comm, but a masters was the only way I could think of doing it.

Although it won’t be the right choice for everyone, the masters at UWE Bristol was incredible. It gave me both the theory and practical knowledge that I needed as well as introducing me to the world of evaluation, which I now love. At the same time as doing my masters I was on the SfAM committee and volunteering at Bristol’s science centre who played a part in one of our modules. Thanks to my volunteer role, I applied for and got an actual paid job doing outreach at all sorts of events and venues around Bristol- I loved this because talking to people is something I think I’m quite good at.

At the same time as doing that job, I got another at a supermarket cafe when my formal masters teaching ended. It was honestly the worst job in the world and it was only a month before I moved on to presenting to and looking after children at a summer science camp.

Even though I’d only had experience with children when they were around teachers, I thought it was my dream job. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Being responsible for, and looking after children whilst teaching them science was incredibly overwhelming (how do teachers do it?!). My first week was awful, I’d start every day with a panic attack. Luckily in my second week I worked with an instructor who taught me how to be fun and not an uptight, bossy type that I was trying to be. In the end I did enjoy it, but I was exhausted every single evening whilst also trying to write my MSc dissertation.

At the end of that summer, I left the science camps behind, handed in my dissertation, and applied to be an ice rink Marshall at the science centre’s annual winter ice rink. It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever done; I’d skated from the age of 12-16 and being able to skate almost every day throughout winter was a dream. It wasn’t sci comm, but it still meant I could wedge my foot just a bit more in the door at the science centre.

I was really grateful to be kept on after winter as front of house staff and I met some amazing people working for three months in that role. I wanted more than to sell tickets though, so started looking for jobs that had sci comm at their heart. That’s how I ended up in my current job as a content designer in a science centre in Cardiff, despite convincing myself that I had given the worst interview in the history of interviews. In my current job, I do everything from events to science theatre shows to themed activities, and all this has really helped me to build up my skills as well as explore new ways to evaluate projects and engage audiences in science.

So that is my sci comm journey so far. It’s a lot, but I hope it sheds some light on how complicated getting to a job you actually want is! I realise that I’m very privileged in both my skin colour and my parent’s ability to support me financially during my masters, but society is slowly moving to be more mindful of diversity in the workplace and there are definitely many less expensive ways to get to where I am now.

If you have any questions, please ask in the comments or you can tweet me @jenniefrench95. Definitely check out sci comm twitter, I learnt such a lot from just following and interacting with people who do sci comm and most people can be found just by searching #scicomm.

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