Anyone that knows me will know that I have a serious case of wanderlust. I am always looking for the next place I can visit and saving up for those flights and excursions to capture those photos & moments that will last a lifetime. But you all also know that I love science communication. Scicomm has been part of my PhD journey and it is something I don’t want to give up now I’m transitioning from PhD student to full on adult, and another reason why I’m finding job searching so darn difficult. But you can probably believe that mixing scicomm with travelling would be the ultimate dream for me. So, when I came across today’s guest blogger’s account I got so excited as she has spent this summer getting just a taste of what that life could be like. So, at the first opportunity I invited her to write a post for Soph talks science so both you and I could learn more about it all. So, I would like to introduce you to the wonderful Sara to share all about her summer as a science communication intern.
During my many student years – 8 years and counting … Am I what they call a “forever student”? – I jumped at any opportunity to be involved in outreach. Inspiring school kids about STEM careers, making DNA structures out of candy laces, running a sci-fi themed pub quiz in a casual pub setting or, writing about the latest research in blog posts – I loved it all! Although I enjoyed this much more than hours in the lab and even spent a lot of my spare time doing it, I never for a second imagined I’d start making a career out of it! I simply saw it as a by-product of my research work and a fun way to pass on my love of science to others.
It wasn’t until my second year of PhD – and I really wasn’t enjoying it at all – that I came to realise that science communication was my real passion and that I wanted it to become my main focus. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what area of sci-comm to focus on – to be honest, I wanted to do it all! So I set about getting as much varied experience as I could before narrowing it down.
After going on a postgrad public engagement course last year, I started writing for my own blog and got more involved with my local science magazine ‘The Gist’ to practice my science writing, copy-editing and social media skills. Through the British Science Association, I became an Events Officer organising outreach activities. I also volunteered at the Glasgow Science Centre in the learning team and for the Glasgow Science Festival. It soon became a case of fitting in my PhD thesis around all of my sci-comm stuff!
As I entered the penultimate months of my Biomedical Engineering studies, I was sure that I wanted to leave the lab bench behind – for the moment anyway – and fully focus on communicating science. And so began the job hunt! But, like in every sector, the majority of roles looked for experience, a LOT of experience. With everything I’d already done, I still didn’t have enough to get some of my dream entry-level jobs.
And so, you guessed it – plan B. Get more experience. Where does one go in the digital world we live in to get your hands on such opportunities?
Twitter, of course! I posted this tweet:
If you are also looking for advice on where to find experiences check out this thread – there’s lots of little gems in there and I am forever grateful for them.
From this thread, I ended up meeting with a Public Engagement Officer from my Uni – Strathclyde FYI – Dr Kirsty Ross. She is fantastically passionate and enthusiastic about science communication and if I ever had any doubts about this career path, they were gone by the first few sips of coffee. I was frantically scribbling all of her words of wisdom when she paused for a second.
“Would you like to go to Malta for 3 months this summer?”.
Me? With a persistent case of wanderlust? Tell me more!
An internship was something I hadn’t ever considered before. The term gives me images of something akin to the movie The Devil Wears Prada. Running around 24 hours a day chasing impossible tasks, with too little hands to carry multiple errands, important documents, an unpublished book and an over complicated order of a decaf double expresso soya milk with a quarter spoonful of sugar for the boss.
But a 3 month long summer internship in Science Communication at a research magazine and Science and Arts Festival in Malta – I couldn’t say no! As I say, I love to travel and so to be able to develop my skills as well as experience a new culture and way of life was a win to me.
A quick spruce up of my CV, a creative cover letter and Skype interview later – I was heading to Malta for a summer of science in the sun!
What exactly was I getting myself into?
The main focus of the internship was to work as part of the organising team for Science in the City, Malta’s only Science and Arts Festival held in Valletta on European Researchers Night at the end of September. The festival is in its 7th year, and is continuing to grow from strength to strength. The 2018 edition coincided with Valletta’s title as the European Capital of Culture 2018, and the European Year of Culture. Not surprisingly, the theme of this year’s festival was ‘Science is Culture’. There was also the opportunity to hone some science journalism skills through writing articles for THINK, the University of Malta’s research magazine. The Malta team led by Dr Edward Duca, although small, are involved in lots of projects including the EU-funded STEAM school and Malta Café Scientifique. It was set to be a busy summer for sure!
Life as an intern…
No two days were ever the same. One day I would be interviewing a researcher for a science journalism piece and the next I would be in Valletta doing social media coverage of the festival press conference.
The festival was the main focus of the summer. With visitor numbers on the night reaching 30,000, and over 30 events happening across the city – it was no mean feat to organise! As an intern I was flung in at the deep end and had to learn fast about the various events from art installations, music concerts, science shows, dance and theatre performances, on-street interactive experiments, cocktail parties, augmented reality apps and lots more.
Aside from managing the organisation of a specified area of the festival – collecting logistics and liaising with the organisations involved – there were lots of other tasks that need to be done. Press releases, run a social media campaign, creating the website and programme flyer, site visits, being interviewed on local Maltese radio(!) to name a few…
Science in the City 2018
The night of Science in the City itself was really something. A lot to do but a lot of fun. My step count shot through the roof from countless trips up and down Republic Street in Valletta for one thing or another. Seeing it all come together and that all the hard work had been more than worth it was amazing.
Whenever I got the chance, I really enjoyed writing for THINK, and got useful feedback on style and structure. I wrote two articles – one as a comment on science funding using an extraordinary example of how curiosity led to a recent world-changing discovery; and, one on how digital games could help in the classroom. Seeing my articles in print and online was so rewarding.
This year, the STEAM Summer School was held in Malta. As an intern I helped out with this a bit – mostly in the organisation of the end of school ‘Sick of Science’ party. Tasked with the – what felt like – impossible feat – cue Devil Wears Prada image but science-d up – of sourcing some liquid nitrogen for an end of night explosion, and making some spinning wheels of fortune for DIY cocktails. Succeeding in this – despite only having been in the country 2 weeks – was a personal highlight.
Although there was A LOT to do a lot of the time, it wasn’t all work and no play. It’s a really social office, and we went for lunch outside together every day. In contrast to the isolating slog of my PhD, this was quite a welcome change. We also spent evenings and weekends explore the corners of Malta and Gozo by kayaking, going to running club and countless happy hour cocktails or enjoying yummy seafood.
Not all a walk in the park..
Without a doubt there were some challenges along the way. Even although I had lived abroad a few times before, (once for a year and once for 6 months), being away from home never really gets easier. This was not helped by a dodgy internet connection, making my S.O look like a retro Gameboy character made up for approximately 5 pixels or by the Maltese bus system which is the only time I have ever experienced it taking less time to walk 6km than to take public transport. Finding somewhere to live and adjusting to local ways of life took some time but I think these experiences can only make you richer.
Now back at home in the crisp, rainy autumn of Glasgow, I’ve been reflecting on my time in Malta. The THINK/ Science in the City Science Communication Internship – is the boss of all Sci-Comm internships – in my humble opinion!
It was an intensive 3 months, with the chance to work on all aspects of public engagement through tangible projects. It’s not a ‘dip your toes in’ type of deal – it’s real responsibility and being an integral part of the team from day 1.
It truly gave me a taste of all things Sci-Comm – from writing and editing science writing pieces, to events organisation of a huge EU- funded Science and Arts Festival, social media campaigns and video/photography skills. My CV is looking stacked as a result and I’m even more sure that a career in sci-comm is for me. Disclaimer: I’m not much closer to narrowing down which area I prefer… I think I will stick to being an all-rounder for now.
In the coming months I’m putting the final chapters together and finishing touches on my thesis. In the first time in a long time, I won’t be a student and – sorry mum – am taking the opportunity to have a bit of a break from everything and setting off to Bali and Australia for 8 months – the Wanderlust is real! I’m always on the look out for sci-comm opportunities and I’m excited for what there is in store Down-Under!
Huge thank you to Sara for giving us an insight into what sounds like an incredible summer and I am super jealous of those travels – enjoy! If you have any questions about internships or scicomm I am sure Sara would love to share some advice and help you out. Find her and her blog over on the following platforms:
Have you ever done an internship? How did you choose what area of scicomm you preferred best? Share your experiences in the comments below! If you have experience in running an event or a particular part of science outreach and would love to share it with more people, then please get in touch if you fancy guest blogging about it.
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