Describe a typical day?
The work that I do changes with each project, but on any given day I’ll have a few projects at different stages of development. I might start the day meeting with a researcher to plan a public engagement project we’re collaborating on; then I might be editing audio of an interview for a podcast or radio documentary; then I might be planning content for a workshop on science communication. I always set some time aside for advocacy work too, and that time is currently taken up with helping to organise #LGBTSTEMDay 2019.
What are the main tasks, responsibilities you have and the skills required to do your job?
Most public engagement projects have a similar structure. First, you need to come up with a great idea. This is usually a creative and collaborative process, so you need to be able to work with lots of different kinds of people. Next, you go into research mode. You spend a lot of time reading about the science, but also about different approaches to science communication – what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes, my job ends with providing the research brief but, for some projects, I also work on the next phase: production. The production process depends on the type of project – whether it’s an event, a campaign, a television series, etc. At Bureau, we produce radio documentaries and podcast series, so the production process involves scheduling interviews, recording them, editing the audio, and mixing them with music and sound design. After the project has been produced and shared, the final phase is usually evaluation. We evaluate projects to see if they’ve connected with people in the way we intended.
What’s your favourite thing about your job/work?
Collaboration. I work with artists, scientists, journalists, broadcasters, humanity scholars, cooks… people from different disciplines and with different backgrounds. It’s my favourite part of the process. I also like that, as science communicators and producers, we get to reflect and celebrate the diversity of people who do science, by making our projects diverse and inclusive.
What are the main challenges?
As a freelancer, you have to deal with some uncertainty. You also have to space out your projects so that you don’t have either too much time without work or you don’t have too much work all at once.
Who or what has most influenced your career direction?
Science Gallery Dublin (and the team there) has had a significant influence on my career direction. Before working there, I was a postdoctoral researcher without much experience in science communication or public engagement. I worked there from 2010 to 2016, and I learned a lot about the intersection between science, culture, and society. Science Gallery also allowed me to discover and develop my own practice, which I’ve taken into all projects since.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
As a freelancer, I have control over the hours and days I work. I can also do a lot of my work remotely, which means I get to spend more time at home in Donegal. The flipside is that you don’t have the security of a full-time job, or the same framework to get promoted or progress your career.
What subjects did you take in school and did they influence your career path? What was your favourite?
I studied maths, biology and chemistry for my Leaving Cert, but I also enjoyed English and art. The subject I enjoyed most was maths, because I had an incredible teacher who encouraged us to experiment, and to approach problems in different ways. Even though I studied biology at university, that maths class really sparked my interest in problem-solving and the scientific process.
What is your education to date?
After school, I studied Science at NUI, Galway, and graduated with a BSc (hons) in Physiology. I really enjoyed studying physiology because it’s so cross-disciplinary, incorporating physics, biology, medicine, and statistics. After I graduated, I did a PhD in developmental biology, also at NUI, Galway. It was a tough but rewarding experience, and it gave me an appreciation for the messiness of biology and the complexity of genetics and molecular biology.
What aspects of your education/experience to-date have proven the most useful for your job today?
I don’t think a science PhD should ever be a necessary qualification to work in science communication or public engagement, but it’s definitely been useful. It taught me how to be a good researcher, and how to share that research with others.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
I think science communication can be a rewarding career for people who, like me, love science but don’t see themselves doing benchwork long-term. I think the ability to collaborate is essential, and I think the broader your interests the more opportunities you will find.
What kinds of work experience would help someone looking for a position similar to yours?
My most valuable work experiences have been producing events and producing radio shows. They taught me how to balance creativity with deadlines, and how to work with people with lots of different expertise.
Take time off work. It’s important.