By Rachel Burnett, Education and Public Engagement Officer, Biochemical Society
We have interviewed our panel of expert judges for the Science Communication Competition series, to find out more about their career paths into science communication, and tips for those just starting out in this area. This post is by Dr Kat Arney, science communicator, freelance writer and broadcaster.
What did you study at University? Why did you choose to study it?
I read Natural Sciences at Cambridge University for my degree, specialising in what was then called ‘molecular zoology’ but was really cell biology. I then carried on at Cambridge for my PhD, focusing on developmental genetics. I also have a postgraduate diploma in science communication from Birkbeck College, University of London.
How did you get into science communication?
I’ve always been a keen writer and journalist – I started running a magazine for my youth group when I was a teenager. At university I began writing science pieces for the student newspaper, and also entered a few science writing competitions. During my PhD I took on more science communication activities, doing science week events and helping to run open days at my lab. Then I got involved in the Naked Scientists radio show and podcast, which I’ve been part of for nearly 15 years. Gradually, I just started doing more and more science communication alongside my research work, pitching ideas to editors, building a network and looking for more opportunities. And eventually I had enough experience and courage to leave the lab and move into a full-time science communications role at Cancer Research UK, while continuing to do freelance work on the side. I’ve been there for 11 years, and am finally leaving in March 2016 to become a full-time freelance writer and broadcaster.
What type of science communication do you do?
Pretty much anything! Writing, radio and TV, public speaking, podcasts, videos – and I’ve just published my first pop-science book, Herding Hemingway’s Cats, about how our genes work.
Who do you work with in your role as a science communicator?
I guess the general public. Some of my work at Cancer Research UK has been focused more specifically on supporters. And I also liaise a lot with scientists directly, finding out their stories and telling them.
What do you love about science communication?
So much of it! The stories, the people, the look on people’s faces when they ‘get it’ or say ‘wow, that’s cool!
What don’t you love about science communication?
What has been your favourite science communication project?
I’d have to say writing my book. In terms of an academic exercise, I think it was more challenging than my PhD. I did so much research and talked to so many people. It was hugely challenging to squish it all into a book that an average interested non-expert person would not only read but actively enjoy, but I loved doing it and can’t wait to get started on another one.
What are the potential next steps from your current role?
Right now, I’ve made the choice to go full-time freelance as I wasn’t keen on climbing the management ladder at Cancer Research UK. It isn’t for everyone, and I have moments of panic that I won’t be able to pay the rent, but it feels like the right time for me now.
Any tips for people wishing to enter your career area?
Networking is crucial – find people working in the area you’re interested in and talk to them. And when people offer opportunities, follow them up. Turn off the TV, hit your deadlines, work hard and make some sacrifices if you really want to be brilliant and follow the career you love.
More ‘Science communicators in the spotlight’ to follow soon, as part of our Science Communication Competition series!