8. Nov. 2022
British science journalist Edwin Colyer has written about science for almost 25 years. He spent this October at CEITEC, Masaryk University and other Brno institutions as the first-ever Science Journalist Fellow funded by the European Research Council (ERC). The ERC established this initiative to give science journalists the time and freedom to discover new and interesting stories.
"I am taking away three thick jotters full of notes," says Colyer a few days before the end of his Brno placement. "It's been wonderful, but at the same time, very intense and challenging. I met many scientists and visited many institutions and even microscopy companies. I'm really trying to make the most of my time here, getting to know the environment, absorbing information, and meeting people. This is also why I decided to leave writing articles until after I return home."
What surprised him the most, and what was his impression of science in the Brno region? "I was surprised by how similar Brno is to Manchester, where I come from," he laughs. "From what I've been able to see, there's very high-quality international science being done here. I was also impressed by the microscopy industry and other technologies produced here. It was wonderful to get more into the whole network of the different institutions and to explore the role Brno plays within the Czech Republic and also internationally."
Colyer’s placement was part of a pilot for the newly established ERC Science Journalism Initiative, which aims to fund three to five month stays for science journalists at top scientific institutions.
"The main benefit is total freedom - thanks to ERC support, you get the time and space to immerse yourself in the subject and discover new and interesting ideas for articles. In return, the institution gets more international media coverage," praises Colyer.
The only "mandatory output" of the entire internship was a workshop, which was split into two parts that took place on 24 October at CEITEC in Brno. "The first part focused on the experiences and lessons learned from the pilot month. The second part targeted scientists and researchers and presented science communication from a science journalist´s perspective," explains Ester Jarour, communications lead and spokesperson of CEITEC MU. How does she evaluate this journalism fellowship from the perspective of the hosting institution? "It is a wonderful and mutually inspiring experience and an opportunity to raise the international profile of your institution and your science. All you need is the drive to make it happen and some time. We can definitely recommend this ERC call."
Look for interesting stories
How does Edwin Colyer choose the topics he will write about? "It's not entirely up to me; it’s up to the editors. It's up to me to get them excited about my pitch (topic suggestion) - that means it's a timely topic, something new and unique or relevant to society as a whole."
He also advised scientists to think about the following issues. "When communicating science, always provide context, think about what might interest the target audience of your narrative. But above all, be bold, step out of the comfort zone of your lab and communicate and meet people outside your scientific community. It may be uncomfortable, it may be critical, and they may ask you strange questions, but it always gives you a different perspective on your research and develops your soft skills. You may not always see how this communication directly benefits your research, but it's worth it in the long run, so give it a chance."
The science journalist's career path
"Even in science journalism, journalists are divided into those who report quickly on the latest discoveries or ongoing events and those who write longer pieces and cover more complex topics. I belong to the latter group - I enjoy digging deep, combining different perspectives, exploring new topics," shares Colyer.
"When I started 25 years ago, science journalism as a distinct profession in was in its infancy also in the UK. People were just starting to use the term, with the first Master’s programme at Imperial College London. At that time, science communication was just beginning to professionalise. Some media outlets feel that anyone can write about science, that all it takes is a reporter to tweak a news story a bit, that no knowledge of the field is needed - to understand how science works, how scientific knowledge is produced, or to recognise whether the result is of good quality and whether the conclusions presented actually match the results. This can lead to completely distorted information - we can't conclude anything about the treatment of humans from experiments on cells," warns the science journalist, who also sees many positive changes, such as the possibility of sharing science stories truly globally thanks to the internet.
"I believe in the power of networking and contacts. For successful stories, it is important to keep track and be 'ahead'. If you wait for press releases, then everyone has such a story. It pays to actively seek out and follow unique projects and top scientists for a long time and then write about them in context at the right time. When I go for an interview, I always have questions prepared, but quite often, I walk into the lab and start chatting, adapting to the situation of the moment. I get caught up in what the scientist is talking about in a good way - that's the key to good stories and interesting content."
About Edwin Colyer
Edwin has over 25 years as a specialist science writer and communicator, crafting compelling stories of discovery and research impact for non-expert audiences. His writing focuses on the “so what?” of research i.e. applications, outcomes and societal/environmental benefits. As a freelance journalist he has written features for popular science magazines (New Scientist), mainstream news media (Financial Times) and specialist trade press and website. He has also provided science-related content and communications for multinational corporations, the European Commission, SMEs, NGOs, universities and funders. Since 2012 he has successfully supported several UK universities in their drive for outstanding impact from their research. He researched, managed and wrote narrative impact case studies for submission to the UK Research Excellence Frameworks (REF) in 2014 and 2021.
Edwin’s company, Scientia Scripta, recently launched its mission to promote inclusive “outside in” thinking in research. The company supports organisations to embed diverse and relevant groups in the processes and governance of research and innovation. This radical change helps to create a more responsible, ethical, inclusive, and impactful R&I environment. Scientia Scripta draws on three intersecting areas of expertise: science communication, public engagement and involvement, and strategic impact management. Current and recent clients include the Centre for Process Innovation, the Francis Crick Institute, the Alan Turing Institute and the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine.
Author: Pavla Hubálková
Source: Věda výzkum
Translation: Ester Jarour