Why am I going to London for a year? The short answer: for graduate school. As an undergraduate I studied science and loved it so much that I wanted to talk about it all the time. I wanted to geek out with people about how cool the world is and sometimes I was surprised that people were not as interested in that as I was. And as I got further into my academic science curriculum it became clearer that as a scientist you have to specialize, and usually one pursues this speciality via extensive graduate study. And that didn’t appeal to me as a future. I had done lab work, I had done field research, and while I found it fascinating and worthwhile, I was realizing that maybe that wasn’t the path for me. So what was I going to do with a science degree if not be a practicing scientist or doctor? It took me a few semesters of angst-ing over this before it occurred to me to take a look at the other things I loved too – I love writing, and as a passionate theatre lover and performer with some experience, I loved acting and performing. And simply, I love talking to people about science. An idea was emerging. Is that…a job? I can talk to people about science for a living?
It turns out that the answer to that question is ‘yes’. As soon as I realized that I could pursue that line of thought I went at it with gusto, starting a little dinky science YouTube channel and writing blog posts. This led to internships and eventually my post-college job, and this experience has been invaluable. I’ve learned so much already in my very brief professional life, but these experiences also served to reinforce how much I actually did want to specialize…but in multimedia science communication. Most undergraduate institutions don’t offer programs in this area of study because it is quite niche, so graduate school was the way to go. I definitely needed this past year that I’ve spent in the working world as a break from academia, but I find myself really looking forward to going back to school – ‘back to school’. It makes me feel like I’m eight again, with new binders and a first-day-of-school outfit and autumn smells, excited to make new friends.
I often get some blank looks when the conversation veers toward school, however. It usually goes something like, “I’m going to graduate school”, “Oh that’s nice, what are you studying?”, “Multimedia science communication”, “Ah. Erm…what?”
And I completely understand! It’s a mouthful of words that don’t typically go together, and honestly, I only know that’s what the field is called because I’m going into it. But when you break it down, it becomes a little more familiar. ‘Multimedia science communication’ is simply making cool, interesting things about science that people will enjoy as entertainment. Those things can be movies, TV shows, radio programs, or even museum exhibits -things that people can interact with and understand, even if they don’t have a lot of science background or even if they don’t usually think that science is particularly interesting. The program I’ll be participating in concludes in an MSc (master’s of science), and is the only course of study in the world (English-speaking, that is) that focuses totally on multimedia, as opposed to focusing mostly on writing. Of course, writing is part of creating multimedia, but in this program we also learn more technical things about how to edit footage, how to direct a camera crew, how to produce a show, and all that jazz – all in hands-on ways. We get exposure to industry experts who are currently working on exciting projects, and get to work with each other during the program to make our own fledgling creations.
But the part that really sold me, apart from the hands-on, practical bent of the course, was that all of that is also accompanied by the theory behind it all. What is the nature of the relationship between science and the public? Why does there seem to be a gap in understanding of research between the scientist and the layperson? How is scientific knowledge spread, what are public sentiments about science, and how does the media explicitly shape that relationship? These questions and many more like them are the answer to the next question that I usually get from people, which is “Why?”. Why are you studying this?
Because I’m a firm believer that science, while neither our savior nor our downfall, is essential to our future as a species on this planet. It is essential to making life better for everyone around the world, for understanding that world and the universe beyond, for exploring something outside of ourselves that is so complex and gorgeous and unendingly interesting. And, like that freshman in college who just wanted to talk about evolution with someone, I still wish that more people thought science was cool and fun, and that less people felt pushed away from science for whatever reasons (and boy do I understand, there are plenty of reasons to feel pushed away). I want to understand more about why and how these barriers happen, I want to break down preconceptions, and I want to help more people understand what science really is, and why it’s not scary or all-powerful, or boring or weird – and why it can be open to them, too.
So that’s what I’ll be studying. How to make science friendly, accessible, and understandable, and why that’s so important. And I’ll be updating this blog with everything I learn along the way, so expect some geekiness along with regular doses of travel and adventure updates. I can’t wait to bring you all along.