Monday, 11 October 2010

The Faces of Science - A new project

Yes, I know it has been ages. Yes, you can stop telling me now. No, I haven't died nor have I (really) given it up. I have been spending some time thinking about what I would like to do and where I would like to take my career, having been asked it (randomly) by a few people recently. Ideally, I would love to do outreach and communicate science to the general public, as this blog was initially started, but I have found that journalism is not necessarily the route I want. I desire communication through media apart from blogs as in television, photography or public speaking. So one question remains, what is stopping me? Well, I'll tell you:
1. my PhD research, for now. It is just difficult enough to maintain the motivation and drive for a PhD without worrying about too many side projects.
2. making the contacts and developing the resources for projects I want to do. I am just simply too early in my career for the necessary access to the wider community
3. A lack of creativity. Every once in a while I get inspired, but then 1 and 2 stop me in my tracks... I find it difficult to pursue certain ideas
4. laziness. Yes, I can admit it. 1 and 2 should not really stop me.
5. Fear of mockery and intimidation from the wider scientific field. I am a lowly PhD student; how do I know what I am talking about?

All of that being said, here is where I see the gap in scientific outreach. There are many highly skilled individuals successfully communicating complex scientific concepts to the general public, but there is still not a face to these scientists. I was pondering the success of the show,The Big Bang Theory. Most of my science friends are astonished that our non-science partners, friends and family find the show as entertaining as we do. We laugh because we are those people, but there's a certain appeal, I believe, from the wider public to glimpse into the life of the ever-elusive scientist. What do we do? What do we talk about? Do we date? What is dating like? What are our friendships like? Do we have a soul? This has resonated with the public through a fictional situation comedy. So why can't we tell those stories ourselves? Why can't the public see that scientists are just as unique, creative and passionate as the rest of the world?

Is it possible that if the rest of the world had a more human face to the work of scientists, we would be more successful in procuring government funding and public support?

As a PhD student who has moved from America to work in the UK, funding and support from government is vital in me wanting to live where I want and being able to do the work I want. Science already has an international community, but when governments do not support this venture, it becomes difficult for us to do the work necessary to maintain these ties.

Two thoughts popped into my mind for this project, both ambitious and currently suffering a severe lack of resources. First, I thought a photography campaign showing the lives of scientists, their individuality, the dynamics of a research group would be interesting. This could be shown to the public via magazine, photography exhibits or other means (I am clearly not a photographer). Another would be a documentary of sorts, with interviews and stories of real scientists, young and old, and the way they see the world, through their personal life, not just through their research.

What do you think? Is this a feasible project? Do you have any ideas? Would you like to work with me?


  1. This is a good idea, Erin. We can all relate to personal stories. Just take care to reveal each person's passions and formative influences without making them sound overtly prejudiced. I wish you luck!

  2. I think this is a wonderful idea. And no, you shouldn't let 1 or 2 stop you, and as for number 5, there's nothing lowly about grinding through PhD research! I, too, had aspirations of communicating science to the public, but didn't want to go into journalism. I found my own route from a PhD to a career in healthcare communication. I would love to work with you on this - keep me posted on your plans!