We placed six practising scientists at the heart of UK media outlets, in a year where science journalism has captured the world’s attention. So, how did it go?

In the third and final blog in our Q&A series, we asked two scientists who have been given the opportunity to work at top UK media outlets as part of our Media Fellowship scheme about their experiences.

Dr Jerone Andrews completed his two-week placement at BBC Future remotely while quarantining in Tokyo. Dr Clare Oliver-Williams was placed at The Economist for four weeks, working remotely from her home-turned-newsroom in the UK.

You can find out more about the Fellows including a full list of their published articles here.

To read the first two blogs in the series follow the links below:

Tell us a bit about your overall experience at your media outlet. What does a typical day look like?  

Jerone: I started a new role at Sony AI as a Research Scientist in January 2021, so I actually completed my two-week Fellowship remotely while quarantining in Tokyo. Luckily, BBC Future were very accommodating. I had a couple of kick-off meetings to discuss what I was going to write about. My ideas were met with some very positive feedback.

It’s quite hard to say what a typical day would look like, since I was working over the Christmas period, plus remotely. My experience was more akin to that of a freelancer. Irrespective, I enjoyed the process of writing an article, which entailed reading a lot of research papers. What I will say is that the editing process on the BBC Future side was very interesting to see first-hand, insofar as they avoid including personal opinions in their articles – which is reassuring (at least, to me).

Clare: Given that The Economist is published weekly, each day of the week differs. There are days with tight deadlines (Tuesday and Wednesday, as The Economist is published on a Thursday), where pieces are turned around in less than 48 hours with lots of interviewing, note-taking and writing. Other days are quieter, spent searching for decent stories, with lots of reading involved. There are also two meetings each week to align different sections of the paper. The Economist also have their own daily podcast ‘The Intelligence’ where I was given the opportunity to interview, as well.

What was the highlight of your Fellowship?

Jerone: Seeing my article on the BBC Future homepage as one of the Editor’s picks for over two weeks. It made the whole process worthwhile, especially during those times while writing an article where you question whether anyone else will find the topic interesting. It’s a similar feeling to having a research paper published: elation.

Clare: I think my highlight was a conversation I had with the science correspondents; it was the most enlightening moment of the fellowship. That single interaction flipped my attitude towards the Fellowship, from one of meeting the expectations of the editor, to pushing myself to maximise my skills.

What is the most valuable skill, insight or piece of advice you’ve developed or come across on your Fellowship that you will take back to your job in academia?

Jerone: The Fellowship honed my ability to distil difficult concepts in a more accessible way. And, I believe that this is an invaluable skill irrespective of who you are and the field you work in.

Clare: Academics are experts on their topic. Journalists are experts on a topic for 5 minutes. Journalism forces you to rapidly get up to speed on an area, assimilate information and then cogently reformulate it. The more you do it, the faster you get, and it’s been a great skill to develop.

What has your Fellowship taught you about reaching new and different audiences?

Jerone: In order to reach a new audience, you have to engage with them by telling them a story. Not just an interesting story, but a story where you position the reader as the protagonist.

Clare: Crafting the story is key and don’t leave any questions in the readers mind, except for the ones that you acknowledge can’t be answered.

What did learn about the media that you did not know before?

Clare: Obviously, journalists are interested in the latest research being published. However, there are many ideas in research that are completely new to the media that have been bubbling away for a while (therefore don’t seem new to the scientist or research group). Those nascent/early/less well-explored ideas are worth approaching the media about as well.

The Media Fellowship scheme aims to help bridge the communication gap between journalists and scientists, address the misunderstanding and mistrust between them and in the long-term, aims to improve the quality and quantity of science and engineering stories in the press.

We hope our 2020/2021 cohort of Fellows will go back to their institutions to share and disseminate what they have learnt to their colleagues and peers.

Find out more about the BSA Media Fellowships scheme.