Research Comms Podcast S1 Ep1: Science Poet, Sam Illingworth

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Exciting news! Today I'm launching a brand new podcast series - the Research Comms Podcast, which will explore the subject of research communications in our dynamic digital age.

Through the work that I do I'm lucky enough to meet a wide range of impressive individuals who are all doing exciting, varied and innovative work in the field of research communications and public engagement, and it struck me that a series in which they tell their stories would be a valuable record and resource for the research communications community. So that's what I've done!

In each episode I'll be chatting to a different person whose work I admire, to inspire listeners and provide helpful insights and practical advice for those looking to boost their own research communications efforts.

My guest on Episode 1 is science communication expert, Sam Illingworth. Sam is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University and he is also a prolific practitioner of digital science communication.

Credit: Manchester Metropolitan University

Credit: Manchester Metropolitan University

Sam's work includes a podcast called 'The Neutrinos Are Mutating' exploring the science fact behind favourite science fiction films; a blog called Sartorial Science, championing stylish scientists, and, of course, his fantastic Poetry of Science blog, where he posts regular poems inspired by scientific research discoveries.

A few weeks ago Sam and I had a riveting chat about all things science communication, including his top tips on how to avoid being overwhelmed when it comes to building an engaged community around your research. And the highlight of which was a reading of one of his fantastic science poems 'A Piscine Problem' that addresses that age-old problem of people peeing in public swimming pools!

You can listen to the interview using the player at the top of this page or on Soundcloud.

Below are a few of highlights of the interview with Sam to whet your appetite.

And if you want to check out Sam's work it can all be found on his website: or you can reach out to him on Twitter at @samillingworth

Who are you trying to reach with your podcast and blogs etc.?

Audience in my opinion is the most important thing driving through the activities that I do, and I try to think about the audience before I do a particular activity. In terms of the poetry, it's interesting because poetry to some extent has similar issues to science in that it can be seen to be very inaccessible, and something that is the preserve of white, middle class men. There is certainly, when I work with school children or with people from disadvantaged backgrounds, a sense of this concept that "Oh, poetry's not for me and science isn't for me" and, in my opinion, science, at it's most fundamental level, is really just about asking questions. And if you can empower people to ask questions about science-y things like 'Why is the sky blue?' or 'How does my television work?' then you're able to encourage and empower them to ask questions of the wider society - 'Why am I being treated differently because of my background, because of my race, gender etc.?' and I think science really does have that capability, and that's sometimes taken for granted by the people that practice it. 

What are your 3 Takeaways for people looking to boost their own research communications efforts?

1) Don't be overwhelmed and don't feel that you have to have all the skillsets, and that you have to master every single digital tool that's out there. It's about dipping your digital toe in the environment and working out which platform works for you. So, I know that Twitter works very well for me, whereas Facebook, at a professional level, doesn't work as well. But I've tried almost every social media platform, in some degree or other, or at least investigated it, and it's about finding which one or two really work for you and then focusing your energies on those. That will help you to build your community and it will help it to be less overwhelming.

2) Be flexible. Not everything will work out as you planned but just roll with it and don't get frustrated. And realise that if you've planned something and you've planned it well enough, you should be able to cope with any eventuality. For example, if nobody turns up to an event or if only a small number of people turn up, don't get too upset about it because even if one person turns up you might have a positive impact on that person's life in ways you can't tell.

3) Listen. I think listening is the most important skill in life, not just in science communication and teaching but just in life. Just listening to what other people say can really help you to understand their worldview and in turn can help you to develop your own as well.

Links to things mentioned by Sam in the podcast:

F1000 Research paper about digital engagement: 'What does the UK public want from academic science communication?'

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Peter Barker runs Orinoco Communications, a digital communications company specialising in helping research groups from science, the social sciences and the humanities to bring their research alive and engage with the public.