Many universities have dedicated student-run science publications. Such publications are ideal places for young science writers to work with or as part of an editorial team, build up confidence and grow their portfolios. But they are also teasers of what’s to come from the emerging generation of science writers.
Periodically, we’ll cover some of those student-run science publications here on The SA Incubator. Today, Matt Ravenhall, co-founder of Spark Magazine, the student-run science publication of York University, UK, gives us a preview of the latest issue which revolves around the theme “Misconceptions.” Matt also recounts how partnerships are important to reach a wider audience.
Spark Magazine was founded when two groups of York University students, both sharing one idea, came together. Both saw an opportunity to open the eyes of non-science (and even some science) students to the world of science and its powerful way of thinking. They also recognised that despite 40% of York University students on campus studying a science subject, it still had no real presence outside the lecture theatres. Addressing this issue is what drives Spark Magazine whether in print, online or more recently on radio.
Our bread and butter is the free magazine which we distribute on campus once a term. We start each edition with short and snappy news pieces focusing on recent research from around York, as well as tours of University laboratories. The aim here is simple, to inform readers about the cutting-edge progress happening whilst they are in lectures. Our first tour was of the recently opened Plasma Institute and featured loads of awesome photos. We also use this space to highlight upcoming open lectures and York ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ events.
The meat of each issue of the magazine consists of a mix of features, shorter articles and comment pieces all revolving around a particular theme; for example the last issue’s topic was ‘Misconceptions’ and our first issue dealt with ‘Origins’. This ensures that each issue, whilst following a similar structure, is provided with its own unique identity. Plus, our writers prefer to have a certain theme to write about.
There’s also a stunning image in the centrefold, inspired by a similar feature in the Guardian, accompanied by a dynamic article. So far these have centred around space-themed images of stars and galaxies, though we aim to cover other subjects in future issues. You will also find an in-depth interview with visiting scientists or influential individuals (Mark Henderson, author of ‘The Geek Manifesto’ was the latest and Nobel Prize winner Venki Ramakrishnan was the first), plus a crossword and a regular cartoon.
Supporting the magazine is our regularly updated website which also hosts its own unique content (check out the comment piece on eugenics). In the future we aim to expand to include more in-depth news pieces and blogs/columns to increase web-exclusive content. Bolstering our online presence are our Facebook page and Twitter feed and our ISSUU account where we promote and upload all the printed magazines.
Naturally, as with any large project, there is a lot going on behind the scenes as the editorial, photography and web teams work together. Production of each issue begins with choosing a suitable topic, emphasis being on something which is relevant to all the sciences. Once selected it is the job of both the founders (Will and myself) and the editors to get people writing.
To aid the process we have a large pool of potential writers in a Facebook group and send emails to science students via the University. From here it’s largely a case of editor-writer interaction until both are happy with a piece. At the end of this process we usually have too many articles to include in print so we then choose those that will work well online and make them web-exclusives. Additionally, we accept and commission articles between issues on a purely web-exclusive basis allowing the website to be constantly up to date.
All this is not to say that we work alone, indeed partnerships have been built with other societies to allow us to branch into voice communication. One example is our work with the University’s radio station to produce a fortnightly radio show and podcast. Here we have a large group of presenters who take it in turns to produce a show.
Another example of intersociety collaboration is with VivaVoce, an audio magazine based at the University. For this a selection of articles, usually three, are provided for inclusion in each of their issues.
Evidently, we passionately believe in grabbing any opportunities which present themselves and in light of that, look forward to growing further and bringing science to more students.
Co-Founder of Spark Magazine