This is a series of Q&As with young and up-and-coming science, health and environmental writers and reporters. They have recently hatched in the Incubators (science writing programs at schools of journalism), have even more recently fledged (graduated), and are now making their mark as wonderful new voices explaining science to the public.
Today we introduce you to Noby Leong (Twitter) and Tristan O’Brien (Twitter), co-founders of outreach science blog, The Other Side of Science.
Noby and Tristan hail from Adelaide, Australia. They are part of a class of young science communicators who are driven near-exclusively by their terrific enthusiasm for science.
They are both science students: Noby is currently doing a PhD in Chemistry while Tristan is completing his undergraduate studies. And science communication is a pastime. They started the blog, The Other Side of Science, on a simple yet important premise: science should be accessible to the masses. By publishing entertaining but no less informative posts such as “Busting Cooking Myths: Searing Meat,” “Bioluminescence is Badass (and Beautiful!)” and “Science in Photography,” I’d say they are succeeding in making science as fun as it should be.
Here’s an interview with the both of them.
Hello and welcome to The SA Incubator. How did you get into science writing?
Hi! Thank you very much for having us.
Noby: I first started in science writing and communication a few years ago. I used to work in Government as an advisor to the Minister for Youth and was interested in getting young people involved in decision making for climate change. But after talking with policy makers, scientists and environmental activists, it became clear that there was a huge disparity in knowledge between the public and decision makers. We were all trying to have different conversations with different levels of scientific literacy. I saw this as a challenge that needed to be addressed, which is where my interest in science communication developed.
Tristan: I used to be involved with political organizations on campus and this exposed me to many different people from different backgrounds. I often saw a difference in the general scientific awareness about an issue between what was accepted by scientists and what was accepted in the general public, in particular with global warming. This initially sparked my interest in science communication, along with some fantastic science communicators that we have here in Australia, such as Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki.
Why did you decide to start a new group blog? What did you set out to achieve? How did it all start?
Noby: The blog platform seemed easy to use and a convenient publishing medium. We were both new to any form of wide spread communication. A blog seemed like a good starting point as we tried to figure out what kind of communicators we wanted to be and the best way to talk about science. But we knew that with blogs, we didn’t have to be too sciencey and it could be seen by a lot of people.
Tristan: Science is something that is so ingrained in every part of our lives that it should be more accessible to the average ‘user’. Our main aim was to improve scientific literacy as a means to address problems in people’s lives, by bringing together the two groups that we had identified as being separate; the scientific community and everyone else.
How do you find suitable stories to write about? What are your criteria?
Noby: For me, I hardly ever look for the latest, breaking news in science as I often find them boring and slightly abstract (sorry!). I tend to look for topics that are either interesting to myself or relatable to people’s lives in an obvious way, whether it be new news or old news. That way, I hope that people can apply what they’ve read to their lives.
Tristan: On the other hand, I often write about the latest, greatest science! I keep track of what is going on in the scientific world as much as being distracted from my studies allow, so often I will skim the RSS feeds that I have subscribed to. We don’t have any real criteria per se; we want our contributors to feel as though they have as much freedom of control as possible and if they think that a topic is interesting, and the article that they write is interesting, then we’ll publish it. (We’ve never rejected an article.)
How has the experience of science blogging been so far? Since you are both science students, how has it affected the way you look at research?
Tristan: At times it has been a lot of hard work and late nights, but the majority of the time it has been extremely satisfying. To see people respond positively to something that you have put forward is a great feeling. I’m still completing my undergraduate degree, so I am about as green as chlorophyll (bazinga!) when it comes to research, although that is the path that I want to head down. What the blog has highlighted for me is that there is truly some amazing and incredibly interesting research going on all around the world, and the more people that highlight this and make it accessible to the general public, the better.
Noby: I’m the same as Tristan. It’s definitely been a huge learning experience trying to find the best way to translate scientific concepts into the vernacular. But it’s fun and enjoyable to share what you’ve learnt with other people. As for research, it definitely makes me appreciate how hard scientists around the world are working to make our lives better. Makes me feel lazy when I have an unproductive day in the lab.
What are your views on the science blogging community?
Tristan: There are some really great blogs out there! We are trying to do something a little different, however. While we think that current science blogging is great, we are trying to get less bogged-down in the details of the science so that it is more accessible to the layman. Perhaps this is an area that other blogs could explore, as we think it is important to not only attract the attention of other scientists, but everyone!
Noby: It’s definitely a lot bigger than I thought it was. There are just so many blogs out there, each with their own way of talking about science. It feels good to know that there are so many people working towards the same goals and hopefully there is something for every reader to enjoy.
Any plans for the future of the blog? How do you see it evolving?
Noby: I definitely would love to take The Other Side of Science offline and do real events to get more involved with my immediate community. I think we would be able to tailor our communication efforts to different groups and engage with them on a more meaningful level.
Tristan: I have the same sorts of views as Noby, we would love to be able to do some face-to-face interaction with people and stimulate their interest in science that way too. It’s a desire of mine to be able to put some more personality into the website, perhaps by having our writing community making videos, illustrating, recording podcasts, things like that. With technology today, doing these sorts of things is really easy.
What about your future? Planning to continue with science communication?
Noby: Three letters, P-H-D...I have to get through that first before anything else. Would love to keep going with science communication, whether it be in writing, events or anything else. My dream would be to follow in the footsteps of Sir David Attenborough.
Tristan: Into the foreseeable future we’ll keep going with The Other Side of Science. It’s a lot of fun and it is rewarding, so at the very least we’ll continue communicating science this way. If more formal science communication is part of the future, then great!
Thank you, too!
Previously in this series: