This week’s featured scientist is the Daredevil Science Presenter, Greg Foot. Greg has been working in science communication for the past 10 years on TV, Radio and in live shows. You may have seen him on the BBC3 series Secrets of Everything, Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, BBC Worldwide, Youtube’s Head Squeeze channel or in his live Daredevil Science Shows, but he also does a lot of work behind the scenes, researching, writing and developing shows.
Greg came to talk to us about Science Communication Careers and here are the answers to some of the questions we asked him:
What persuaded you to go into Science Communication?
A friend suggested at university that I become a Blue Peter presenter and it started out as a bit of a joke – but then I realised that it was something that I would enjoy doing so I started to get involved in things like radio, YouTube videos and science communication events at uni. By the time I finished my undergrad I was completely caught by science communication and went to Imperial College London to do a Masters in Science Communication. Funnily enough, it is only now after 10 years of working in science communication that I finally get to appear on Blue Peter!
Did you have a big break in your career, or did you simply work your way up the ladder?
I spent a lot of time exploring the opportunities available and contacting as many people as I could. Every so often one of the feelers I put out was successful. Looking back each of these successes can be seen as a lucky break, which all add up to where I am now. But the TV world especially is a ladder which it takes time and dedication to climb.
How do you talk about science and your work without making it boring to a non-scientific audience?
You need to catch the attention of your audience and peak their interest. Make the science mean something to them and relate it to their daily life. The key is to “find your hook” for your research to draw them in. Take a few steps back and look at how your work applies in the broader scheme of things. You also need to be aware that you are the expert, and they don’t know as much as you about the subject. Start slowly and build up your story step by step – the listener needs to be able to “see” the last step to not feel lost.
As a Freelance Science Communicator how do you manage your time and what do you spend your time doing?
If you don’t have many projects running, you spend your time finding the work, by researching and contacting people. Once you have several projects on the go, you have to be able to juggle them all and manage your time in a similar way to a PhD student does. I need to look at what the final product will be, such as a live show, and then plan backwards from there, writing, discussions over email, and researching and finding props and experiments to show. I also try to have time to catch up with friends in there somewhere!
How do you decide what subjects to present in your live shows?
The best thing to do is talk about something you are passionate about, and then think about how you can interest the audience and enthuse them. For example, I am keen on extreme sports, so I started with a surfboard- I thought that it would be fun to get a volunteer to get up on stage and try out surfing. From that I used surfing to introduce a lot of scientific concepts, like how far the wave will have travelled until it gets to you and the physics behind balancing. Since then I have hosted outdoor live shows about extreme sports with DJs, BMX riders and free running. I also try to make sure that I have something that explodes too!
Greg’s Top Tips:
- Contacts, contacts, contacts– contact everyone and anyone in the area you are interested, get your name out there, it’s even better if you can meet up with people face-to-face.
- Online– use online media- YouTube, Podcast, Blogs, Twitter- get you name out there, let people know what you can do!
- Brand– make yourself stand out and recognisable by uniforming your twitter, YouTube, blog, etc.
- Skills– Build them up and take advantage of what you have available – make videos (even just on your phone with a friend and post them online), do radio slots, write and give talks at schools. The more skills you can show that you have the better.
- Motivate– one of the most rewarding things is encouraging people to have an interest in science, so go into schools to give talks, make science interesting. Did you know that most 10-12 year olds have an interest in science but the number of students interested in science drops massively by the time they are 18? If you can show them what science can do or where it can take you fewer students would lose interest.
- Find what you love– try out all the different areas, ask for work placements and then follow the area you enjoy- not everyone who works in TV has to end up on screen!
Find out more about what Greg Foot does here:
By Izzy Webb – a second year PhD student in the lab of Phil Poole, and Annis Richardson – a third year PhD student in the lab of Enrico Coen
All photos courtesy of Andrew Davis (JIC)